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Common cyclist misconceptions

By Ted Welford | July 31, 2023

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Addressing some of the most common cyclist misconceptions on the road.

Common cyclist misconceptions

Cycling is a popular activity in the UK, whether it’s for using a bike as the main mode of transport to get around or as an activity to keep fit. 

But although cyclists are fully entitled to use the road, conflict can emerge with other motorists when it comes to sharing space and lanes. Often, this comes from drivers being misinformed about the rights of cyclists and other road users. 

Let’s address some of the most common cyclist misconceptions on the road.

Cyclists have to use bike lanes

The infrastructure for cycling has improved in recent years, with some roads – typically in cities – having dedicated cycle lanes, marked by a white line along the carriageway. These shouldn’t be confused with dedicated cycle tracks, which have a physical separation from the road or are in a different place. 

But although cycle lanes are there for safety, the Highway Code says riders can exercise their own judgment and aren’t obliged to use them. 

Cyclists can’t ride two abreast

As a driver, it might seem annoying if you encounter cyclists riding two abreast. But they have every right to do this. 

In fact, the Highway Code views this favourably, especially as it can make it safer, particularly when riding in a group. You should allow cyclists to do so to make sure they can see and be seen. Always remember to be patient and only overtake when it’s safe to do so while giving them sufficient room. 

Cyclists have to wear a helmet

If you see a cyclist riding on the road without a helmet, you might think they’re breaking the law. But in fact there is no legal requirement for cyclists to wear a helmet in the UK. It’s only if the bike has a throttle, therefore classed as a motorcycle, that one must be worn. 

However, while not being a legal requirement, it’s strongly advised that for their safety cyclists do wear a helmet that’s the correct size and securely fastened, as it can substantially reduce the risk of serious injury in the event of a collision.  

Cars have a right of way over cyclists

As a car driver, you might think you have the right of way over a cyclist, being in a bigger vehicle, but this is absolutely not the case. If cyclists are on the road, you should give way to them in the same way you would any other type of vehicle. 

In fact, a new rule as part of the 2022 Highway Code changes states: ‘You should not cut across cyclists, horse riders or horse-drawn vehicles going ahead when you are turning into or out of a junction or changing direction or lane.’ The changes to the Highway Code also stipulate that those in bigger vehicles have more of a duty to look after vulnerable road users, such as cyclists. 

Cyclists should ride as close to the side of the road as possible

You may come across a cyclist who is riding in the middle of the road or away from the kerb. Again, this might be annoying at first, but those on a bike are often doing this to improve their safety and are within the law. 

On narrow roads, quiet streets or in slow traffic, cyclists are actually advised to do this so that they can be more clearly seen and to be able to avoid potholes. Similarly, when cyclists are passing parked cars, the Highway Code advises them to ride at least a metre from the parked vehicles for their own safety. Cyclists are also advised to be at least half a metre away from the kerb edge. 

You can’t get fined for breaking the law while cycling

While cyclists can’t be given a fixed penalty notice for speeding on a bike, there are other powers that police forces can use against them. 

Because you don’t need any form of licence to ride a bike, there are no penalty points as such, but fixed penalty notices can be issued. Smaller offences, such as running a red light, could result in a fine of £50, but this can increase to a maximum of £2,500 for ‘dangerous cycling’. It is also illegal to ride a bike on a road or other public place while under the influence of drink or drugs.

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