Bike wars: 12 common cycling myths, debunked

Animation of angry cyclist riding next to angry car driver.

Sue Hewitt

Posted April 18, 2020

Debunking the 12 biggest myths about cyclists on Victoria’s roads.

Of all Melbourne’s warring tribes – Magpies versus Tigers, boomers v millennials, south-siders v north-siders – few divides are more antagonistic than that between motorists and cyclists.

The festering hostility between car and bike riders bubbled to the surface last year when RACV called for trial laws that would require cars to allow a minimum distance when overtaking cyclists – a measure that is set to become law in 2021. It sparked a storm of vitriol on social media, with motorists decrying cyclists as freeloaders, road hogs or worse while cyclists accused drivers of rude and downright dangerous behaviour. 

None of this should come as a surprise given a study by Monash University, QUT and Melbourne University found that half of all motorists saw cyclists as “not fully human”, no better than cockroaches or mosquitoes.

Disturbingly, 11 per cent of those surveyed admitted they had deliberately driven their car close to a bike rider, while 17 per cent said they had used their car to deliberately block a cyclist’s path. 

As is often the case with entrenched disagreements, at least part of the hostility can be put down to a simple case of misunderstanding, with each side assuming the other is breaking the law or making life on the road unnecessarily difficult.

So in the interests of harmony and safety for all road users, we asked RACV’s transport expert Peter Kartsidimas to clear up, for once and for all, some of the most contentious issues and misconceptions relating to motorists and cyclists.

12 common cycling myths, debunked 

1. Cyclists get a free ride on our roads because they don’t pay rego

Wrong. Car registrations pay for third-party insurance and administration costs, not directly for roads. Roads are funded by many sources including general taxes such as income tax and GST, as well as fuel excise and soon an electric vehicle tax, so we all pay for them regardless of whether we drive. While it’s true you don’t have to pay rego to ride a bike, many cyclists are also rego-paying motorists. In fact, around half RACV’s 2.2 million members ride a bike. 

2. Bike riders slow down city traffic

Wrong. City of Melbourne research shows that as the number of cyclists riding into the CBD in the 7am to 10am morning peak increased in the 12 years to September 2019, the number of cars decreased by 21.4 per cent. In September 2019 cyclists made up 17.1 per cent of the total number of vehicles entering the city, compared with just 6.4 per cent in 2007. If the 10,427 cyclists recorded riding into the CBD that September ditched their bikes for cars or public transport it would add thousands more cars driving into the city and more crowding on trains and trams. 

3. Cyclists shouldn’t be riding on the road when there is a dedicated off-road bike path available

Wrong. The law allows cyclists to ride either on the road or an off-road path. However, when riding on a road with a dedicated bike lane, cyclists must use that lane unless it is impractical to do so – such as when it’s blocked by a parked car or when turning right.

4. Cyclists can’t ride on footpaths

Wrong. Children under 13 can always ride on footpaths, while those 13 or older can ride on a footpath when accompanying and supervising a child under 13. Adults can ride on the footpath if they have a child in a bike seat or pedalling on a hitch bike. All cyclists must give way to pedestrians on the footpath.

5. Cyclists are a law unto themselves and don’t follow the road rules 

Wrong. Most road rules also apply to cyclists – including not using mobile phones, obeying traffic lights and staying within speed limits. Additional rules also apply such as the requirement to wear a helmet and being allowed to make a hook turn at any intersection. Cyclists can face penalties for offences such as riding too fast or failing to give way to pedestrians. 

6. Cars have to stay out of bike lanes

Wrong. Cars may use a bike lane for up to 50 metres when necessary, but only in some circumstances such as when entering or leaving a road, turning at an intersection, parking, or overtaking on the left of a right-turning vehicle. But motorists must always give way to bicycles in the bike lane.

7. Cyclists can’t ride in packs

Cyclists can ride two abreast and up to 1.5 metres apart and a third bike rider can legally overtake the pair. There is no law on how many cyclists can ride behind each other. Riding in pairs can boost cyclist visibility and reduce the likelihood of them being involved in a crash.

8. It’s fine for cyclists to take their dog for a run too

Wrong. It is illegal to lead your dog while cycling.

9. Cyclists aren’t allowed to ride on freeways

Mostly true. The law prohibits cyclists riding on urban freeways but they can ride on some rural freeways on the shoulder – the area to the left of the road which can be sealed or unsealed. These rural freeways include the Western, Calder and Hume freeways and parts of the Princes Freeway.

10. Cyclists aren’t allowed to overtake cars on the left

Wrong. Cyclists can legally pass a car on the left, unless the car is turning left and indicating.

11. Cyclists can ride at night without lights

Wrong. Lights and reflectors are required at night or in reduced visibility. Lights must be visible from at least 200 metres. Bike riders need a flashing or steady white light at the front, a flashing or steady red rear light and a red reflector at the back of the bike clearly visible from 50 metres away.

12. Cyclists don’t have to give their details after a crash

Wrong. Bicycle riders involved in a crash are required to give their details, and those of the owner of the bicycle, to any person who has been injured or the owner of any property that has been damaged.

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