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100 Things to Know About Biking in NYC : Tested tips from experienced cyclists

100 Things to Know About Biking in NYC : Tested tips from experienced cyclists

As New Yorkers begin to think about moving around the city again in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, New York City is in the midst of an unprecedented Bike Boom. In the coming months, thousands of New Yorkers will hit the streets on two wheels, many for the first time ever.

While it’s good to know how to change a flat, or at least where your nearest bike shop is to change it for you, there’s a lot about biking in NYC that you just sort of need to learn by doing. Thankfully, our community of cyclists at Transportation Alternatives has been biking in NYC for years — centuries, really, if you add them all up. And if there’s one thing cyclists like better than riding bikes, it’s giving advice about riding bikes. Here are the top 100 tips we’ve collected from our community of seasoned NYC cyclists. Happy pedaling!

  1. When you’re considering bikes, try to find the lightest one you can afford. Riding a bike in NYC often involves a lot of carrying it up stairs!
  2. Bikes with “upright” handlebars are easier for navigating city streets and can be more comfortable for newbies. Road bikes with drop handlebars give you more speed and power, and are for the more advanced.
  3. All bikes are unisex.
  4. Make sure that your bike fits you well and that your seat is raised to the proper height — it will make pedaling easier.
  5. A properly-sized and -maintained bike should be smooth: if riding your bike is unpleasant in any way, there’s probably something that can be fixed. Your local bike shop can help fit you!
  6. Don’t go it alone — find a friend to ride with until you get comfortable in the street. (During COVID-19, ride together at an appropriate distance, of course).
  7. Practice in quiet areas and at quiet times; take side streets or visit a park or greenway on a weekend morning.
  8. If you’re nervous about riding, pick a fun destination to reward yourself for trying something new. Iced coffee or a great view are great payoffs!
  9. Better yet, bike to a bakery — you’ve burned some calories and you deserve a treat.
  10. Slow and steady: it’s not a race. Ride slow enough to be aware of your surroundings and enjoy the city around you.
  11. Ride purposefully and predictably, other riders may want to pass you, and will usually do so on the left. (If they are following proper bike etiquette, they’ll warn you, but don’t count on it).
  12. Unless you’re a child, or want to risk getting a ticket, stay off the sidewalk.
  13. Cede right of way to pedestrians — they’re more vulnerable. Make eye contact and smile. You’re representing all cyclists!
  14. Cede right of way to buses — they’re on a schedule, are carrying many more passengers than you, are much bigger and heavier, and can’t always see you.
  15. Always assume drivers haven’t seen you. Make eye contact whenever possible.
  16. Indicate where you’re going. Use hand signals with the regularity you wish cars would use turn signals.
  17. Practice riding with one hand when you feel it’s safe. You’ll need the other to signal.
  18. Make a point to notice which hand controls your back brake, and try to always keep that hand on the handlebars. A quick jab on the front brake can be dangerous if you’re going too fast.
  19. Communicate with your voice and your bell. That cute little bell ding is a perk of biking!
  20. Let drivers know you’re there. Be polite 90 percent of the time.
  21. Take your time; start off with small journeys and gradually increase your mileage. Don’t be surprised if riding makes you sore or extra tired at first. This will get better!
  22. Try a few different routes and see what you’re most comfortable with. Traffic can be very different at different times of day.
  23. The fastest route on Google Maps may not be the best one for you. The DOT bike lane map and Citymapper are your friends.
  24. The best resource for safe routes are other bike riders; ask a friend, ask a stranger at a stoplight, or ask us!
  25. If you’re unsure about navigating a street, try to follow a cyclist who seems to know what they’re doing but isn’t a total hotshot.
  26. When navigating a new route, listen to your map’s audio instructions with one earbud in.
  27. Give yourself plenty of extra time so you don’t have to rush, especially when you’re going somewhere new.
  28. When you know your route, you won’t need extra time because you are entirely in control of your speed!
  29. Always be aware of the vehicles around you, and be ready for their paths to change.
  30. Watch the tires of parked cars. If the front tire suddenly turns, that means the driver is about to pull out from the parking lane.
  31. Make full use of your gears; hills become nothing!
  32. Don’t stand on your pedals when you shift — this is a good way to pop your chain off.
  33. Shift before you need to, and go one gear at a time.
  34. When you’re coming to a stop, end with one pedal up and slightly forward so you’re ready to push off again.
  35. Getting doored means being hit by a car door opened in front of you. The door zone is the four-foot-wide strip between you and a lane of parked cars. Ask any experienced cyclist and they will tell you their dooring story. Try not to get a dooring story of your own.
