New York by bike: How to stay safe, have fun, and explore the city

New York, New York – While it's not known as a biking city, many bikers know that the best way to get around New York is on two wheels. The pace of the bicycle is perfect for the Big Apple, and cycling is relatively safe – as long as you stick to the bike paths. Here's everything you need to know.

Renting a Citi Bike is an easy way to get around in New York City, as you can leave them at any designated docking station.
Renting a Citi Bike is an easy way to get around in New York City, as you can leave them at any designated docking station.  © Unsplash/Daniel Adams

You're heading down Second Avenue. The famous skyscrapers above you. Up ahead, a driver who might cut you off. You brake. You continue past the car turning left, through the sea of yellow taxis, the smell of pizza and coffee in the air and constant honking and sirens in your ear.

This is what New York by bike feels like - at least in crowded Manhattan. And as stressful as it may sound, there is hardly a more spectacular way to explore the Big Apple.

But many still believe that New York's not for bikes. While a few years ago, that might have been true, a lot has shifted. In the early to mid 2000s, you saw death-defying bicycle delivery workers racing back and forth between Manhattan's skyscrapers.

But something changed: A comprehensive cycling concept materialized with over 1,000 miles of marked bike paths. "I've been biking in New York for over 20 years and I've seen how things have transformed," says Andree Sanders, who teaches children and adults how to ride a bike in New York.

In the past, she used to push her bike to the park so that she could ride it in safety there, she says. But now it's possible to cycle anywhere in the city. Citi Bike has a modern fleet of standard and electric rental bikes in large parts of New York City, which you can use to travel throughout its docking stations.

Biking is a great, healthy, and environmentally friendly alternative to experiencing the city above ground. It's a quick way to know the places between the subway stations to understand New York's geography and topography, and what sets its different neighborhoods apart.

Read on for more tips to stay safe on two wheels in the Big Apple.

How dangerous is biking in New York City? Tips on how to stay safe cycling in NYC

Staying safe on a bike in New York is a challenge. Here are some tips to help!
Staying safe on a bike in New York is a challenge. Here are some tips to help!  © Unsplash/Thomas Loizeau

The age-old question is bound to come up: Isn't biking in New York City dangerous?

Of course there's risk when it comes to street traffic - that's especially true for a city of millions in a country that loves cars, the US.

In 2020, 28 cyclists died on the roads of New York - with inattentive motorists largely to blame. A big criticism in NYC is that many bike lanes are still not structurally separated from the roadway and thus protected from cars, despite the fact that in 2021, there were more than 500 miles of separated bike lanes in the Big Apple. There are more being constructed every day.

Here are a few tips for keeping safe while biking in New York City:

1.) Never believe that you are an equal road user when on a bike. The fact is: for some cars - especially bigger ones - you will always just be air. This means you always need to aware of cars turning left, even when the light is green. And a helmet is, of course, mandatory.

2.) Make sure your head is switched on before you set off, advises expert Sanders: "When planning a route I want to find out what is the safest way for me to get from A to B." If possible, always ride in the green bike lanes. Google Maps and other apps take these into account when providing cycling directions. Try not to look down at your phone when riding, and turn up the audio on directions if you need them.

3.) No music - or at least not directly on your ears. This rule should apply almost everywhere, but in New York it takes on a special meaning. In city traffic, you're not just a tourist or commuter, but also an observer and hunter: You're constantly scanning your surroundings, trying to spot potential dangers as early as possible. For this, you need to pay full attention with eyes and ears.

4.) Of course, the wilder the ride, the higher the risk. So if you don't feel safe, slow down. Sanders says "it's about being present and knowing that you are in control when riding a bike. Just like when you're driving a car. You are in control. It's up to you how fast you want to cycle."

Should you do a New York City bike tour?

As they say, it's New York or Nowhere, especially when seeing it by bike.
As they say, it's New York or Nowhere, especially when seeing it by bike.  © Unsplash/Yaroslav Muzychenko

What do I get from a New York bike tour?

Many people have mixed feelings after visiting a big city. On the one hand, you've experienced and seen loads of great things. On the other hand, you're not a New Yorker.

That changes as soon as you get on a bike. The constant flow of the traffic demands that you become part of the Manhattan madness, that you blend into the metropolis.

This includes the observation that in most cases even traffic police don't care when cyclists ride through an empty intersection on a red light. On the subject, Thrillist magazine wrote back in 2018: "Study the city's bike laws, and then decide which rules you are comfortable breaking."

Cyclists become part of the energy that makes New York New York, whether attempting to go on a solo trip or joining an organized bike tour. Behind the handlebars, you're more the Big Apple than you've ever been at the Museum of Modern Art, Central Park, or on the ferry to Staten Island. And Sanders points out, "it's the fastest way to get around the city."

As they say, it's New York or Nowhere, especially when seeing it by bike.

Want to grab a bike of your own? Check out TAG24's guide to choosing the perfect bike and learn all about e-bikes here. Happy riding!

Cover photo: Unsplash/Yaroslav Muzychenko

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