If you ride regularly, or even if you don’t you may be surprised to find what it’s legal to do when cycling, what the rules of the road are, and what you can’t do when cycling.
As a cyclist, it’s good to know what you can do on the road, as it will help you ride assertively and safely.
Although most of these are in the highway code, not all of these are embedded in law – if they are, you’ll see the reference to the law they are referring to in bold.
This is also a great info to share with any of your non-cycling car-driving friends, as the more motorists know these, the better!
Legal: Ride 2 abreast
It’s perfectly legal for cyclists to ride two abreast on the road, so when you are off on a spin with your friends, feel free to cycle side by side. However, the highway code states that you can’t ride more than two abreast, and you can’t do it when on narrow roads or when cycling around bends.
It’s also courteous ride single file to allow cars to pass you if it’s safe for them to do so, and you can regroup after the car has gone past.
Highway Code, Rules for Cyclists: 66 You should never ride more than two abreast, and ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends.
Legal: Ride in the middle of the road
Not only is it legal for a cyclist to ride in the middle of a lane, it’s actually got a name: the Primary Position, or ‘taking the lane’. Normally cyclists should ride in what’s called the secondary position, around 30cm to 1m from the kerb.
However, it can often be safest to adopt the primary position, for example if the road is narrow and it’s unsafe for a driver to pass you, or if you need to avoid riding in the ‘door zone’ past parked cars. The primary position is the centre of the lane, and it’s where you’ll find it easier to see and be seen.
It’s not mentioned in the Highway Code, but it is in the Bikeability training program which is itself based on the National Standard for Cycle Training, produced by the Department for Transport.
Legal: Ride on the pavement
…It's legal to when cycling, but only if it’s a shared pavement or there is a cycle lane on it. If there is (you’ll know by the blue cycle sign), you can ride on it but you must ride considerately. It makes sense for all users of shared pathways to behave politely!
Highway Code, Rules for Cyclists: 62 When using segregated tracks you MUST keep to the side intended for cyclists as the pedestrian side remains a pavement or footpath. Take care when passing pedestrians, especially children, older or disabled people, and allow them plenty of room. Always be prepared to slow down and stop if necessary.
Legal: Ride without a helmet
You may or may not be surprised to hear that wearing a helmet when cycling is a matter of personal choice rather than an issue of law. Although the highway code advises that you should wear it, it’s not compulsory.
Highway Code, Rules for Cyclists: 59 You should wear a cycle helmet which conforms to current regulations, is the correct size and securely fastened.
Legal: Ride outside the cycle lane
Although cycle lanes can be great to use, and the highway code does advise cyclists to use them, you aren’t obliged to. In fact, it can sometimes be safer to ride outside them, if you need to take the lane or adopt the primary position.
An example might be if there are lots of cars parked along the cycle lane – rather than bobbing in and out of the cycle lane, it may be safer just to stay on a steady course on the road.
Highway Code, Rules for Cyclists: 61 Use cycle routes, advanced stop lines, cycle boxes and toucan crossings unless at the time it is unsafe to do so. Use of these facilities is not compulsory and will depend on your experience and skills, but they can make your journey safer.
Illegal: Ride through red lights
It’s against the law for a vehicle to go through a red light, and that applies to cyclists too.
Highway Code, Rules for Cyclists: 71 You MUST NOT cross the stop line when the traffic lights are red. Some junctions have an advanced stop line to enable you to wait and position yourself ahead of other traffic. Laws RTA 1988 sect 36 & TSRGD regs 10 & 36(1)
Illegal: Cycle without lights at night
It’s also a legal requirement to have lights on between sunset and sunrise. It doesn’t matter how bright it is; as soon as the sun dips below the horizon, you need to have lights on.
Check out our guide to Cycle Lights and the Law for the lowdown.
Highway Code, Rules for Cyclists: 60 At night your cycle MUST have white front and red rear lights lit. It MUST also be fitted with a red rear reflector (and amber pedal reflectors, if manufactured after 1/10/85). Law RVLR regs 13, 18 & 24
Illegal: Ride on footpaths
If there isn’t a sign saying it’s a shared footpath or there’s no cycle path on it, then you can’t ride on it. The highway code is short and sweet on this one: ‘You MUST NOT cycle on a pavement’.
Highway Code, Rules for Cyclists: 64 You MUST NOT cycle on a pavement. Laws HA 1835 sect 72 & R(S)A 1984, sect 129
Illegal: Cycle across Zebra crossings
Zebra crossings are for pedestrians only. If you are on your bike, you don’t count as a pedestrian, so you’ll need to dismount and cross. You can however cross on Toucan crossings, which are the button controlled traffic lights that allow pedestrians and cyclists to cross on the green signal.
Highway Code, Rules for Cyclists 79 Do not ride across a pelican, puffin or zebra crossing. Dismount and wheel your cycle across.
Illegal: Give your mate a backy
Sadly, impromptu passengers aren’t allowed on bicycles, so giving your mate a ride on your pannier rack or handlebars is a no-no. You can only carry passengers if your bike is adapted to carry one, for example cargo bikes, or bikes fitted with child seats.
Highway Code, Rules for Cyclists: 68 You MUST NOT carry a passenger unless your cycle has been built or adapted to carry one.