Ask the Expert: How Can I Stay Safe While Riding My Bike in Traffic?

Chris Wogas, the president of Bike and Roll NYC, shares tips for riding bikes with traffic and in large groups, as well as how some bike laws differ in each state.

family riding bikes on street

Do you have any tips for riding a bike in car traffic?

The basic thing is to just be cognizant of your environment. Every situation is different. If you’re on the bike path on the West Side, you’re looking out for different things than if you’re riding through Midtown. So the biggest thing is to be cognizant of your surroundings and your ability.

bicycling hand signals

Like when you drive a car, not everybody is paying attention to you when you’re on a bike. You’re in a losing situation if you were to get hit by a car, so make sure you can be seen. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do if you were walking. Don’t go left or right without looking over your shoulder—make sure there’s nothing there, and signal which way you’re going. If you’re on a bicycle, you have to follow all the motor vehicle rules. And try to make sure you keep yourself in safe situations, meaning if you’re in a bike lane and a cab pulls over to let somebody out, don’t necessarily go out to the left and swing around the cab into traffic. If you’re not comfortable with looking over your shoulder while moving, the best thing to do is to stop, make sure there is an opening where you can go around the cab, or wait until the cab leaves. Especially if you’re riding with your kids, it’s better to wait until the cab that pulled over moves so you can continue in the bike lane.

If you don’t feel comfortable riding in a certain spot, get off and walk your bike until you get to a place where you do feel comfortable. There are a lot of places where you get to some pretty crowded areas and it just makes sense to walk. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just really have a sense of your ability, what you feel comfortable with, and what’s going on around you. Those are the biggest things you can do to help yourself.

What about tips for biking in larger groups?

We put out a lot of groups because we do city tours, and the best tip that we’ve come up with is to identify in advance places where the group is going to stop so people can catch up. Everybody rides at different speeds, everybody is looking at different things, maybe stopping to take a picture, so if you can identify some real obvious areas along your route where you’re going to stop and get the whole group back together and go again, that’s the best thing to do. You always want to ride in single file. If you ride next to each other, whether you’re in a bike lane or in the park where you’re getting close to cars, you’re taking up a much larger footprint if you ride side by side. Then anyone behind you who is going to pass you for some reason has to take up even more of the road so you always want to stay single file. And when you do pull over or stop, you want to make sure it is off the path. You don’t want to stop in the middle of the street. You want to get yourself out of traffic.

Are biking laws the same in each state?

That’s a yes and a no. They are different in each state depending on where you are. In New Jersey for instance, if you’re looking at a city like Hoboken, you can ride on the sidewalk, but you have to go at a pace that’s slower than a pedestrian walking. In New York, adults cannot ride on a sidewalk only kids are allowed. So they’re absolutely different in each state. But the yes part is sort of the common sense rules around biking, which is really anything a motor vehicle can’t do, you can’t do. So you want to stop at red lights, you want to yield to pedestrians, you want to use hand signals when turning, you want to look over your shoulder before you do something. That’s all pretty standard. But there are specific changes to the laws state by state.

Links for local biking laws:


New York City

New York state

New Jersey


Find bike safety tips, including how to tell if a helmet fits properly and the safety accessories every bike needs, here.

Chris Wogas is the president of Bike and Roll NYC, which offers bicycle tours and rentals throughout New York City and Hoboken, NJ.

Also see:

Biking: Teach Your Kids to Ride Safely

Ask the Expert: Why Should My Child Learn to Ride a Balance Bike

Professor Pedals Teaches All Ages to Ride on Long Island