7 cycling myths debunked

Roads were built for carsCyclist Light

This one’s reasonably easy to dispose of when you consider that many of our roads were first built in Roman times. A comprehensive rebuttal exists in the form of Roads Were Not Built For Cars, an exhaustively researched book which uncovers the extent to which cyclists were, in fact, instrumental in pushing for the construction of good quality roads.

Cyclists don’t pay road tax

True. But then no-one’s paid road tax since it was abolished in 1937. Roads are paid for through general local and national taxation. The additional tax burden on motorists is in the form of petrol duty and vehicle excise duty. Lots of cyclists do pay these taxes by the simple fact that being a cyclist and owning a car are not mutually exclusive.

Cyclists should always ride as far to the left as possible

This erroneous and unhelpful belief is perhaps partly a product of the previous two myths, encouraging a view that cyclists are somehow a second class of vehicle on the roads, and should concede space wherever possible. Riding close to the gutter decreases a cyclist’s visibility to other road users, and can encourage drivers to pass in an unsafe way. And when riding past parked cars, it’s always good practice to keep a distance of just over the width of a car door so that, in the event of one opening suddenly, you don’t need to swerve out or, worse still, collide with it. Cycle training can help you to gain a proper understanding of where to position your bike on the road.

A majority of cyclists ignore red lights

The focus of much ire directed at cyclists is generated by red light jumping, or other behaviour that contravenes traffic laws.  TFL conducted a fairly comprehensive study into cycling in London in order to test the anecdotal claim that a majority of cyclists ignore red lights, and found that the actual figure was around 16%.

According to the Department for Transport, disobeying traffic signals was a contributory factor in 1% of cycle accidents and 1% of car accidents in 2013. That’s 187 and 1,664 accidents respectively, so while the proportions may be equal, there are many more drivers than cyclists causing accidents by running red lights.

Cycling is dangerous

There are risks associated with all activities, but broadly speaking cycling is not particularly risky. When comparing modes of transport, the relative risks of cycling, walking and driving are fairly similar per hour spent traveling (as opposed to per mile covered). Cycling as a sport carries less risk of injury than alternatives such as football, athletics or even swimming.

Once you balance the risks against the benefits of cycling there is a clear positive net effect on health at both an individual and population-wide level.

You need to be fit

Like any physical activity, cycling can be adjusted to suit all fitness levels and abilities. It can provide really daunting challenges for those looking to push their limits, but it can also be a great starting point for anyone looking to increase levels of activity. Even electric bikes can provide benefits to those otherwise unwilling to get onto two wheels, as we’ve looked at previously on the blog.

Cycling is expensive

It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. Granted, the Tour de France winning Pinarello Dogma F8 won’t leave much change from £10,000, but then you wouldn’t want to leave it locked up outside the pub anyway. A perfectly decent bike can be had for around £300 (or half of that if buying second hand) and although there is a bewildering array of clothing and accessories available, none of it is really essential, except perhaps a good quality lock.

So what’s stopping you?

5 great bicycle-themed films

Cycling doesn’t perhaps lend itself to the silver screen in quite the same way as other sports. It doesn’t yet have it’s ‘Raging Bull’, or even it’s ‘Escape to Victory’. Nevertheless there are several great movies which feature the bicycle at their heart. Add your own favourites below.

The Bicycle Thieves

Vittorio De Sica’s masterpiece of Italian neorealism follows the misfortunes of down-on-his-luck Antonio and his young son Bruno. Over the course of the day they embark on a fruitless hunt for the father’s stolen bike, which he desperately needs in order to work and support his family.


Jour de Fête

In this classic French comedy, Jacques Tati plays mailman François who regularly chats to the customers while making his rounds. After having occasion to watch a film depicting the United States postal service (who of course decades later sponsored Lance Armstrong) as an organization of great speed and efficiency, François determines to try to emulate them. He decides to use a bicycle to improve the speed of his service, but, as they say, things don’t exactly go to plan.

Belleville Rendezvous

Sylvain Chomet’s ‘Les Triplettes de Belleville’, to give its original title, tells the story of Champion, a Tour de France cyclist, who is kidnapped by French gangsters. His grandmother sets off to rescue him, accompanied by his enormous dog Bruno, and for reasons too obscure to go into, the titular triplets, music hall singers from the jazz era. The film is particularly notable for it’s unique style of animation and it’s depiction of the physical torture of training for, and riding Le Tour, including an ascent of Mont Ventoux.

