I recently got a ticket for something I didn’t know was illegal! It turns out there are many cycling laws I did not know. I never want to receive a bike ticket again, so I dug for answers. This led me on a journey to discover which NYC bike laws apply to us and which don’t.
So, if you are afraid of running into the wrong side of the law when riding your fixie, fear not because you are about to learn ten NYC bike laws that all New York cyclists need to know. By the time you finish this reading, you will be ready to ride confidently, knowing you are not breaking any NYC bike laws.
There is a multitude of bike laws you need to know. Here are just a few:
- Adults don’t need to wear a helmet (delivery cyclists do).
- You can’t ride on the sidewalk.
- You must use the bike lane.
- You can’t ride against traffic.
Editors note: Don’t rely on some fixie-foo on the internet for critical legal matters (such as this one). I am not a lawyer and probably don’t live in your city or state. Municipalities have different laws, so please consult a lawyer or read up on your local laws.
Where can I find the most updated bike laws?
The Department of Transportation will have all the most updated information regarding bicycle legislation in NYC. You can also read the official information from the Safe Bicycling in New York City manual here.
State Bicycle Co. Black Label 6061
State Bicycle Co. Black Label 6061
Most common questions about bike laws in New York City
Below are some of the most common questions regarding bike laws in New York City.
1. Do you need to wear a helmet when riding a bike?
No, adults do not need to wear a helmet when biking around the city. However, it would be wise to do so. While it is considered safe to bike around NYC, accidents can still happen. So be on the safe side, and protect yourself with a helmet.
Kids under the age of 14 are required by law to wear them for safety. You must wear a helmet if you ride your bike for a delivery company. If you don’t have a helmet, below are a few options to consider. Also, check out our article on the best bicycle helmets for fixed gear cyclists.
2. Do cyclists have to follow the same laws as cars?
Yes! Bicycles and motor vehicles are subject to the same traffic laws. Just because you are riding a bike doesn’t mean you don’t have to follow traffic law. You have to stop at red lights and yield to pedestrians—just like drivers of motor vehicles do.
You must also stop for accidents and report any crashes or property damage they cause in an accident to the police.
3. Can you ride your bike on the sidewalk?
While New York State doesn’t have any rules against this, New York City does. New York is one of the most crowded cities in the world. At any given time, there are thousands of people on the sidewalk at once. Do you really want to navigate a bike through those crowds?
Fortunately for pedestrians, bikers are not permitted on the sidewalk unless the bike has wheels less than 26 inches in diameter or the rider is under 12 years old. And in accordance with NYC bike laws, If you ride your bike on the sidewalk and are not authorized to do so, police can confiscate your bike.
4. If you can’t use the sidewalk, can you ride a fixie in the street?
This is one of those bike laws that can get confusing. You can either ride your bike in a designated bike lane or share a lane with car traffic. When there is a designated bike lane, you are required to use it. When there is no set bike lane, you use the same road that cars use.
When a lane is wide enough for both cars and bikes to share, you are to ride on the right side of the lane. However, if the lane is too narrow, you can ride in the middle of the lane, just like a car does.
5. Can New York cyclists ride against traffic?
No, according to NYC Bike Laws, cyclists must ride with traffic, not against it. Yes, we go against traffic from time to time because you want to get around faster, but you risk getting flagged down by a cop. So don’t do it. It’s not only the law but also the smart thing to do.
6. Are cyclists required to use a signal when turning?
Officially yes. According to NYC bike laws, you must use your hand signals to alert the drivers around you when a biker makes a turn. To communicate with drivers, you must use the bell on your bike. But they will probably not hear the bells anyway, so this is mostly for pedestrians.
Though, to be completely honest, you will be hard-pressed to find me signaling on my fixie. Yes, I don’t signal. I’m sorry. It’s just not a priority, especially when I’m riding at full speed, but officially, you must signal. Don’t know how? Check out our article on how to use hand singles.
7. Does your bike need to meet any criteria to be legally used in NYC?
Yes. Bikers in New York City must outfit their bikes with a white headlight and a red tail light. In addition, reflectors and a bell should also be installed. The reflectors and lights are for use in the dark, and the bell is to be used to alert drivers to your presence.
You might get a citation for it if you aren’t using your lights at night. Your bike must also be in operational condition. It must have a seat and functioning pedals and brakes.
