Cycling is safe, fun, and healthy. But it's an activity where the rules are not always well understood (by either people on bikes or people driving). Here are five cycling-specific rules you may not know about! (NOTE! - these rules are Queensland specific, but are probably similar in other Australian states and New Zealand)
Riding single file?
People can ride side-by side (two abreast). Often, people will ride single file on busy roads, out of courtesy or fear, so that there's more room between them and errant drivers who pass too closely. It's much harder to talk to a fellow cyclist who is in front of you, or behind, so riding side-by side is much more enjoyable. It's especially hard to carry on a conversation with someone in front of you or behind you, and keep a safe enough gap so that no one runs up the back wheel of the other person. It's the same reason why your passenger will usually sit in your car's passenger seat, and not in the back seat behind you.
With the windows down.
Yelling conversation back and forth.
In fact, a better analogy is you trying to yell out conversation to the driver in front of you, and vice versa, while driving down a quiet residential street at six in the morning.
And although you might think cyclists should always ride single file out of courtesy, 'sharing the road' doesn't mean people in cars are any more important than people on bicycles or anyone else. Courtesy doesn't mean a cyclist should inconvenience themselves because they're probably only cycling to the shops, or to school, or work, or just for exercise, just because someone in a car is in a hurry to get to the shops, or work, or to the gym.
However it is illegal to ride more than two abreast. If two people are riding along next to each other, a third cyclist can ride past them (to overtake them), but cannot ride along so they remain three abreast.
There is absolutely no rule that requires cyclists to ride as far to the left as possible, to keep out of the way of cars or for any other reason.
There is, however, a rule that requires all vehicles to keep as far left as reasonably practicable, on single lane roads. What is practicable depends of course on the circumstances. Riding in the 'door zone' (near enough to parked cars that you'll get clobbered if someone opens their car door) is certainly not practicable, and is actually downright dangerous! In fact, it's unlikely to be practicable for a cyclist to ride any further to the left of the road than it is for a car to drive, for all the same reasons: hitting parked cars, hitting opening doors, children and other pedestrians stepping off the kerb, debris, and stormwater grates.
In fact, 'taking the lane' (intentionally cycling in the middle of a narrow lane to stop impatient drivers overtaking where there's no room to do so safely) is not only legal, it is encouraged by most government transport agencies.
In Queensland, and more recently in some other states, the rules have been changed to allow cars to more easily overtake cyclists. Drivers are now allowed to cross an unbroken centre line or double lines to overtake safely, to allow the new mandatory minimum safe passing distance (at least one metre from the nearest extremity of the bicycle, or one and a half metres if the speed limit is higher than 60kph ...... irrespective of whether the cyclist is in a painted bike lane).
Even if a cyclist is hugging the left to be courteous, or out of fear, you'll still have to wait until you can safely use the oncoming lane to overtake (unless your car is a tiny micro-car from the 1960's).
And just like cars, cyclists do not have to keep left when entering a roundabout, or on multi-lane roads where cars should be changing lanes to overtake anyway.
Ride on the road, not the footpath!
Actually, no. In Queensland people can ride a bicycle on any footpath unless there's a No Bicycles' sign, which is a little black bicycle inside a red circle with a diagonal red line across the middle. Even 'Cyclists Dismount' signs are advisory only, and not legally enforceable.
In many situations, riding on the footpath is more convenient for everyone, and often it allows people who are intimidated by heavy or fast-moving road traffic to still leave the car at home cycle. And let's face it, the more people who leave their car at home and cycle the better it is for congestion and travel times, air pollution, noise pollution, finding a parking spot, and our health services.
Even on narrow footpaths, staying on the bike makes sense. A person riding slowly and safely on a bicycle is only half as wide, and less likely to collide with someone, than a person wheeling a bicycle beside them.
People riding on footpaths and share paths must give way to people who are walking, but that doesn't mean belligerent pedestrians should put cyclists and themselves at risk by intentionally getting in other people's way and forcing cyclists to stop. Not only does this type of thing generally make you a cockwomble, it is also against the law: it is illegal for a pedestrian to cause a traffic hazard by moving into the path of a cyclist, and penalties apply.
But it's not against the law for pedestrians to walk in the middle, to the right, or even do handstands on a shared pedestrian and cyclist path. Remember that if you're the type of cockwomble cyclist who screams "keep left!" at unsuspecting walkers.
Some states other than Queensland do explicitly prohibit adults from riding on footpaths unless they're accompanying children under 12, but these laws are not in accordance with the nationally agreed Australian road rules.
Research shows that riding a bike isn't any more dangerous than walking or driving (per time of exposure or number of trips made). In the unlikely event you're involved in a low-speed crash, and in the even more unlikely event the crash is such that you might hit your head, then wearing a helmet is likely to protect your noggin from non-fatal injuries (e,g, cuts and scrapes) and might even protect you from more serious head trauma like a cracked skull. So it's probably a good idea.
