Cycling and the Highway Code (UK)


It’s a jungle out there, on the roads of Britain. Every cyclist for themselves against drivers hell bent on taking us out. Well thankfully, in Great Britain, we have something called the Highway Code and is the first line of defense against ignorant drivers.

I dug out my edition of the Highway Code and in this blog I hope to detail the most important parts that relate to cyclists. Some parts of the code are enshrined in law (the MUST/ MUST NOT sections) and failure to comply is a criminal offence.

I don’t want this to become a rant against drivers, in fact in my experience the vast majority of drivers are considerate and careful. Any incidents that I have had are generally down to lapses in concentration and not deliberate attempts to hurt me. I want to encourage people to get on their bike and get cycling and feel that the perceived animosity to cyclists takes place mostly online and in certain sections of the media who know that an anti-cycling article will bring out the worst in people. This gets good readership I guess.

Rules for Cyclists

Rule 59 - Clothing

You should wear:

  • A cycling helmet which conforms to current regulations is the correct size and is fitted securely.

  • Appropriate clothing for cycling. Avoid clothing which may get tangled in the chain or may obscure your lights.

  • Light-coloured or florescent clothing which helps other road users see you in daylight and poor light.

  • Reflective clothing and/or accessories (belt, arm of ankle bands) in the dark.

The first thing you will notice here is that none of this is law in that these are recommendations. So no, wearing a helmet is not a legal requirement, and there is a school of thought that suggests that making it so would deter people from cycling and in turn cause wider issues to the people’s well being. Personally I would not cycle without one and do so even when I am pootling around the bark with my son to set a good example.

As a road cyclist I am found in Lycra most of the time which I consider appropriate clothing for cycling. Some of it even has reflective strips. ON my commuter bike during winter I actually use reflective tape on the frame. It is the same colour as my bike so you don’t see it but it really helps drivers to see me, especially side-on when the lights on my bike are less effective.

Rule 60 – At Night

At night your cycle MUST have white front and red rear lights lit. It MUST also be fitted with red read reflector (and amber pedal reflectors if manufactured after 1/10/85). Flashing lights are permitted but it is recommended that cyclists who are riding in areas without street lighting use a steady front lamp.

It should be obvious that when on your bike at night you need to go to great lengths to ensure that you are seen. It shouldn’t need to be said but I have seen cyclists who must be on some kind of suicide ride and are practically invisible to all other road users.

I use lights that give the option to have one light flash and one light be constantly on and are rechargeable via a USB. This way I can charge them at my desk every day, safe in the knowledge that a battery will not die halfway through my cycle home in the dark.

I also have an additional very string front constant beam and put a flashing red light on the back of my helmet to aid visibility to drivers.

All bikes have to be sold with reflectors because of this rule.

Rule 61 – Cycle Routes and Other Facilities

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.

Since most drivers act like they own the very tarmac of the road it is surprising just how few of them understand or have indeed read the Highway Code. See also any “Road Tax” based arguments. The crux of a lot of arguments tend to be that we should be cycling on cycling lanes and not the roads. Point to Rule 61 as your comeback. We don’t have to use them and most times the facilities for cycling are simply inadequate but that is a topic for an altogether different topic.

Rule 62 – Cycle Tracks

These are normally located away from the road, but may occasionally be found alongside footpaths or pavements. Cyclists and pedestrians may be segregated or they may share the same space (unsegregated). 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. Take care near road junctions as you may have difficulty seeing other road users, who might not notice you.

This is common sense and we should do everything we can to protect the most vulnerable users of the roads. Drivers hate us, that is a given, so let’s not have pedestrians hate us also.

Rule 63 – Cycle Lanes

These are marked by a white line (which may be broken) along the carriageway (see Rule 140). When using a cycle lane, keep within the lane when practicable. When leaving a cycle lane check before pulling out that it is safe to do so and signal your intention clearly to other road users. Use of cycle lanes is not compulsory and will depend on your experience and skills, but they can make your journey safer.

Again the key here is that the use of cycle lanes is not compulsory by the Highway Code. Sometimes I use them and sometimes I don’t and in each case it is because of safety. IN the UK, we are a long way being our continental cousins when it comes to cycling infrastructure.

Rule 64 - You MUST NOT cycle on a pavement.

This is one of those “must” ones and therefore an actual law. This is why we cycle on roads and not on normal pavements. Drivers cannot seriously advocate the breaking of the law surely? The pavement is for pedestrians and not for cyclists travelling at 20 mph. Accidents will happen and pedestrians will hate us.

Rule 65 – Bus Lanes

Most bus lanes may be used by cyclists as indicated on signs. Watch out for people getting on or off a bus. Be very careful when overtaking a bus or leaving a bus lane as you will be entering a busier traffic flow. Do not pass between the kerb and a bus when it is at a stop.

Drivers hate cyclists. Cyclists hate buses. They are slow, stop often and spew toxic fumes straight into our faces as we breathe deeply. I use bus lanes as and when appropriate but like most cycling infrastructure it is usually not fit for purpose.

