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10 Crazy NYC Bike Laws Fixie Riders Need to Know (2021)

Stay above the law with these 10 tips

Food delivery cyclist breaking NYC bike laws next to police van.
Food delivery cyclist breaking NYC bike law next to police van.

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 lead me on a journey to find out which NYC bike laws apply to us and which don’t. 

If you are in fear of running into the wrong side of the law when riding your fixie, fear not. Because in just a few minutes, you will learn ten NYC bike laws all new york cyclists need to know. By the time you finish this, you will be ready to ride on your bike and look at a police officer, confident that you are not breaking any NYC bike laws. 

1. Do You Need to Wear a Helmet When Riding a Fixie New York City?

Kyle Hill from Because Science straps on his helmet.

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. If you ride your bike for a delivery company, you are also required to wear a helmet. 

2. Do Cyclists Have to Follow the Same Laws as Cars?

Yes! Just because you are riding a bike doesn’t mean you don’t have to follow the law. You have to stop at red lights and yield to pedestrians—just like drivers of motor vehicles do. The only time you can follow a signal that a car driver can not is when traffic signs explicitly state otherwise. 

You must also stop for accidents and report any crashes or property damage they cause in an accident to the police. 

Depiction of NYC Bike Laws in The Form of a New York City Bicycle Traffic Light on 44th Street.

Green bicycle traffic light on 44th Street, signifying New York bike laws.
Green bicycle traffic light on 44th street New York City.

3. Do NYC Bike Laws Permit Riding 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 sidewalks 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 you are not authorized to do so, police can confiscate your bike. 

4. If You Can’t Use the Sidewalk, Can You Ride Your Fixie in The Street?

This is one of those NYC bike laws that can get confusing. You can either ride your bike in a designated bike lane or share a lane with car traffic. But 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. If the lane is too narrow, you are allowed to ride in the middle of the lane, just like a car does. 

Cyclist gets ticketed $50 for not riding on the bike lane.

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 run the risk of getting flagged down by a cop. So don’t do it. It’s not only the law, but it’s the smart thing to do. 

6. Are Cyclists Required to Use a Signal when Turning?

Officially yes. According to NYC bike laws, when a biker makes a turn, you must use your hand signals to alert the drivers around you. 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, and really you should.

Female cyclist using right arm to signal turning right.
Female cyclist using right arm to signal turning right.

7. Does My Fixie Need to Meet Any Criteria to Be Legally Used in New York City?

Yes. Bikers in New York City must outfit their bikes with a white headlight and a red tail light. 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. 

If you aren’t using your lights at night, you might get a citation for it. Your bike must also be in operational condition. It must have a seat and have functioning pedals and brakes. 

8. Can I Wear My Headphones While I Ride My Fixie?

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. Headphones that cover both your ears are prohibited while you are riding your bike. 

NYC Bike Laws do permit bikers to keep in one earbud, as long as they can still hear what is going on around them

After doing a lot of research, I discovered that NYC Bike Laws do permit bikers to keep in one earbud, as long as they can still hear what is going on around them. But if you zone out while listening to music, skip the earbud so you can be alert in traffic. 

If you guys want to see what it looks like to get a ticket for wearing headphones while riding a bike. Check out this video from Casey Neistat.

Casey Neistat getting a ticket for wearing headphones while biking.

9. Do NYC Bike Laws Prevent Me from Having My Child on My 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 there is a designated seat for them. 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, a bike, or A Pedestrian?

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, the pedestrian always 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.

Cyclist takes back the Brooklyn Bridge bike lane.

Conclusion

Truthfully, the typical New York Fixie cyclist is very unlikely that you will get a ticket for any of the violations listed here, except maybe for the ones about children. A police officer, especially in a vehicle, is very unlikely to stop you or pull you over because of a bike violation. 

Police staring out of cruiser window.

That being said, if you break any of these NYC Bike laws on a bike lane, you dramatically increase your chances of getting a ticket. The NYPD occasionally stations uniformed police on bike lanes specifically to give tickets, so stay on the safe side and always obey the NYC bike laws. You can read all the official information from the Safe Bicycling in New York City manual here.

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 NYC Bike Laws have you broken today? Let us know in the comments below. Want more fixed gear tips and content? Click here to see all of our blog posts. Thanks for reading, and stay fixed.

Written by Yerain Abreu

Yerain is the owner and operator of this fine website. As a native New Yorker, Yerain is no stranger to the fixed gear scene. He was there in 2008 when it was hot, and he's still riding fixed–day in, day out. When he’s not on the bike, you can find him practicing his many hobbies including, cycling, video production, and photography.

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