I was with three other riders, and we weren’t using the bike lane – mostly because it was littered with sand and occasional pedestrians. It was a casual easy sunshine spin, until the traffic cops stopped us.
It was suggested that if we didn’t have documentation to produce, we’d have our bikes packed up into the van to be taken to the police station, which seemed somewhat dramatic when you consider the combined worth to be around £15k.
They got back into their cars and drove off, after about 30 minutes of interrogation, when it transpired that we didn’t have cash on us and we weren’t going to reveal the location of our hotel.
My attempts at rational conversation with the traffic police were somewhat scuppered by the fact I didn’t know exactly what the law was, in Spain. Hence it seemed like a good idea to take a look at the key laws for cyclists in some of the European counties cyclists are most likely to ride their bicycles in.
Cycling within the European Union
The below is Brexit dependant for UK residents, but here’s what applies for now.
All bicycles must have:
An efficient brake
A bell – and no other audible warning device
A red rear reflector
Red rear lamp
White or selective yellow front lamp
Each country also has its own laws and some will be more stringent. However, national charity Cycling UK states that “as a visitor, you have the option of pick and mix between the traffic law of that country and the above requirements for international use of a pedal cycle.”
Country specific guidelines
It goes without saying that in all countries, cyclists are required to ride on the same side of the road as cars, they must indicate when turning left or right, and should stop at red lights (unless marked otherwise).
Best cycling holidays
Other laws vary, and below are the official lines.
However, bear in mind that in the UK the Highway Code stipulates that all bicycles have reflectors fitted to the pedals, yet the last time most of us saw a pedal reflector we were under the age of 10. In other words, not all regulations are enforced.
Cyclists are advised to ride side-by-side by national governing bodies. Primarily, this is because a group of eight side-by-side riders is easier and safer to overtake than a line of eight cyclists riding single file.
Though the Highway Code says we should be single file on narrow roads, we can take the primary position (riding in the middle of the lane) where it’s not safe for drivers to overtake.
Using cycle lanes
The UK is one of only five European countries (alongside Malta, Cyprus, Romania and Ireland) which has not introduced presumed liability.
Rule 60 of the Highway Code suggests that all bikes must be fitted with a white front and red rear light (flashing or steady), plus a red rear reflector and amber pedal reflectors, if manufactured after 1/10/85.
The current law – updated in 2014 – states that those over 16 must wear a helmet when riding outside of urban areas. Exemptions apply when riding uphill, if it’s very hot, or if you are a professional cyclist.
Article 36.2 of the Spanish regulations – Código de Tráfico y Seguridad Vial – states:
“2. It is forbidden for the vehicles listed in the previous section [including cyclists] [to] circulate in a parallel position, except for bicycles, which may do so in a two-by-two column, edging as far as possible to the extreme right of the road and placing in a row in sections with no visibility, and when they form traffic jams (aglomeración tráfico).”
Using cycle lanes
Loosely translated, article 36 states that: “Cycles will use the road if there is no part that is specially designed.”
That means you must use the bike lane if there is one that is suitable.
However, in an article by a local insurance firm, it is noted that enforcement is variable, because “the different municipalities can regulate the bike lane almost autonomously.”
Article 1 of Royal Decree 8/2004 states: “The motor vehicle driver is responsible, for the risk created by driving such vehicles, damage to persons or property caused through his driving.”
The driver is liable unless it is proven that the incident occurred solely due to the conduct or negligence of the other party.
A bell is also compulsory, and you can be fined for having faulty brakes or failing to give way.
You must not cycle on the road if you have a blood alcohol level greater than 0.5 grams per litre.
Using cycle lanes
A cycle path is separated from the road by a kerb and from the pavement by markings, paving or a low kerb.
You can be fined for ‘drink cycling’ in Germany, anything from 0.4 mg/l breathing air is considered over the limit.
Fines can be issued for jumping red lights, looking at your phone or wearing headphones.
You must have a white front light and a red rear light, but flashing LED lights are prohibited. You should have two working brakes and a bell.
Children must cycle on the pavement until they are eight years old and are able to ride on the pavement until they turn 10.
Using cycle lanes
If a dedicated bike lane is available, you have to use it if you’re in a small group.
Where it’s a d use path, the Belgian Highway Code reads: “Users of these paths can not put each other in danger or embarrass themselves. They must be extra careful with children and can not obstruct unnecessary traffic.” The speed limit on these paths is 30kph.
However, there are different rules if you’re in a large group. If there’s 15 or more of you, the code states: “Cyclists travelling in groups of no less than 15 participants to a maximum of 50 are not required to use the cycle lanes and can ride two at a time on the roadway, provided that they remain grouped together.”
This said, you must have at least two ‘masters of the route’ with you, to ensure smooth running, and be preceded and followed by a motor vehicle by at least 30 metres.
In cycle streets, riders can use the full width of the road if its one way, or ride in the centre of the lane when it’s two way.
Fines can be applied for riding with your hands off the handlebars, riding with your feet off the pedals, being towed by another rider or motorist or cycling whilst on your mobile phone.
The lighting laws are similar to elsewhere, and reflectors and pedal reflectors make an appearance again.
Regulations state: “Between dusk and sunrise and in any circumstance where it is no longer possible to see distinctly up to a distance of about 200 meters, cyclists must use a [white or yellow] front and [red] rear steady or flashing light without glare. The red tail light shall be visible at night in a clear atmosphere at a minimum distance of 100 meters.
“Bicycles must be permanently equipped with a white retro reflector at the front and a red retro reflector at the rear… The pedals of bicycles must be permanently equipped with yellow or orange retro-reflectors.”
Children under 12 years old must wear a helmet, a guardian can be fined €90 for non-compliance.
Those over 12 do not have to wear a helmet.
At night, if a vehicle wishes to overtake, or when “circumstances make it necessary,” riders should move to become single file.
If there’s more than 10 of you, you should split into two groups.
Using cycle lanes
In built up areas, you must use cycle lanes where they exist.
Rules set out by Direction de la sécurité et de la circulation routières (DSCR) state that your bike must have two brakes, front and rear, a yellow or white front light, red rear light, a horn or bell and reflectors. It also states that: “all cyclists (and passengers) on the road at night or in poor visibility, outside of built-up areas must wear a reflective vest.”
Only children of less than eight years old are allowed to cycle their bikes on the pavement.
The Codice Stradale (Highway Code) says: “1. Cyclists must ride in single file whenever traffic conditions require them to do so, and never more than two abreast. When riding outside centres of population, they must always ride in single file except when one of the riders is less than 10 years old and is riding on the right of the other.”
Using cycle lanes
Yep, you’ve got to use them when they’re available.
As per all of the above, except the UK!
Other notable rules include that cyclists must always have their “arms and hands free to control the handlebar with at least one hand, and must be able at all times to see in front and to either side of them and able to undertake the necessary manoeuvres.”
As well as lights, reflective items are meant to be worn when riding in non-urban areas between sunset and dawn, though we’ve not seen this enforced.