BMX Bandits

The IMDB synopsis for this film reads as follows: “Two BMX expert bikers and a friend of theirs (Nicole Kidman) become entangled with a group of bank robbers after discovering a carton of walkie-talkies.” The plot may be fairly thin stuff, but it serves as a good excuse for a series of set pieces showing BMXs being ridden around some of Sydney’s most famous locations.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure

Tim Burton’s directorial debut follows the eponymous eccentric man-child as he travels across the United States in search of his beloved bicycle. Anyone who’s had a bike stolen will find themselves rooting for Pee-wee, and it’s probably not giving too much away to reveal that he is eventually reunited with his bike, but not before making a host of new friends along the way.

Note: We’ve deliberately excluded documentaries from this list. There are enough great docs about cycling that they deserve a separate list of their own. Watch this space.


E-bikes: who said it’s cheating?

For the first time this year, riders taking part in the Tour De France will have their bicycles scanned for concealed electric motors. Rumours of so-called “mechanical doping” have swirled around the sport for years (for the full history, see this article), and were made real with the discovery, in January, of just such a device in the bike of a cyclo-cross competitor.

Gaining assistance from an electric motor is clearly against the rules in a competitive sport. There’s also however a prevailing attitude among day-to-day cyclists that riding an electric bicycle is somehow cheating. But could our instinctive distrust or snobbery towards e-bikes be preventing us from realising the full potential of these machines?

Some exercise is better than none

We all need to be active to improve our well-being and life-expectancy. As covered elsewhere on this blog, building exercise into your daily routine by commuting by bicycle is an excellent way to meet (or more likely far exceed) recommended levels of physical activity. Lots of people though are still not getting enough exercise. For some, an electric bike might help them to change that.

It might seem counter intuitive to put forward as a healthy solution a device which allows you to exert yourself less than a regular bike. The simple truth though is that reduced exertion is better than none at all. If e-bikes can open up cycle commuting to a certain segment of the population who wouldn’t initially consider a regular bike, and would otherwise be in a car or on public transport, then that has to be a good thing.

Research from various parts of the world, including this Brighton-based study, confirms that e-bikes encourage people to cycle more and deliver significant health benefits. The bikes are designed to assist the rider, never to provide all of the power. By requiring the rider to be pedaling at all times, they promote sustained moderate effort.

Go further, faster

Where the infrastructure is in place to make this possible, e-bikes can also help to extend the idea of what a commutable distance is. This article in the Guardian asks, with the popularity of e-bikes growing, is Europe about to see a new era of long-distance cycle commuting?

The soft whirr of an electric motor remains a relatively rare sound on the streets of Britain, where the machines have failed to take off in the same way that they have elsewhere in Europe and in Asia. Lack of enthusiasm might be down to cost, lack of awareness, or the aforementioned snobbery.

If you’re interested in finding out more then this is a helpful overview of the law concerning e-bikes (did you know that the motor won’t help you above 15.5mph?), and here’s a helpful review and comparison from a London commuter.

Even if e-bikes aren’t for everyone, let’s leave accusations of “cheating” to the professionals, and celebrate anything that helps to get more people on two wheels.

Cycling and the law: the what, where, when and how

Can a child ride on the pavement? Do I have to use cycle lanes where they’re available? And what on earth is meant by “cycling furiously”? The law around cycling in the UK is not particularly well understood by the general public, cyclists and non-cyclists alike, and a number of popular misconceptions still endure. Here’s a quick guide to some of the most relevant legislation.

Where can you ride a bike?

Bicycles are, in law, carriages, and should therefore be ridden on the carriageway (or, in common parlance, road) and not on the footway (pavement). The obvious exception to this is where designated cycle paths have been incorporated into the pavement. In these cases an approved cycle path sign permits the cyclist to use the footway for as long as that path continues.

Where no such cycle path exists cycling on the footway is an offence punishable by a fixed penalty notice of £50. This penalty cannot be applied to areas such as parks, or pedestrianised shopping precincts unless a byelaw has been passed making cycling in such areas an offence.