  36. Stay out of the door zone; try to give all parked cars four feet of space.
  37. On two way streets, keep to the right.
  38. On one way streets, keep to the left. It’s safer, because every car has a driver, but not every car has a passenger, so you’re less likely to be doored by someone exiting a car.
  39. Ride with the direction of traffic. Always.
  40. Learn the lingo: biking the wrong way down a street is called salmoning. Don’t salmon.
  41. Take the lane. Remember, you’re not blocking traffic, you are traffic. Be confident in claiming your space and make cars move around you.
  42. Quiet, residential streets with no bike infrastructure can be more relaxing than busy streets with bike lanes.
  43. Keep an eye out for potholes, grates, and glass in your path.
  44. Report said dangers to 311.
  45. Cross train tracks at a 90 degree angle, or as wide an angle as possible to avoid getting your tire stuck.
  46. Try to appreciate the adrenaline rush. Don’t you feel alive?
  47. If you feel unsafe, tell your politicians about it.
  48. If you feel unsafe, get involved in #BikeNYC activism.
  49. If you feel unsafe, it’s not your fault.
  50. If you feel unsafe, others probably do too.
  51. If you feel unsafe, you deserve better from your city.
  52. It’s acceptable, though very nerdy, to yell “Fresh Kermit!” when you see a freshly-painted and pristine green bike lane. If you see the DOT employees painting the lane, thank them.
  53. “Shoaling” is pulling up in front of other bikes waiting at an intersection. This is a jerk move. Don’t do it.
  54. #BikeTwitter is feared but respected.
  55. All clothes are bike clothes. You don’t have to wear spandex to ride a bike.
  56. You don’t have to wear a helmet, but you should.
  57. Ride with headphones only in one ear, if at all. Enjoy the sounds of the city!
  58. Tie your hair back to free up your peripheral vision. Untie it to feel gloriously free.
  59. Keep extra deodorant on you… just in case.
  60. Cuff your right pant leg, and then keep it cuffed all day so people know you’ve been riding. Grease on the inside of your pants is cool.
  61. Tuck long shoelaces in so they don’t get caught in your chain.
  62. Wear shoes with some traction so your feet don’t slip off the pedals.
  63. Wear shoes that fasten securely so your shoes don’t slip off your feet.
  64. Use a clip or a penny and a rubber band to fasten the front and back of your skirt together: temporary pants!
  65. Support your local bike shop when accessorizing. Accessorize like hell.
  66. Make sure you have front and back lights and a bell — they’re legally required.
  67. You might as well get a fun bell.
  68. Your lights will immediately get swiped if you leave them on your bike. The fun bell will be fine.
  69. Use reflectors like a three-year-old uses bandaids: everywhere and in all directions.
  70. Make the bike work for you — consider adding a basket, rack, kickstand, or fenders.
  71. Use panniers. No one likes a sweaty back.
  72. Get a metal water cage: they’re cheap and you’re exercising!
  73. Bluetooth speakers are great for hands-free navigation… or for pumping out some jams on your ride.
  74. Even if your bike is cheap, use an expensive lock.
  75. Especially if your bike is expensive, use two locks.
  76. Use a U-lock or a chain — cable locks are easy to cut.
  77. If you have to pick between which wheel to lock, always lock up the back; it’s more expensive to replace.
  78. Have your favorite bike mechanic lock your seat and wheels to your frame.
  79. Watch ‘how to lock your bike’ tutorials. Create habits and don’t get lazy about it.
  80. Lock your bike to an immovable object when you can. Always make theft inconvenient.
  81. Visit businesses with a bike corral outside their establishment, they likely fought like hell for that thing.
  82. If you need to park your bike in your apartment, consider a wall-mount to save floor space.
  83. Most bike shops have air pumps outside that are free to use.
  84. If your bike seems extra-hard to ride, put air in the tires.
  85. If your bike seems extra loud, grease the chain.
  86. Bring your bike to a mechanic for a tune-up every 6 months or if it hasn’t been ridden in a while.
  87. Find a good bike shop (again, ask around), and become best friends.
  88. Become a Citi Bike member. If you don’t have your own bike, it’s easily the next-fastest way of getting where you need to go.
  89. Some of the best riding experiences are in the outer boroughs. Contact a TA organizer for recommendations!
  90. Be the friend who offers to pick up your take-out; on a bike, it’s faster than delivery!
  91. Acceptable reasons not to ride include snow, sleet, hail, heat, and because you don’t feel like it.
  92. You will find leg muscles you didn’t know existed. This is good.
  93. You will spend more time on the city streets, and see sunrises, sunsets, rising moons, and unlikely stars.
  94. Distances will feel short and the city’s geography will shrink in your mind.
  95. You will become addicted to the power of your own body and the control over your travel. Walking will feel slow and transit will feel like a loss of independence.
  96. Start brainstorming what to do with the money saved by cancelling your gym membership and not buying MetroCards.
  97. Don’t be intimidated by faster or more experienced riders; we’re all on the same team.
  98. Make eye contact and smile.
  99. Ride every chance you get.
  100. Say “yes, I rode my bike here!”