8. Can you wear my headphones while riding a bike?
Yes, and no. This one hist home because not too long ago I got a ticket for this. I was going downtown on Broadway when a police officer flagged me down as I approached him. I got a $50 fine. It was not a good day.
It may be tempting, but this is a big no-no. If your ears are covered, and you are blasting music, you can’t hear the things happening around you. Therefore, headphones covering both your ears are prohibited while riding your bike.
After doing a lot of research, I discovered that NYC bike laws permit bikers to keep in one earbud, as long as they can still hear what is happening around them. But if you zone out while listening to music, skip the earbud so you can be alert in traffic.
9. Can you and your child ride on the same bike?
Children younger than one are not permitted on a bike. Kids between 1-5 years old are allowed on a bike with an adult if they are strapped into an approved carrier bike seat. Your child can not ride on your bike unless they have a designated seat. In addition, they are not permitted to sit on your lap or try to fit on your seat with you.
10. Who has the right of way, cyclists or pedestrians?
This is the big question, right? This is what we all want to know when those pesky pedestrians are on our beloved bike lane. Unfortunately for us, According to NYC bike laws, pedestrians always have the right of way. But that’s not always the case. There are some occasions when the bike has the right of way. So next time you want to have a mini freak-out over a crowded bike lane, remember that the cops will not be taking your side.
If you want to see some bike lane justice, take a look at this video which shows a brave cyclist taking back the bike lane on the Brooklyn bridge.
How likely is it to get a citation on a bicycle in New York City?
Truthfully, the typical New York cyclist is very unlikely that they will get a ticket for any of the violations listed here. Likewise, a police officer, especially if they are in a vehicle, is unlikely to pull you over because of a bike violation.
That being said, if you break any bike laws on a bike lane, you dramatically increase your chances of getting a ticket. In addition, the NYPD occasionally stations uniformed police on bike lanes specifically to give tickets, so stay on the safe side and always obey the bike laws.
If you want to see what it looks like to get a ticket, check out this video from Casey Neistat.
Frequently asked questions (FAQ)
Do you still have questions? Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about New York City bike laws.
How should a bicyclist prepare for intersection turns?
How should a bicyclist prepare for intersection turns? Bicyclists should use the same turn or through lanes as motorists. However, bicyclists may dismount and use the pedestrian crosswalk in heavy traffic. After crossing at an intersection, a bicyclist should move to the right side of the right lane or a usable right shoulder.
A bicyclist should approach an intersection the same way a motorist would. Prepare to stop at all traffic lights and stop signs and yield to any other traffic or pedestrians who have the right of way. Position your bicycle in the center of the left turn lane, where you will be most visible to motorists if you intend to make a left turn.
It’s generally safer to “take the lane” so you don’t get passed or overtaken until you’ve passed through the intersection. If there are multiple left-turn lanes, use the one on the right. After making the left turn, quickly move to the right to allow faster vehicles to pass.
Where should you ride if there is no shoulder or bike lane?
The best approach is to position yourself several feet into the lane where motorists will see you and not be invited to squeeze by in the same lane. On narrower lanes, 10 feet or less, a bicyclist might actually “take the lane,” i.e., by positioning themselves at or near the center of the lane.
What other laws should bicyclists be aware of?
Sit on the bike’s seat, not the fender or the handlebars. Keep your feet on the pedals and never carry more people on the bike than it was designed for.
Always keep at least one hand on the handlebars. And never tie your bike or yourself to another vehicle on the road. As permitted by law, never ride a bicycle with a motor attached to any public highway.
Finally, wearing more than one earphone connected to a radio, tape player, or another audio device is prohibited.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to what you are comfortable with. In short, use caution while biking in New York City and you should be fine. Just make sure you know the biking and cycling laws before setting out on your bike ride.
In this article, we covered NYC bike laws every cyclist should know. Here are some key takeaways:
- Adults don’t need to wear a helmet (delivery cyclists do)
- You can’t ride on the sidewalk
- You must use the bike lane
- You can’t ride against traffic
- You must signal when turning
- Cyclists are subjected to the same laws as cars
- Your bike must have working head and tail lights
- You are not allowed to use headphones while riding
- Children under one are not permitted on a bike
- Pedestrians always have the right of way
So, how many of these laws have you broken today? Let us know in the comments below (we read and reply to every comment). If you found this article helpful, check out our full blog for more tips and tricks on everything fixie. Thanks for reading, and stay fixed.