Nicholas Reale, the Untapped Cities resident biking expert, tour guide for Get Up and Ride and former bike messenger, shares his Top 10 Tips for biking in NYC, if you’re looking to move from the intermediate, post Citibike stage to expert urban cycler.
With a burning desire to elevate your NYC bike lifestyle to the next level, you’ve made the $150 investment for some endearing hunk o’junk (which you will soon christen as Betsy, or whatever) from that ex-hippie that sells bikes street-side on Avenue A. It would be incorrect to call you a “newbie,” but just the same you’re not quite the “expert” yet. Below, we detail some of the top habits and tips to get acclimated with, if you wish to make biking in NYC a daily part of your routine. We’ve intentionally excluded the obvious things like, “Wear a helmet!” and, “Get a bell!” assuming that you have a functioning brain and want to keep it that way.
1. Don’t Stop
This may seem reckless, but there’s a certain cadence and flow to urban life that goes well beyond you or any one individual. Research indicates that forcing bikes to stop at every red light is counterintuitive for the biker and, in fact, more dangerous in some cases. Many have advocated for bike laws distinct from automotive ones, with legislation having been successfully passed in other cities. Don’t confuse this with not slowing down, though. As a biker, you share the streets with 8 million others–there’s a give and take that everyone is implicit in.
2. Go In the Direction of Traffic
The law actually makes sense this time. Ride along any major thoroughfare for just one day, and you will already loathe those who choose to head down the street in the direction opposite traffic. Many of these are delivery personnel on motorized scooters, making them all the more disruptive. Simply put, New York is a city of one-way streets, laid out rationally and meant to move people and vehicles from Point A to B as quickly and efficiently as possible. No one person is greater than this axiom, even if they think they’re beating the system by doing this.
3. Pedestrians In the Bike Lanes On Bridges
They are the nuisance that you’ll want to eradicate but can’t (and shouldn’t) make physical contact with, kind of like roaches in your pantry. And there’ll always be more, too. This is particularly vexing on the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges, where the dedicated bike and pedestrian lanes should demarcate things as clearly as possible. This sensibility doesn’t always seem to translate over to pedestrians (or cops), so just be wary of them and use that bell that we all know you’ve already gone ahead and fixed to your handlebars.
4. Use the Subway Smartly
Unlike London, there are no official rules dictating when bikes can be brought on trains, but there are is a code of ethics that is implicit in everyone’s understanding. Unless the weather is godawful, avoid the subway during rush hour. In most cases, you would reach your destination quicker on your bike anyway (especially if your trip were to require a transfer). If you must bring your bike on the subway, hold it straight, aim it at (but stay away from!) the doors, and keep to the edge of the car.
5. Your Swanky U-Lock Won’t Do It Alone
Money doesn’t buy safety either, and a $50 u-lock will be a wasted investment if you don’t have supplementary equipment. It starts with a cable, which you must loop through the back wheel, the frame, whatever structure you’re locking the bike up against, the front wheel, and finally your precious U-lock (recommended in this order). Don’t forget to dislodge the seat and its pole if you plan to keep the bike locked for an extended period. Bike thieves love to steal the little parts that make up the whole in order to sell the parts wholesale. Until design innovation becomes mainstream, you’re on your own with this one.
Locking tips are as easy as 1-2-3.
6. Most Bike Lanes Will Be On the Left Side of One-Way Streets
Surprising people from former British colonies and Japan, this layout makes a lot of sense when you consider that, when driving a car, the blind spots affect one’s vision more when looking to the right than to the left. Of course, if you ride the streets long enough it will soon become apparent that a few bike lanes are on the right, but the major ones on First, Second, Sixth, Eighth, and Ninth Avenues follow this rule.
7. Position Yourself Wisely
It pays to know where cars might make a turn onto a side street, thereby cutting you off. On First, Sixth, and Eighth Avenues, this will be almost always at intersections with odd-numbered streets, as the avenues head north and those streets head west (to your left). On Second and Ninth, this rule follows even-numbered streets. To keep up with that “urban cadence,” allow the cars in the turning lane to pass you before merging into the lane yourself and cutting around their right side. You won’t be forced to do anything more than slow down and you’ll avoid being caught between cars attempting to cut you off and pedestrians in the crosswalks.
8. The Most Difficult Hills Are the Ones You Won’t See Coming
While considered amateur to a Rocky Mountain biker, this 4.7% grade can make a commute unexpectedly tiresome.
Image Source: OpenStreetMap
There are places in New York City where inclines can make your trip unexpectedly strenuous. Remember to switch to a lower gear on Lexington Avenue between 40th and 34th Streets, on 57th Street between Eleventh and Eighth Avenues, Cathedral Parkway heading west from Central Park, and Sands Street in Brooklyn from Gold Street towards the Manhattan Bridge. By the laws of common sense, expect any neighborhood with the words “hill” or “heights” in it to generously include an incline.
9. Remember: You Are In Legal Limbo
Bikes fall into that precarious grey area on Darwin’s Traffic Totem. As a biker you are susceptible to the dangers of bigger vehicles driven by tempered motorists while simultaneously being the boogeyman for pedestrians, meaning that you’ll swoop in after dark and whisk them to their demise at the pavement. Getting “doored,” is just as real of a concern as hitting that one pedestrian that will sue you for everything you’re worth. Somehow, to a cop who’s sent to mediate the situation, you’ll always be the one to blame.
10. Who Cares? Embrace It!
As a biker, you get the best of many worlds; you can travel quickly and efficiently without having to shell out $2.50 just to be packed like a mole into subways cars. You’ll get a great workout whizzing along streets at speeds only slightly less than that of cars while covering exponentially greater ground than what you could do on foot. People who ride regularly get to see a side of the city that few experience or comprehend. Despite the preconceived notions, few places are as inviting for bike culture as New York, a city that has invested so much in infrastructure, public awareness, and cab drivers who actually know to look out for those who pedal around on two-wheeled bullets.