Cycling Etiquette

Cycle Guides > Cycling Etiquette

As we know cyclists' have a responsibility to follow the Highway Code for the safety of ourselves and other road users. The vast majority of cyclists' just use common sense when using public roads for cycling, and most have general driving (car/van/truck) or riding experience (motorbike/trike). There are however some rules and expectations of cyclists' which we may know little or nothing about. Below is a list of laws/good etiquette that may have previously been overlooked as they are sometimes unclear, unwritten or generally hard to find.

The Basics

Cycle Helmets:The Highway Code states that you 'should' wear a cycle helmet whilst cycling; therefore this is advisory but not a legal requirement. We certainly recommend wearing cycle helmets as they prevent you from getting concussion or worse in an accident.

Brakes: It is prohibited, and not too sensible, to ride a bike without efficient brakes.

Lighting: In the hours of darkness it is compulsory to have a white front light and a red rear light lit. This isn't just for others to see you but also for you to see where you're going.

Reflectors: Your bike must have a red reflector facing rearwards at the back and amber reflectors on each pedal (if bike manufactured after 01/10/1985). White front and spoke reflectors are not enforced by law but do help you to be visible to other road users. Spokey Dokes may look cool but unfortunately they're not a legal requirement either, although people could certainly hear you coming.

Roads and Paths

Cycle Tracks & Pavements: If there is a public footpath/footway (pavement) which is signposted as an unsegregated lane/path then it is safe to share this with pedestrians with caution (just be courteous and slow down for groups of pedestrians, the elderly and children). If however the lane or path is signposted as segregated then it is law that you must stay to the designated side as it is for pedestrians to stay to their side. It is against the law to ride on pavements at any time where there are no signs allowing you to do so - this includes public footpaths away from roads too (although some private landowners do allow cyclists to use their pathways).

Bridleways: Cyclists are permitted to use all bridleways, however they must give way to walkers and horse riders.

Restricted Byways and Roads Used as Public Pathways(RUPPs): Cyclists are permitted to ride on restricted byways. All RUPPs were renamed as restricted byways (unless signposted otherwise) as of 02/05/2006 and therefore cyclists are allowed to use them.

Byways Open to All Traffic (BOATs): Cyclists' may use BOATs (there's no mention of inflatable lilos though...?) although many are unsealed (no tarmac used) and therefore may have uneven surfaces, so be sure to wear a helmet!

Other: Also I think it goes without saying that nobody should cycle on motorways or other roads which have been signposted for cyclists to dismount or not to cycle.

Highway Code

Riding Two or More Abreast: You are permitted to ride two abreast (no more than two though) but when the road is narrow, busy or when travelling round bends you should be prepared to ride in single file.

Cycle Bell: It is not compulsory to have a bell fitted to a bike, but they are recommended for warning pedestrians you are approaching.

Miscellaneous: It is prohibited to carry a passenger on your bike (unless it's been adapted to do so). Unfortunately it's illegal for a cyclist to hold onto a moving vehicle/trailer to propel the bike. You must not cycle under the influence of alcohol or drugs (including some medicines) or they'll punish you by crushing your wheels (and you'll probably get a hefty fine or get sent to court.

Signs and Traffic Signals: A cyclist must adhere to all traffic signs and signals as if you were a motorist. On a red traffic signal your bike must be positioned behind the white line at traffic lights unless there is a specific (signed) cycle area in front of the usual motorists' position.

Signalling: You should always indicate using your arms before you turn, and if turning right you should look around well in advance. If the way is clear indicate and move out, if not, either speed up or slow down and indicate, but only move out when other road users have acknowledged you and have adjusted their speed if necessary.

Cycling Community:

Communication: Always let other cyclists' know your intentions, and inform them of any on-coming hazards and/or points of interest.

Help Others: If you see another cyclist take a fall, fixing a puncture or generally in trouble it's always a nice gesture to stop and ask if they need help.

Cycling Snobbery: Please try not to judge other cyclists' on their bike, riding style, clothing or fitness as everyone has to start somewhere. Also we should be encouraging others, including new cyclists' and showing them and the public that we're a friendly community so try to acknowledge other riders.

Call Passing: Let others know you are passing and acknowledge them.

Tips for Riding in Groups:

  • Ask permission to join a group - if they say no, there's probably a reason (they may be specifically training to fulfil a goal or practising manoeuvres where it may be dangerous for you to join in) so don't sulk and stamp your feet. If they do let you, it's polite to stay at the back until they invite you to move forward
  • Try not to leave others behind
  • Share the front position
  • When rotating let others know when you're pulling in
  • When cutting in line after falling back from the front, point using your right hand and ask the cyclist behind you - when they let you in nod or wave to thank them

For further legal requirements/advice on the Highway Code and other responsibilities of cyclists' please refer to the government website ( direct.gov.uk). Local councils often have more localised information on cyclists' responsibilities too.