UK Cycle Laws – Is My Bike Road Legal?


The Law Of… Cycling On The Right Side Of The Law

The death of a pedestrian, hit by a cyclist while crossing the road, made the headlines recently when the resulting criminal investigation reached trial. Damian Ryder, a Road Traffic Accident Associate, takes a look at this tragic case and discusses how you can remain on the right side of the law when out cycling.

Pedestrian Killed In Collision With Cyclist

The cyclist at the centre of the recent court case collided with Kim Briggs, a mother of two, during her lunch break in February 2016. Her resulting death led to charges of manslaughter and causing bodily harm by 'wanton and furious driving' being levelled at the cyclist.

Although cleared of manslaughter, the cyclist was convicted on the count of bodily harm, a law dating back to the days of horse-drawn carriages, which carries a maximum custodial sentence of 2 years. Given the severity of the charges, along with the fact that the defendant was riding a Track Bike with no front break fitted, the trial elicited much interest, as well as controversy, from the media and public at large.

To ensure you don't fall foul of the law the next time you are out cycling, we explain the legal requirements for bikes in the UK.

What Is A Track Bike?

The track bike (also known as fixed-gear, fixed-wheel or fixie) ridden by the cyclist in the recent court case was a bike designed and intended for use in a velodrome. It was not fitted with a front brake, which is the norm for off-road track cycling.

Braking on a fixed-gear bike is controlled through pedalling. The rear wheel is unable to move independently of the pedals. If the cyclist stops pedalling, the rear wheel is unable to move, which allows him to regulate speed and even halt when necessary.

Why Don't Track Bikes Have Brakes?

Ironically, track bikes are not fitted with brakes for reasons of safety. In a velodrome, during a race, the competitors are travelling in the same direction at high speed. The risks of sudden braking in such an environment far outweigh the benefits. For example, should one rider stop abruptly, others travelling within close proximity would be in danger of a collision.

What Makes A Bike Road Legal?

A pushbike must meet certain requirements for it to be legally used on a public road. Chief among these are the rules relating to brakes and lights.

Does My Bike Require Brakes By Law?

The Pedal Cycles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1983 outlines that every pedal cycle should be equipped with at least one braking system. The requirements of different types of bike are as follows:

  • Fixed-gear track bikes – Defined as a bicycle constructed so that one or more wheels is incapable of rotating independently of the pedals, a brake is only required on the front wheel. This effectively treats the fixed wheel as a braking system in itself.
  • Electric bikes – Even if it is a fixed-gear electric bike, a braking system must be fitted to each wheel.
  • Standard bikes – Regulations stipulate that a braking system should be fitted to both wheels.

The rules do not specify the type of brake mechanisms required, nor does the law provide for their adequacy. In light of the publicity surrounding the recent court case, these regulations may well be revisited.

Does My Bike Require Lights And Reflectors By Law?

It is illegal to ride on a public road after dark without lights. A white light is required at the front and a red light at the rear. Reflectors are also necessary if you wish to remain within the law.

The specific legal requirements for lights and reflectors on a pedal bike are as follows:

The front light must:

  • Emit white light
  • Be positioned either centrally or on the offside
  • Be a maximum of 1.5m off the ground
  • Be both aligned towards and visible from the front
  • Be marked as conforming to relevant standard (BS6102/3 or European equivalent), if capable of emitting a steady light
  • Must be a minimum of 4 candelas, if only capable of emitting a flashing light.

The rear light must:

  • Emit red light
  • Be positioned either centrally or on the offside
  • Be between 35cm and 1.5m off the ground
  • Be both aligned towards and visible from the rear
  • Be marked as conforming to relevant standard (BS6102/3 or European equivalent), if capable of emitting a steady light
  • Must be a minimum of 4 candelas, if only capable of emitting a flashing light.

Pedal reflectors must be:

  • 2 amber-coloured reflectors fitted to each pedal
  • Positioned so that they are visible from the front and rear of the pedal
  • Marked as conforming to BS6102/2 standard or European equivalent.

Rear reflectors must be:

  • A red reflector
  • Positioned either centrally or on the offside
  • Between 25cm 90cm off the ground
  • Both aligned towards and visible from the rear
  • Marked as conforming to BS6102/2 or European equivalent.

There are exemptions for bikes manufactured prior to 1990.

What Are The Legal Requirements For Electric Bikes?

Electric bikes are a common sight nowadays, with the Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycle Regulations stating what is required for a bicycle to be considered as such (and not a motorcycle/moped liable for tax, insurance, driving licence etc.) and legal for use on public roads.

The regulations include:

  • An electric bike must not weigh more than 40kg if it is for a single rider, and 60kg if it is a tandem or tricycle
  • It must only be fitted with an electric motor
  • It must have working pedals
  • The maximum continuous rated power must not exceed 250 watts
  • If a speed of 15.5mph is reached, the electrical assistance must cut out.

A Low Legal Threshold

Damian comments:

"Beyond the rules regarding lights, reflectors and brakes, there are no other requirements for a non-electrically assisted bike. Manufacturers have to observe certain British and European standards with regards to various parts, but legally, any bike that meets the rules applying to lights, reflectors and brakes is allowed on the road."

"If a bike is dangerous by virtue of its design or because it is in a state of disrepair, it may have a bearing upon any criminal proceedings following a cycling accident. Under such circumstances, in the context of a compensation claim, it could be argued that the cyclist demonstrated contributory negligence."

"The rules in place for pedal cycles are the absolute bare minimum legal requirements and do not constitute a guide for safety on the road. The Highway Code goes beyond the regulations and provides guidance on clothing, helmets and other equipment for making your journey safer."

"Going back to the case involving the fatal collision between the pedestrian and the cyclist, the severity of the initial charges caused controversy. To some, when compared to those brought against drivers of motor vehicles, they seemed excessive."

"However, it could be argued that the legal threshold for a bicycle to be ridden on a public road is so low that the consequences of falling below it are justifiably high, particularly in the case that led to the tragic death of Mrs Briggs."

If you have been injured in an accident that wasn't your fault, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact Simpson Millar today.

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