Bike rules for beginners

Family of four riding their bikes along nature path.

Clare Barry

Posted January 12, 2021

Been a while since you got on your bike? Here’s a refresher on bike rules for beginners.

The wheels have turned on Melbourne transport as experts predict a surge in cycling sparked during the height of the COVID crisis will continue as employees return to the workplace.   

But as novice riders join seasoned bike commuters on roads and bike paths, now’s the time for a refresher course on the rules for cycling in Victoria.

And RACV’s senior manager transport, planning and infrastructure, Peter Kartsidimas, urges both bike riders and motorists to take extra care. “We all have to share the road, be patient and be mindful that there are likely to be more people riding their bikes than previously.”   

Bike rules for beginners

Do I have to follow the same road rules as drivers? 

Yes you do, which means obeying all traffic lights, stop and give way signs and road markings including pedestrian crossings, and following the road rules for stopping and giving way. Bike riders can be fined up to $826 for traffic offences, from minor infringements to careless or dangerous riding.  

Do I need a bell on my bike?

Your bike must have a working bell or a similar warning device so you can safely alert other riders and pedestrians of your approach.  It's especially useful when approaching pedestrians from behind.

Do I need lights?

If riding in the dark you must have a white light at the front of your bike, and a red light and red reflector at the back. The lights must be visible from 200 metres and the reflector from 50 metres.  

Ride nice: Don’t go all out and buy the brightest lights you can find – some are made for off-road night riding and will blind oncoming drivers and riders in town. Ask at your local bike shop about what’s appropriate for where you ride.  

Any other legal requirements? 

Your bike must have at least one effective brake.

When do I have to wear a helmet? 

You must wear an approved helmet that’s securely fitted and fastened whenever riding on roads and road-related areas including bike lanes, on bike and shared paths, in recreational parks and car parks, and on footpaths if permitted to ride there. Religious and medical exemptions can apply to wearing a helmet. 

Ride safe: Find out more about buying and fitting bike helmets for adults and children at RACV’s cycling advice page

Can I use my mobile phone while riding? 

You can use a mobile phone hands-free to make or receive a call or for music, audio or navigation functions – if the phone is fixed to your bike in a holder or in your pocket or bag. You mustn’t hold a mobile phone or touch it in any way, or use it to text, email or video-call, even when stationary. 

Ride safe: Distraction is dangerous on the road so if you have to contact someone urgently, your safest bet is to pull over, hop off and park your bike before calling or texting. 

Can I ride on the footpath? 

Footpaths are generally reserved for people on their feet, but there are a few exceptions. You can ride a bike on a footpath if you are a child aged under 13, if you are accompanying and supervising a child under 13, or if you are 18 or older and carrying a child in a child bike seat or pedalling on a hitch bike. (Bike trailers and cargo bikes are not allowed to be ridden on footpaths.) Medical exemptions can be made, and an adult may ride on the footpath when accompanying someone with a relevant medical certificate.  

Can I ride two or more abreast on the road? 

Yes you can ride beside one other bike rider but you mustn’t ride more than 1.5 metres apart. Other single riders can overtake a pair, but you can’t ride more than two abreast. 

Ride nice: Keep drivers and other bike riders in mind when riding two abreast and be prepared to go single file to help them overtake you safely.  

Can I overtake a car? 

Bike riders can overtake a vehicle on the left or the right as long as they can do so safely and can see approaching traffic clearly. You cannot overtake a car on the left if it is turning and indicating left, or on the right if it is turning and indicating right. 

Ride safe: It can be difficult for car drivers to see bikes on their left, and big vehicles like trucks have significant blind spots if you are riding beside or in front of them, so take extra care. If you feel uncomfortable, walk your bike across an intersection. 

How do I turn right legally? 

When turning right you must signal with your right hand. Hook turns are generally a safer alternative for bike riders, and are obligatory for all vehicles including bikes at some Melbourne CBD intersections (where you will see a ‘hook turn only’ sign). You can do a hook turn at any intersection, unless a sign states otherwise. 

Ride safe: Learn how to do a hook turn with RACV’s road rules video.   

Do I have to use a bike lane? 

If there’s a marked bike lane on the road you’re riding you must use it, unless it’s not practical to do so, for example, if the lane is blocked by a vehicle. 

Ride safe: It’s tempting to think of a bike lane as a car-free zone, but vehicles are allowed to pause or drive short distances in most of them, so scan ahead and keep your wits about you. 

Do I have to ride on an off-road bike path or shared path if one is available? 

No, you don’t, you can ride on any local, arterial or multi-lane road if you want to, and on the shoulder of some rural freeways including the Western, Calder and Hume freeways and parts of the Princes Freeway.  

What about city freeways?

Bike riders are not permitted on urban freeways or any roads with a sign showing that bikes aren’t permitted.

Who gives way on a shared path – cyclist or pedestrian?  

By law, bike riders on a shared path must keep to the left and give way to pedestrians, and that includes people using wheelchairs, mobility scooters, rollerblades, skateboards and scooters. Bike riders must slow down and ring their bell when overtaking.  

Ride nice: When passing, a gentle ding of your bell or a friendly ‘bike coming through’ keeps it nice on busy paths. On the subject of speed, the Bicycle Network says a good piece of advice when sharing spaces with pedestrians is to never ride faster than a person can run. And they don’t mean Usain Bolt.  

What are the rules around pedestrians when approaching or turning at an intersection?  

You must give way to pedestrians crossing the road you are turning into, whether or not there are pedestrian lights or if the pedestrian lights are no longer green.  

Can I ride my bike across a pedestrian crossing or at pedestrian lights when the ‘green man’ is showing?  

If you want to use a pedestrian crossing while riding, you must dismount and walk your bike across, unless it has bike-crossing lights (indicated by a green or red bicycle), in which case you can ride.  

Can I legally ride while over the blood-alcohol limit?  

The short answer is no. While the Road Safety Act’s drink-driving provisions refer only to motor vehicles, bike riders can be charged under the Summary Offences Act if found drunk in charge of a “carriage”, which includes a bicycle, horse, cattle or steam engine.  

Can I take my bike on a train, tram or bus?  

You can take your bike with you on a metropolitan train, but mustn’t get on at the first door of the first carriage which is a priority area for people using wheelchairs and mobility scooters. On V/Line trains, it’s up to the train conductor whether there is room for a bike. Only folding bikes under a set size are allowed on trams, buses and V/Line coaches. 

Ride nice: If lugging a bike, try to avoid peak hour and full carriages.  

Did you know RACV has roadside assistance for bicycles?
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