Government guidance suggests that penalties should not be aimed at responsible cyclists who sometimes feel obliged to use the pavement out of fear of traffic and should only be applied where a cyclist endangers others. In addition, fixed penalty notices cannot be applied to those under 16. A full discussion of the law in this regard can be found here.

It’s worth noting that, should you feel uncomfortable cycling on the road in a particular area, you can always dismount, walk with your bike, and then jump back on when clear of the problem. Alternatively, cycle training can increase your confidence and your understanding of how to ride in traffic.

Which parts of the road can I use?

According to the Highway Code cyclists are permitted to ride two-abreast, but should ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends. All rules for cyclists can be found here – note that those rules which omit the word “must” are advisory rather than compulsory.

It’s important to realise that cyclists are not restricted in law to riding in the part of the road next to the pavement. Confident cyclists take the middle of the lane (also known as primary position) whenever the situation dictates that this is appropriate.

Do I have to use cycle lanes?

Cyclists are not obliged to use cycle lanes, and discretion should be used as to when to use the available infrastructure. Some cycle lanes are poorly thought out or improperly integrated and should be avoided.

Cycling under the influence

It is an offence to cycle on a road when “unfit…through drink or drugs” according to Section 30 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.  It is a misconception that you can get points on your driving licence for drunk cycling, but it goes without saying that endangering yourself and others by cycling whilst under the influence is to be avoided.

Cycling furiously

One of those quaintly worded offences that remains part of law is that of “wanton and furious driving”, applying to drivers of carriages (a bicycle, remember, counts as a carriage). Although rare, this offence may be applied where a cyclist injures another party as a result of wilful neglect or misconduct.

Jumping the lights

The rules of the road apply to cyclists just the same as motorists. Cyclists who contravene a traffic signal, which includes going through a red light, and cycling the wrong way on a one-way street, can be issued with a fixed penalty notice. Don’t do it.

What about the bike itself?

At the point of sale, a new bike must be equipped with (amongst other things) a bell, although as soon as it leaves the shop this can be discarded.

When riding in the dark a bike must be equipped with lights and reflectors, including two amber coloured reflectors on each pedal, which may well come as a surprise to those using clipless pedals. In practice of course this legislation is rarely enforced, although it is possible in the event of a nighttime collision that any failure to comply with the full lighting regulations may be regarded as contributory negligence.
NOTE: This post is for information and is not intended as legal advice.


Get on your bike and ride social

Riding a bike is a great way to get around, it will improve your fitness, and can help your wallet too. It can also do wonders for your social life. Here are some great mass participation events with something for all types of cyclist.

Charity Rides

There are lots of charity bike rides to choose from, with varying degrees of challenge to suit all abilities. Many are pitched at everyday cyclists, including the likes of the iconic London to Brighton ride organised by the British Heart Foundation. More demanding routes can take several days, including London to Paris, or further afield, cycling (part of) the Great Wall of China.


There is an enormous number of sportive events to choose from in the UK, Europe and beyond. The biggest UK event with ambitions to become the London Marathon of cycling is RideLondon. Just like the marathon, demand far outstrips supply, so participants are either lucky in the ballot or take a charity place having pledged to raise a minimum amount.

Sky Ride

Alongside sponsoring the team that propelled Wiggo and Froomey to Tour de France glory, Sky also supports grassroots cycling and mass participation events. They have a calendar of regular guided rides happening all over the country, alongside bigger traffic free events for all ages, and a network of informal social rides. Check them out.

Something a little different

Existing happily alongside the bigger events there are a number of brilliantly quirky ways to enjoy your cycling.

The “semi-organised” Dunwich Dynamo sees riders setting off from London Fields as evening draws in and riding 120 miles to the Suffolk Coast. Many have a quick snooze on the beach before taking the coach back to London.

The Tweed Run is a “metropolitan bicycle ride with a bit of style”. Well dressed cyclists take to the streets and cycle past some of London’s iconic landmarks stopping for a tea break and a picnic stop along the way, and ending with a bit of a jolly knees-up.

The London Nocturne event includes elite level races, but also more unusual (if just as keenly contested) events for folding bikes, and penny farthings.

Prefer to pedal like crazy without actually going anywhere? Rollapaluza events see cyclists going head to head over short sprints on stationary bikes in a party atmosphere with great music and cheering crowds.


So whatever your ability, stamina, experience or nerve, get socialising on your bike and meet a whole world of like-minded folk.