No Umbrella on Bikes, No Women on Bikes, No Hands-Free Stunts: Cycling Laws of the World

A recent initiative of an English official spurred new life into the otherwise decade-long discussion about the legal aspects of bicycling. In short, UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps wants cyclists to register their vehicles and have insurance to use the public roads.
Keep both feet on the pedals at all times or else 11 photos
Feet on the pedals at all timesNo umbrella while on the bikeRide the bike across the streetToo many occupantsOnly North Korean men can ride bicyclesHandsfree biking is illegalusing your phone while riding is also illegalOn both sides of the Japanese biking lawYou're breaking the lawBicycle license sticker in Japan
While the British authorities' scheme may seem twisted at first glance (but definitely not new), it's not the only out-of-ordinary legislative oddity in the pedaling universe. Here are just a few of them.

North Korea is a place like no other in so many ways that it defies Western logic. This includes bicyclists, too. In the hereditary dictatorship of the People's Democratic Republic of NK, women are not allowed to ride bicycles. Walking alongside said vehicle is perfectly lawful, however.

Staying in the Far East, Japan has a set of rules regarding bike riders. Firstly, never ride a bike while holding an open umbrella. Even if the typhoon is in full swing, find other means of staying dry while on the saddle. The fine is 50,000 Yen (almost $370 at the time of this article). Check the video on the bottom for a first-hand insight on this.

That amount is also legal punishment for wearing headphones while pedaling. Or for not having mandatory lighting installed on the said bike. Or for using a mobile phone while zigzagging between pedestrians and other road users. And if you wish to experience sidewalk bicycling thrills, you are either under 13, over 70, or physically disabled. But in all cases, keep it under ten mph (16 kph).

On both sides of the Japanese biking law
But never ever try drinking and pedaling together, or else you're looking at a fine of a million yen (some $7,400). And five years in a state penitentiary facility. Enough time to help one meditate on the two-wheeled alcoholicity in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Sticking around the Southeast Asiatic region, Thailand has a peculiar rule regarding the riding of bikes. You must wear a top garment or pay $5 for shirtless biking (sure sounds better than the Japanese ideas of mitigating road safety violations by bikers).

Great Britain's legislative system is one of the first in the world to have a specific ruling for bicyclists, dating back 160 years. Old as it may seem, the law is the law, no matter how odd it sounds today. For example, a road-legal velocipede must be equipped with front and rear brakes. Also, "wanton and furious driving" is a severe offense. The word of this law was used five years ago when a bicycle fatally collided with a pedestrian.

Crossing the Atlantic, we have more unusual laws regarding the century-old means of transportation. In Mexico, for example, keep your hands on the handlebar and feet on the pedals throughout the ride. No-hands riding is a big no-no, even if for taco reasons...

Handsfree biking is illegal
Up north, in the USA, there are a few regulations that could make us laugh at first. In California, one must always sit while pedaling on a highway (!). Unless the manufacturer designed the bicycle to be ridden without a seat. All good then... Except for the missing saddle part, which confused me as to why someone would ride that type of bike on a highway. Or anywhere else. Still, the second video at the end of this story might put the "ride seated" rule under serious questioning.

Or how about the "acrobatic or fancy riding on any street" ban in Galesburg, Illinois? What exactly falls under "fancy" might be subject to prolonged debates, but don't try to find out while on your bike. Always keep at least one hand on the handlebar. Also, both feet must be on the pedals.

And while it may seem counterintuitive, in the Big Apple, you can ride without a helmet (unless you are in the delivery business). And always get off the bike when you want to cross the street alongside pedestrians using a zebra.

In Australia, however, things are a bit different. You are legally entitled to ride across the street while on a zebra. Still, double-check it is safe to do so and give way to pedestrians and oncoming fellow bikers.

Ride the bike across the street
Of course, this story would be unfinished without mentioning the Netherlands – the country with the highest percentage of bikes per capita on the planet. The Dutch are also famous for their highly liberal approach to certain recreational substances.

However, do not mix the two activities, or you will be fined €140 (when this story was written, that amounts to about $141. Still better than Japan…). So just ride alone and leave the otherwise legal Mary Jane off your bike.

And speaking of leaving someone off your bike, it is illegal to ride shotgun on a bicycle unless the vehicle is designed to carry one or more passengers. This enforcement is world-spread, though, as altering the vehicle's original design can result in severe injury or damage. This is probably what caused several legislators around the world to prohibit the use of bicycles with handlebars above the rider's shoulder level.

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About the author: Razvan Calin
Razvan Calin profile photo

After nearly two decades in news television, Răzvan turned to a different medium. He’s been a field journalist, a TV producer, and a seafarer but found that he feels right at home among petrolheads.
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