Spring is here and everyone is dusting off their bicycles and hitting the pavement. Here are some tips on staying safe and making your bike street legal from the dudes at Silk Road Cycles. This is your life we are talking about, so take it seriously!

GP: How do we make a bicycle street legal in NY?
Silk Road Cycles: The three things we focus on are:
1. Working brakes (according to the law, a brake that is able to make your rear tire skid on level ground.)
2. Bell or other audible signal
3. Lights and reflective material – from dusk till dawn)

GP: Are there fines associated with not complying?
Silk Road Cycles: Yes. You can be ticketed for any of the above issues.

GP: What lights do you recommend?
Silk Road Cycles: Both front and rear are a must! Any light that is clearly visible to drivers, but the brighter the better (NYC has a lot of lights everywhere, so stand out). In the shop we have a penchant for USB rechargeable lights. Easier, brighter and they run about $80 for a pair. (They’ll also double as strobe lights for your next party.) Well worth it, if you ask us.

GP: Do you have to wear a helmet legally as an adult? As a child?
Silk Road Cycles: After the age of 14 you do not have to wear a helmet legally. But everyone should!


Purchase a helmet that is bicycle specific and approved by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.

You should replace your helmet immediately after a crash and/or after 3 years of use. Over time the foam in the helmet deteriorates. Now and again, look over your helmet – make sure the plastic is still entirely connected to the styrofoam and check for cracks in the foam.

GP: Can you wear a skateboard helmet instead of a bike helmet?
Silk Road Cycles: Legally: yes. With confidence in your safety: no. Bicycle helmets are made for single use high impact. Skateboard helmets are made for multiple impacts at much lower speeds.

GP: Where is the safest place in a lane to ride? Left/middle/right?
Silk Road Cycles: It varies according to the situation. Usually the best place to ride is closest to the right, but be aware that a car door could open at anytime!

Here’s what the law says about where to ride (as according to our friend at Transportation Alternatives):

RCNY § 4-12 (p) Bicyclists may ride on either side of one-way roadways that are at least 40 feet wide.
RCNY § 4-12 (p) Bicyclists should ride in usable bike lanes, unless they are blocked or unsafe for any reason.

GP: What are the proper bike signals?

(apparently they are so easy, even a dumb cat can do them!)

GP: How does a cyclist make a safe left turn on a two way street?
Silk Road Cycles: One way is to put your left arm out to signal and wait for a car to stop or until there are no cars coming in the lane. The other is to make a right turn onto another street, turn around and wait for the light to turn green or wait until the street is clear. Practice riding and looking over your shoulder, make sure you can keep your bike in a straight line while you check behind you. It’ll help boost your confidence while you negotiate busy, beat up streets.

GP: Do bicycles need to stop at stop signs and traffic lights?
Silk Road Cyles: Yes. Cyclists must follow the same rules that motorists do. There’s been some debate about this one, but New York State law is fairly clear:

VTL § 1231 Bicyclists are granted all of the rights and are subject to all of the duties of the driver of a motor vehicle.

GP: Are bicycles banned on certain roads? In parks? On sidewalks?
Silk Road Cycles: Bicycles are prohibited on expressways, drives, highways, interstate routes, bridges and thruways, unless authorized by signs. Sidewalks are a resounding no, unless you’re under 12. They are also banned in parks unless authorized by signs.

GP: How can one avoid getting their bike stolen?
Silk Road Cycles: Lock to things that are secure. Do not lock to scaffolding, trees, sign post that the lock and bike can be lifted over and off. Don’t leave you’re bike out during the wee hours.
On lock specifics, I will let the late Sheldon Brown show us how it’s done.

GP: How can riders avoid getting into accidents?
Silk Road Cycles: Use lights!! Follow the rules of the road. Watch for opening doors (especially from cabs). On occasion we find ourselves taking unnecessary risks – cutting it too close because you don’t want to lose momentum, don’t want to be late… It’s always good practice to remind yourself to take it easy. Riding a bike is, to my mind, the quickest way to slow down the city and enjoy yourself. Take advantage of that!

More specific reading on biking laws:

Illustrations: Jon Pywell

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