Commuting by Bike in the Big Apple
Commuting by bike in New York City is exhilarating. Riding over the bridges provides majestic skyline views. Cycling through Prospect or Central Park early in the morning and in the late afternoon is a beautiful respite from the hectic city known as the Big Apple.
The benefits of commuting by bike are myriad – if you do it, you are in the small minority of people who actually look forward to commuting and often consider it the best part of their day.
I have been commuting by bike from Brooklyn to Manhattan for many years, every weekday, in all weather (except snow). I commute on an S-Works Tarmac road bike, approximately 45 miles each day (depending on how many extra Prospect Park loops I ride on the way to and from work). From thousands of cycling commuting miles, I have picked up a few tips and information tidbits that may be helpful.
Preparing For the Ride
- Prepare everything the night before to minimize potential delays in the morning.
- Prepare all clothing, gear, and the bike – this includes making sure all lights are charged, brakes are not rubbing, the bike is clean (maybe), and tubes are fully inflated.
- If possible, prepare whatever you need for work in a backpack or panniers, and prepare your water bottle.
- The weather forecast is helpful for preparing clothes the night before, but be prepared to adjust in the morning. Don’t forget the afternoon forecast.
- You’re luck enough to be riding a bike to work – enjoy it.
- Disregard angry motorists – a thumbs up or smile is very disarming – imagine you were stuck in a car waiting 20 minutes to move three blocks.
- Embrace the headwinds – they make you stronger.
- Do some loops in a park if you want to extend your riding distance without riding in traffic.
- There are going to be days when things don’t go perfectly – flat tires, nasty weather, tired rider, unavoidable traffic, frustrated drivers. No one has a perfect commute everyday, but on a bike you always have a seat and you set your own schedule.
- When approaching intersections with one-way roads, expect a bike or pedestrian to be going the wrong way.
- Be careful when riding behind cars, they can and do stop much more quickly than a bike. Look to the front of the car(s) in front of you.
- Be careful overtaking non-experienced cyclists especially on inclines, always anticipate a sudden swerve.
- Use daytime running lights – I use my helmet light in flashing mode at all times, and a flashing white front light. Flashing lights signal motion.
- Don’t ride in the bike lane if it doesn’t feel completely safe, many times lanes are wedged in the dooring zone next to a curb filled with inattentive pedestrians – I hardly ever ride in bike lanes; your speed and traffic conditions should be determinative.
- Drivers don’t expect to see bikes on cold winter days – the worse the weather, the less drivers are expecting bikes to be out there.
- Never ride in the door zone, squeezed between traffic and parked cars – taking a traffic lane is much much safer.
- Be especially careful behind and around taxis and car services.
- Always expect pedestrians and joggers to dart in front of you – always have a planned escape plan in case that happens. Ring a bell before passing.
- Never trust cars’ turning signals or the absence of them – always assume a car will turn into your path at the worst possible moment.
- Wear cycling glasses – Cars and other cyclists can kick up a pebble or road debris – photochromic lenses are best for varied city lighting conditions.
- Wear a helmet – unless your skull/brain is dispensable.
- Wear bright clothes – dark clothes are easily lost in busy streets.
Riding in the Rain
- Be careful holding the handlebars in hard rain. Your grip is not as strong with soaked gloves, and a significant bump can unseat your hands.
- Drivers’ visibility is greatly reduced by wet windshields and foggy windows
- Leave plenty of stopping room, especially with rim brakes.
- Be very careful of grates, sewers, all other metallic objects, and wet leaves.
- Dress to be warm when wet. You can’t stay dry riding in hard rain. Several light layers work well.
- Front and rear fenders will keep you drier and warmer and your bike cleaner.
- Glasses can make it very difficult to see – a rain cap with a front brim provides much better eye protection from driving rain.
Riding in Below-Freezing Temperatures
- Always be alert for black ice – monitor temperature changes carefully especially when the weather is close to the freezing temperature.
- A balaclava is a vital accessory for very cold temperatures.
- Be slightly cold when starting out. But fingers, toes, and head should always be warm. If you are very comfortable when starting out, you will likely be sweating during the ride.
- Drivers are not expecting bikes to be outside – never assume a driver has seen you, always assume you are invisible.
- Use plenty of lighting especially for rides around dawn and dusk and at night.
- Always be prepared to change/repair a punctured tube. Punctured tubes usually occur in poor conditions, it’s part of cycling frequently.
- Never lock up a nice road bike outside, use a parking garage. Many parking garages in New York City accept bikes and have dedicated bike parking.
- Use a gym near your school or office to take a shower after your commute.