Helmets statistically provide better protection for young children than they do for teenagers or adults, and helmets are equally as useful whether you're a cyclist, a pedestrian, or in a car. In Australia and New Zealand we tend to focus on this research to argue our mandatory helmet laws are a 'no brainer' for cyclists (and ignore the similarly same safety benefits for pedestrians and car occupants). Meanwhile, other countries are more influenced by research that shows mandatory helmet laws create the perception that cycling is more dangerous than it really is, discourages all but sports cycling, and shifts the responsibility of road safety onto the vulnerable victim, and not the major cause of road death. Other countries, particularly European and American countries wanting to encourage more cycling, have ruled out following our lead on mandatory helmet laws because riding a bike without a helmet is overall more healthy than not riding a bike at all. Even our neighbours in the Northern Territory have relaxed bicycle helmet laws for people riding on footpaths and bike paths, and now have higher participation rates and lower injury rates than us.
No matter what your belief on this highly contentious issue, cyclists in Queensland and other states usually need to wear a helmet. But there's a lot of exceptions to the rule you may not know about.
For example, paying passengers on pedi-cabs don't have to wear a helmet. Neither do those of us who, for religious and cultural reasons, wear a headdress that make wearing a helmet impracticable (like a turban, or a colander if you believe in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster ...... that really is a thing). People can also be exempted by their doctor, if they have a medical condition or a physical characteristic that prevents them from wearing a helmet.
Contrary to popular belief, helmets are also not required for riding push scooters (like the ever-popular Razor scooters), roller blades, skateboards, or horses, camels, elephants, or each other piggy-back style.
Even unicycles don't require a helmet, and neither do 'balance bikes' (children's training bikes where there's no pedals, and children push themselves along with their feet).
Even normal bicyclists can ditch the helmet if they're riding through open parkland or around their own back yard. Helmet laws only apply to roads, footpaths or nature strips, designated bike paths, car-parks and designated cycling tracks.
No matter where you stand on the bicycle helmet debate, a helmet is very unlikely to protect you against a high speed crash with a car or truck and not having a helmet doesn't make you any more likely to be hit by a driver. In fact, some research even suggests that wearing a helmet actually increases the likelihood of risk-taking, by both the cyclist and other road users around them.
Either way, someone illegally enjoying the wind in their hair is also not an excuse for a driver to intentionally risk their life. Yelling "where's ya helmet!" at someone also doesn't make our roads any safer. Concentrate instead on your own safe driving (or cycling).
Riding up the left of a line of cars?
Something that frustrates motorists is sitting in traffic, and watching smug cyclists trundle past and take up position at the head of the queue where said motorist will then have to negotiate passing safely before the next traffic light. And repeat. And repeat ....
It is completely legal for a cyclist to ride up the left of a queue of cars. In fact, by filtering up to the top of the queue cyclists are actually speeding up the flow of traffic. If cyclists just took their allocated spot in the line of traffic, their lack of acceleration and lower top speed would mean far fewer cars would get through any given change of lights.
Even if cars have their indicators on to turn left, cyclists can pass them on the left. However cyclists cannot pass if the car is actually beginning to make the turn. Due to inadequate road design (usually where there's just a bike lane painted up the left of the road, or no bike lane at all) there'll sometimes be a row of cars trying to turn left and a row of cyclists wanting to go straight ahead. What should happen is every all the bikes behind a car need to stop and give way before going straight, and cars need to stop and give way to cyclists who are ahead of them. This of course results in a mish-mash of one-for-one giving way (or two-or-three for one, given how much road space a car takes up compared to the smaller and more efficient bicycles) . These confusing and dangerous give way rules can lead to confusion and frustration and, unfortunately, crashes.
Because of this, and because it is often quite difficult for a cyclist to come to a complete stop and then get going again at top speed and get out of the way of turning cars, is the reason some cyclists choose to ride on the footpath and why cycling advocates regularly campaign for a relaxation of stopping laws for cyclists. Remember, pedestrians are not legally required to come to a complete stop before entering an intersection or crossing a road, and research shows that even drivers very rarely come to a complete stop at stop signs where they have clear vision and can enter an intersection safely.
The underlying rule, of course, is don't intentionally run into another road user even if you may technically have right-of-way.
Does sitting in traffic watching cyclists whizz by, knowing you'll have to overtake them again once the light goes green, really annoy you? If so have a good long ponder why it annoys you so much, but you don't think twice about having to negotiate cars trying to park, or cars waiting to turn, or buses at bus stops, or cars merging or changing lanes, or even the red lights that create this situation in the first place. If you see the same cyclists filter past your car, and you have to continually overtake them, then here's the thing: they're not slowing you down, they're actually travelling at the same average speed you are. Maybe you should leave your car at home too?