10 Tips for City Bikers

bike tips nyc

Biking around the city is fast, fun (cost of bike and gear aside) free. But remember to stay safe.

Bike riding around the city is on the rise. With good reason. Bikes are cool, fast and free. It keeps you fit. Doesn’t cause hurricanes. And you experience the city in a totally different way.

Biking in the city is the fastest growing mode of transportation.

But in the United States, about two people every day get killed in bike crashes with cars, buses or trucks. Don’t be one of those people.

bike crash GIF

Shudder. (Giphy)

With more and more bikers out there, it’s especially important for every cyclist to understand the rules of the road. Whether you’re a new bicyclist or an experienced rider, here are 10 tips you need to know to be safe and smart on the road.

1. Wear a helmet.

Osmosis and VisionHero Present: How to Wear a Helmet Safely

 The secret’s out: Helmets are awesome. For teens and adults too. They’re one of the most important parts of bike safety.

It’s the law in some places because wearing a helmet can save your life. In New York City, everyone 13 and under has to wear a helmet. Austin, TX says anyone under 18. In Seattle, EVERY bicyclist has to wear a helmet. Some whole states, like Florida and Massachusetts, require riders under 16 or 17 to wear a helmet.

A head injury is by far the most serious type of injury – which can lead to permanent brain injuries and even death. As a matter of fact, brain injuries are the most common cause of death of bicyclists. If you wear a helmet, chances are 51% better you’ll avoid traumatic brain injury, 44% better you’ll live.

And did you know more kids like you go to the emergency room each year for bicycle-related crashes than for any other sport?

Challenge - See any pics above where the helmet should be adjusted??

Vision Hero How to Wear a Bicycle Helmet Snug Straps and Over Eyes

Tilted back, Too Loose, Tilted & loose.

2. Be visible.

See and be seen to avoid a crash. There’s no such thing as being too visible when you’re on a bike.

Wearing light, brightly colored and/or reflective clothing helps others see you.

At night, especially! Tired and drunk drivers. omg. And when it’s raining or foggy! Don’t even. But also in the daytime, think about a white headlight on the front and a red taillight on rear of the bicycle with red rear reflectors. In some places, this is the law.

In NYC, you even have to have a bell and use it. No matter where you are, shout out “passing” when you’re going to pass others.

Anything you can do to be more easily seen! Make eye contact with other drivers before you get in front of them. Ride in groups. In slower traffic with no bike lane, get in the middle and occupy the whole lane. #OccupyWallStreet? #OccupyEntireLane!

lights on bike.

When you’re on your bike, you want to make sure you can see and be seen. (Seth Werkheiser / Flickr)

Super VisionHero #ProTip: Point your bike light down. Don’t blind your fellow riders! If you aim into their eyes, they can’t actually see you. When you point your light down, you can see the road and see bike riders coming towards you, and they can see you. Which is what you want. Perfect!

3. Maintain a stable bike.

Being safe on the road on a beating two wheels means keeping those two wheels well-connected. Follow the ABC Quick Check before even getting on your bike. This means checking the…

Air pressure in your tires is recommended,

Brakes work when you engage them,

Chain runs smoothly with only a little grease,

QUICK releases are turned in and secure,

…and CHECK the wheels spin with no sound.

And make sure that whatever you carry does not make you unstable. Like a top-heavy, oversized backpack. Or a person! A lot of weight makes it difficult to balance and distracts you from riding. Make them get their own bike! And you get some bike panniers or a small, lightweight crate or basket.

4. Follow traffic rules.

Examples of Yield Signs

You know these: Sharks Teeth, Caution Light, Yield Sign.

Bicyclists are expected to follow the rules, too.

In most communities, bikes are legally considered to be vehicles. And bicyclists have to follow the rules of the road and traffic signs and signals, just like any driver.

Ride with traffic. Obey signals and signs.

In many cities it’s OK to ride on the sidewalk until you turn 13yo. Over 13, avoid sidewalks unless it’s the safest thing to do. Some cities prohibit bicyclists riding on the sidewalk. Regardless, yield to pedestrians, and shout out where you’re going to those ahead.

You could collide with someone else. Didn’t think you’d want to do that, so…. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ You know.

5. …and use traffic signals.

Did you know cyclists have their own turn signals? It’s a good idea to learn the hand signals for right turns, left turns and stopping.


A post shared by VisionHero (@visionhero) on


When you use them, cars know what you’re up to—so they can avoid hitting you. Which is what you want them to do.

But… you have to let go of a handlebar to signal! >:O So only signal if you feel confident and sturdy. The last thing you want to do is get into a crash because you were putting your hand in the air!

Every turn has its hazards. If you can do so safely, position yourself in the middle of the appropriate traffic turn lane. With more than one turn lane, choose the furthest to the right. Continue making the turn when the traffic signal allows. But watch out for oncoming and turning traffic when making a left turn. And when turning right, other vehicles that are beside or in front of you who are making the same turn might not see you! Be aware.

At a traffic stop, safely position yourself in front of vehicles behind you so they see where you’re going. Some cities designate green spaces in front of the stopped traffic line for you to do this. They’re called bike boxes.

What if you can’t safely turn together with traffic? Then just pull to the side and follow pedestrian crosswalks. Be sure to observe the pedestrian signals.

6. Ride with traffic.

Remember, your bike is a vehicle, and you’re a driver. Ride in the same direction as other vehicular traffic. Never ride against traffic.