Rule 66

You should:

  • keep both hands on the handlebars except when signalling or changing gear

  • keep both feet on the pedals

  • never ride more than two abreast, and ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends

  • not ride close behind another vehicle

  • not carry anything which will affect your balance or may get tangled up with your wheels or chain

  • be considerate of other road users, particularly blind and partially sighted pedestrians. Let them know you are there when necessary, for example, by ringing your bell if you have one. It is recommended that a bell be fitted.

The third bullet point here should be of interest to those drivers that get frustrated when cyclists ride side-by-side. The Highway Code is clear; riding abreast is allowed. It is potentially safer since the driver is forced to occupy more of the other lane and will be less tempted to squeeze past as they might a single cyclist.

In the interests of avoiding an all-out civil war I think it is important that cyclist adopt a common sense approach to this issue. I rarely get the opportunity these days to cycle with my friends never mind see them so when those days happen we often ride beside each other to catch-up on life whilst enjoying the outdoors. When we are on busy roads we ride single file and then switch back to cycling side-by-side on the quiet country roads that bless this country. If I hear a car approaching from behind typically I will get out the saddle and jump in front of my friend as a courtesy to the driver. To give the majority of drivers credit, they usually pass safely and might even offer a wave of appreciation.

My feeling on this is that if you have chosen to drive on narrow country roads then you should not be in a rush and waiting an extra few seconds to overtake a couple of chatting cyclists should not be an undue stress on your day.

Take it from my experience that the rule about driving too close to another vehicle is a sound one. In the wet their brakes are much more effective than that of a bike and I found myself squished against the rear window of car once, a couple of toddlers looking back at me in surprise. It was embarrassing and it was my fault.

Rule 67

You should

  • look all around before moving away from the kerb, turning or maneuvering, to make sure it is safe to do so. Give a clear signal to show other road users what you intend to do

  • look well ahead for obstructions in the road, such as drains, pot-holes and parked vehicles so that you do not have to swerve suddenly to avoid them. Leave plenty of room when passing parked vehicles and watch out for doors being opened or pedestrians stepping into your path

  • be aware of traffic coming up behind you

  • take extra care near road humps, narrowing’s and other traffic calming features

  • take care when overtaking

If you are cycling on the roads then this rule should be the absolute minimum competency. I cannot stress the importance of not riding in the gutter for that is where all sorts of dangers lurk. Look for tell tail signs that a car door is about to open and treat any occupied car as having the potential to door you.

Treat all pedestrians as if they are listening to music at the same time as texting. They won’t hear you and they will step out in front of you so you need to be aware at all times, particularly when cycling in the city.

Rule – 68

You MUST NOT

  • carry a passenger unless your cycle has been built or adapted to carry one

  • hold onto a moving vehicle or trailer

  • ride in a dangerous, careless or inconsiderate manner

  • ride when under the influence of drink or drugs, including medicine.

Hopefully it is obvious, but cycling under the influence of drink or drugs is just a monumentally bad idea even if it might feel less painful should you inevitably fall off.

Cycling under the influence is covered by Section 30 of the Road Traffic Act and states “A person who, when riding a cycle on a road or other public place, is unfit to ride through drink or drugs (that is to say, is under the influence of drink or a drug to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the cycle) is guilty of an offence.

It is important to note that, unlike driving, there is no law that specifies just how much alcohol is permissible for a cyclist. The punishment for such an offense would likely be an offence. There would be no effect on your driving licence. If you are riding in a dangerous fashion then you could be charged with “furious cycling” which sounds cool but could lead to imprisonment.

Legalities aside, it might seem like you have cracked the code by cycling to and from the pub but you are a danger to yourself and to others if you choose to cycle under the influence.

Rule – 69

You MUST obey all traffic signs and traffic light signals.

This particular law will be music to driver’s ears. It is simple, as cyclists we should take the moral high ground and not give drivers excuses to hate us. Stop at red lights and use the opportunity to perfect your track stand.

Rule - 70

When parking your cycle

  • find a conspicuous location where it can be seen by passers-by

  • use cycle stands or other cycle parking facilities wherever possible

  • do not leave it where it would cause an obstruction or hazard to other road users

  • secure it well so that it will not fall over and become an obstruction or hazard.

And don’t forget to lock your pride and joy with a good lock. The mind boggles when I see a two grand bike locked to a pole with a bit of cheese wire.

Rule 253 - Prohibited vehicles

Motorways MUST NOT be used by pedestrians, holders of provisional motorcycle or car licences, riders of motorcycles under 50 cc, cyclists, horse riders, certain slow-moving vehicles and those carrying oversized loads (except by special permission), agricultural vehicles, and powered wheelchairs/powered mobility scooters (see Rules 36 to 46 inclusive).

This should be self evident but in the UK you are not allowed to ride your bike on the motorways. Why you might want to is beyond my comprehension but there was a story a few years ago of a foreign cycling team training for the Manchester Commonwealth Games who rode on the motorway before being stopped by the local traffic police. That they didn’t know the law is perhaps excusable but the fact that they continued to cycle on such roads is madness.

Thanks to living in an ancient land, we are blessed in Britain with lots of little country and farm roads that allow you to get where you want (more or less) whilst avoiding the busiest roads. My philosophy on choosing a cycling route is that just because you can doesn’t mean that you should

#HighwayCode #RulesforCyclists

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