Riding in NYC Safely
For starters: Stay alert, be respectful of everyone, and keep your speed in check. This will form the foundation of safe riding.
Remember that you're invisible to most.
When you drive in a car, you can usually assume that other drivers will see you in their rear view mirror. This is not the case on a bicycle! Assume that you are ALWAYS in a car's blind spot, and that a driver can ONLY see you if you are in front of them. Do not expect driver's to see you in their mirrors.
Pedestrians can and totally will jump out in front of you at any moment. This is New York City!
Always have front and rear lights for night riding. Reflectors on your pedals are also important as the constant movement is eye catching. Wearing bright colors during the day can also help being seen. Don't be afraid to use hand signals to let people know where you're going.
Don’t ride fast within door-opening distance of parked cars.
Especially if the car is running or if there are people inside. Even if the bike lane touches the car lane, your default should be to ride towards the traffic side. It’s scarier to ride towards the moving cars, but it is actually much safer. Drivers will see you if you are in front of them; people getting out of cars rarely look for bikes. Even if a moving car manages to sideswipe you (extremely rare), it would probably not be as bad as running face first into an open door. Also, if you ride up against the parked cars and need to swerve around an obstacle (pothole, etc) you only have one direction to swerve — into traffic. Use your judgment, if you are going up a steep hill, you’ll probably be fine riding close to the parked cars. Going downhill you may want to take the entire road/lane, even if there’s a separate bike lane.
Look behind before changing direction.
If you are going to do any steering or turning, literally anything besides going straight in your lane, quickly glance back to make sure that no one is about to pass you before you veer into a new lane. This is the same concept as checking your blind spot before changing lanes in a car. On a bike it’s even more important because you don’t have mirrors and are often going much slower than other vehicles. E-bikes are very quiet and fast and can try to pass you in tiny gaps that a car would not. Glancing behind before changing lanes should become such a habit that you even catch yourself doing it as a pedestrian on the sidewalk.
Avoid the crazy streets.
Cars routinely go over 40mph on certain streets (for example Flatbush Ave between Grand Army Plaza and Empire). Stick to streets with bike paths, especially at night. It’s usually worth it to find a route that has good bike lanes even if it means adding a few minutes to your ride.
Avoid thinking you are not at fault.
You might be tempted to say "I see this pedestrian, but he's in the bike path, so if I hit him it will be his fault." A better response to uncertain traffic conditions is to simply slow down.
Dial it back a notch.
When commuting on any vehicle you place yourself somewhere on the spectrum of slow and safe to fast and danger. Prioritize safety! Don't get yourself killed just because you were five minutes late and rushing. Try not to become angry when people cut you off or drive in a way you don’t like. Being respectful to others is more important than saving a few seconds on a commute.
The road will change. So will your bike! Stay alert.
Be mindful of two major factors that cause accidents: the road and your bike. Tires can lose traction. Keep an eye out for anything on the road that will cause your tires to slip (bumps, grooves, oil, debris, ice). Scan far down the road and always look where you are going; look through your turns. If you ride in the winter, be very cautious of ice.
A tire blowout can be disastrous when going downhill or in the middle of traffic. Inspect your bike regularly for potential flaws and be proactive about preventative maintenance. Puncture resistant tires are an excellent investment, they will quickly pay for themselves if you ride 20 miles a week or more. Make sure to fill your tires AT LEAST 2 times a month.
If you feel or hear anything new/strange, especially coming from your brakes, you should bring your bike to a mechanic.
Riding with headphones will reduce your ability to hear traffic as well as any strange and potentially hazardous noises coming from your bike. A speaker is a much better choice than headphones — you can still hear the traffic, and better yet, traffic can hear you! Bose makes an incredible portable speaker for biking. Click here to see it on Amazon.
Know your bike and practice crash avoidance techniques.
You should know your bike well; you don't want to learn how to shift for the first time in the middle of traffic.
Practice braking as sharply as you can — this is what you're going to do in an emergency to avoid a crash. Learn how much to apply the left vs. the right brake. Get an idea of how many feet it takes to stop at certain speeds, and practice lowering the distance. Don't try this while turning, only brake sharply when the bike is straight upright. The front brake provides about 70% of the stopping power, so don't be afraid to use it. The rear wheel should skid only a little or not at all. You will need to use your arms to push your body back, as if you are running full speed into a wall. Be aware that the distance will be greater going downhill, in the rain or in cold weather.
If your bike has steel (chrome) wheels you will need much, MUCH more stopping distance in the rain!!
Accidents are almost always the result of multiple factors, try to eliminate as many as you can.
Just like airplane crashes, bicycle accidents are rarely caused by just one factor.
If you've had a close call, realize that even the smallest additional problem could have meant a serious accident (sun in a driver's eyes, minor flaw on the road surface).
Some factors are outside your control, but you don't need to add any to the mix.
You can learn a lot from any accident, and close calls too. A close call is not a good sign about your riding.