That said, drivers should yield to you if you have the you have the right of way. Say you are biking in a crosswalk, for instance. It’s the law and everything. But if they don’t, they don’t, and you could get hurt—or worse.
Always be alert.

7. Don’t weave around.

biking street weaving around cars GIF

Asking for it. (Giphy)

When riding a bike, hold the line. Keep it straight. Don’t weave in and out of traffic. Riding in a predictable way will reduce your chances of getting into a crash with a car.

Sometimes you weave when you don’t mean to—often because you’re trying to multitask.

bike jacket fall GIF

Don’t be that guy. (Giphy)

Which reminds us: It’s no safer to text and ride than it is to text and drive.

…and don’t pass vehicles on the right. Although drivers should look back to their right, most do not. They won’t see you passing until you hit …or crunch under their right tire. O_O

8. Use the bike lanes and paths whenever you can.

bike path sign

You’re psyched when you see signs like these. (wwward0 / Flickr)

If you’re lucky, you live in a city with designated bikeways. Chicago has 225 miles of bike routes. LA has 593 miles. There are over 1,000 miles of them in NYC! Use them and follow lane markings.

There may be three types of bike routes in your city: paths, shared lanes, or protected/buffered lanes.

Bike paths are completely separated from other vehicle traffic. These are in places like parks, greenways, along some waterways. These may be shared with other pedestrian traffic. Watch out, and shout your intentions!

bike path verazzano bridge

Perfect place to bike on a sunny day. (ChrisGoldNY / Flickr)

Bike lanes on city streets but designated with paint and a bicycle icon.


#bikecommute #sunsetshadows

A post shared by Michael Allen Brooks (@michaelallenbrooks) on

Keep in mind that not everyone respects the bike lane. Be alert! You might have to navigate around cars and trucks parked in your lane. Be extra careful when you do.

sharrows by definition

Shared lanes are marked with “sharrows”: those arrow things, sometimes paired with bicycle icons. They tell bikers and others drivers that they’re sharing the road, so they should be aware of each other.

shared bike lane NYC sharrows

Hello, sharrows. (Steven Vance / Flickr)

Bicycling is otherwise usually allowed on local streets throughout the city.

9. Be alert!

Remember, be aware of other drivers and your environment. No one does that well while wearing headphones when cycling. Never ride with headphones! Scan the road ahead and behind you. Keep both your hands ready to brake.

Be aware of the “DOOR ZONE”.

biking nyc doored GIF

OUCH. (Giphy)

When riding past parked cars, WATCH OUT! You never know when the driver or passenger of a car will open their door! Ride five feet away from parked cars as you safely and legally can, even if that means taking up a whole lane of traffic. If you are riding on a one-way street, remember you are generally safer riding on the LEFT hand side of the street. Why? Because more than 70% of cars are occupied only by a driver. So in most cases, if you ride along the side of the street by the passenger door, you are 70% less likely to be doored. Unless of course it’s a taxi, as in the GIPHY above, where having a passenger is the whole point.

If you’re “doored” while riding past a car, it is the motorist’s fault.

One way you can advocate for your safety as a biker is to educate vehicle drivers and passengers about the Dutch Reach. Use your hand furthest from the door to grab the door latch. (The hand by the seatbelt release, NOT the hand nearer the door.) It naturally turns your body to see what’s coming over your shoulder.

…and trucks!
Large trucks and buses have huge blind spots. That can be especially dangerous to bicyclists because the driver can’t see you.

The best way to stay safe is to give those trucks plenty of room. Pull up ahead of traffic at intersections and stop in a place where trucks and other vehicles can see you. If they’re in front of you, move to the left of a right turning bus, truck, or vehicle. Don’t get squeezed.

…and potholes!! Oh my.
Increase your awareness and care in bad weather like rain and fog. Watch for road hazards like potholes, puddles and slick spots.

puddle what's really in there.

You never know what’s really in there. (Neil Hester / Flickr)

Jumping in puddles can be fun, but riding through them with a bike isn’t the best idea. What may look like an innocent puddle could actually be a pothole and give you a flat tire. …or send you flying.

A few other things to look for: slotted sewer grates, wet leaves, traffic paint, gravel, ice, sand, or debris. All these can be slippery and send you skidding. Kiss that epidermis bye-bye. And railroad tracks can stop your tire fast. Cross at right angles.

10. Lock up your bike.

bike lock bike rack

Good job locking the front wheel to the frame and using a bike rack, but you could have taken it a step or two further. (Ed Yourdon / Flickr)

Now you know how to keep yourself safe when you’re out enjoying a bike ride on the city streets … but you should keep your bike safe, too!

Unfortunately, bike theft is a problem. Lots of bikes get stolen, –often because they’re not locked up well.

To cut down on the chance of your bike getting stolen, do these three things:

  • Lock your frame to your wheels.
  • Lock down your seat if has a quick release feature.
  • Whenever you can, use a bike rack.

Take a minute to lock your bike up right.

Now that you’re armed with these 10 tips, what are you waiting for?

Take Action!

Don’t know how to ride a bike? Need practice? No problem. Check out these action items and you’ll be ready to ride in no time:

Level up with Cascade Bicycle Club >>

Learn more about Get Women Cycling >>

And if you’re already an expert biker:

Challenge yourself on Illinois bicycle safety quiz challenge >>

Be a VisionHero and marshal a KidicalMass ride >>

Read more about wearing a hemet here:

The Guardian Explores Helmets

A Trusted Source of Helmet Info