Ask any city cyclist about the ‘rules of the road’ they see broken on their daily commute and you’ll find yourself in a lengthy conversation. If there’s one commuting issue that’s sure to provoke debate it’s this, but the line between rule and myth is often blurred.
As opposed to driving, where theory tests and months of practice drill rules into learners before they get to go solo, cycling newcomers can just buy a bike and head out on the same roads without any knowledge of the rules they should obey. And it’s not just about how to behave on the road, but also a bike’s setup (laws on lights, reflectors etc) that can confuse even the most experienced cyclists.
This is where a site like UK Cycle Rules comes in useful. As the name suggests, it covers many of the questions that new – and even experienced riders – may have, such as Can you ride while using your mobile phone? and Can you lose your driving licence for a cycling offence? The man behind the site, Jorren Knibbe, is a life-long cyclist and his daily commute to work has helped him build up a curiosity for riding behaviour and rules.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to learn he’s a barrister by day, so thinking about rules and regulations comes pretty naturally. The idea to start the site came about last September following an incident that saw him as the rule breaker. “I found I was riding around and wondering what the consequences would be if I was caught doing some of the things that come fairly naturally to city cyclists – going the wrong way up one-way streets, jumping red lights and that kind of thing,” Jorren told BikeRadar.
“A lot of other cyclists I spoke to seemed to be interested in the same questions, and they’d often mention the cycling myths – like believing you can get points on your driving licence (in some circumstances you can be disqualified, but I’ve never found any legal basis for points on your driving licence if you ride a normal bike). That gave me the vague idea that people might be interested in a blog on the topic.
“Then one day I rode in front of someone who was riding across a zebra crossing on a bike. I was pulled over by an unmarked car with a flashing light in the front grille, and two police officers got out wearing stab-proof vests and walked over to me with their notebooks out. I thought I was done for, but they basically said ‘don’t do it again’ then drove off.”
The incident kicked Jorren’s legal mind into action, and inspired him to find out why he’d got away with a wrap on the knuckles. He set about properly researching the rules for cyclists, and it turned into his first post. As a London resident, the most common rule he saw broken was jumping red lights. “When I used to ride along Old Street, there did seem to be a lemming effect – once one person went across, others would follow in a big pack,” he said.
He’s since moved to Bristol – chosen as Britain’s first ‘Cycling City’ in 2008 – where he says faster moving traffic make the roads feel more dangerous. He suggests the investment ploughed into Bristol’s cycling network has indirectly led to a rise in a common complaint. “The investment has created cycle lanes, some of which are quite long, but many of which also seem to disappear magically, with little indication of what you’re supposed to do next,” he said. “As a consequence, I see many people riding on pavements.”
Jorren is keen to point out that he isn’t a stickler for rules, and if safety concerns outweigh the need to stick to the rulebook, he’s not afraid to break them. “I’ve never argued that people should unfailingly comply with the road rules – I tend to agree that there are situations where safety concerns should outweigh the need for cyclists to obey the rules. My intention in writing the blog is to let cyclists know what the rules are, to help them make decisions generally and to help them know where they stand if they’re ever accused of a cycling offence.”
The demise of Cycling England has left a question mark over the future of funding for cycling infrastructure in the UK. Bristol received around a quarter of the three-year, £140 million pot passed down from the Department for Transport to encourage cycling in urban areas. Now a resident of the city, Jorren is in a good position to comment on how successful the project has been from the outside.
“It’s obvious that a real effort has been made,” he said. “But you get the impression that when it came to new infrastructure, the emphasis was placed on what was easily available. So where there was already a nice wide path, or a wide road, a cycle lane was put in – but where the roads or paths narrow, the cycle lanes disappear and often it seems that no thought was given to what the cyclist should do next, or the danger they’d face when rejoining a busy road.”
Jorren says this is symptomatic of the UK approach to cycling provision; providing paths where they fit in on existing roads rather than giving cyclists any sort of meaningful priority. “When I lived in Germany I had no hesitation at all in cycling – I didn’t even think of wearing a helmet – and I remember being outraged that the segregated cycle path I took to university cast me out onto the road at a junction for about 20 metres before starting up again,” he said. “We need to create that kind of atmosphere in Britain – an expectation of excellent, continuous, segregated facilities and the safety they provide. I don’t believe a proper cycling revolution can happen in this country without that kind of investment.”
For Jorren, the site provides him a great platform to interact with other cyclists, and his meticulous research has boosted his own knowledge. “It’s really gratifying when people say things like, ‘thanks, I always wondered about that’ or when they post new questions which I hadn’t thought of,” he said. “There are an awful lot of road rules which are relevant to cyclists and which I haven’t covered yet. I’ll probably never be able to cover them all, especially because the research for each post can be quite time-consuming. But so long as the questions keep pouring in I’ll do my best.”
BikeRadar readers: If you visit – or own – a cycling website that you feel is worthy of mention in BikeRadar’s website of the week, email a link to firstname.lastname@example.org or post it in the comments section below and we’ll follow up with them for a possible profile in our latest column.