What Side Of The Road Do You Bike On: Where to position your bike on the road?


Whether you’re off on a bike tour in a new country, or a commuter looking to use your bike to get to work, deciding which side of the road you should cycle on can sometimes seem confusing. As a long-term cyclist who has been commuting and bikepacking for many years, I thought I would try and simplify things to help new and old cyclists alike work out which side of the road they should be cycling on.

In general, you should cycle on the same side of the road as the cars that are also using the road. For example, if you are cycling in the UK then you should cycle on the left-hand side of the road. When using a cycle lane, unless otherwise states, you should also cycle on the same side as you would on a road.

So, we now know the general rule for which side of the road you should be cycling on, but what about in different countries? I take a look at which side of the road you should be cycling on in every major country, as well as where in your lane you should be cycling in the rest of the article.

What side of the road should you cycle on?

The side of the road you cycle on will be dependent on which country you are in. As a general rule, bikes are treated as vehicles, and so you should be cycling on the side of the road that the cars are driving on.

For example, if you are in a country where the cars are driving on the left side of the road, then you should also be cycling on the left side of the road.

Should I bike on the left or right?

CountryWhich side of the road should you cycle on?
USARight-hand side
UKLeft-hand side
FranceRight-hand side
SpainRight-hand side
AustraliaLeft-hand side
JapanLeft-hand side
ChinaRight-hand side
BrazilRight-hand side
A table showing which side of the road you should be cycling on for different countries

In the table above, you can see which side of the road you should be cycling on for many major countries. As you can see, the side of the road you are cycling on should match the side of the road that the cars in that country are driving.

Which side should you pass on a bike?

As with other vehicles on the road, you should overtake on the alternate side to the side you are cycling or driving on.

For example, if you are cycling in the UK, you would be cycling on the left-hand side of the road, this means that if you need to overtake or pass another vehicle then you should pass on the right-hand side.

This is obviously not the case if there is a designated cycle lane that you are using.

Which side of a cycle lane should you cycle on?

In general, cycle lanes can either be “one-way cycle lanes” or “bidirectional cycle lanes”.

One-way cycle lanes

On-way cycle lanes are like one-way roads. The lane itself is often only wide enough for a single bike and so you should only be cycling on this bike lane in the direction that it was intended to be used.

One-way cycle lanes are most often “with flow lanes”. This means that you are meant to be cycling in the same direction as the cars or traffic on the road next to you.

However, some one-way cycle lanes are actually counter-flow cycle lanes, meaning that you are cycling in the opposite direction of the traffic you are cycling next to. This is done to increase visibility for cyclists, allowing them to more easily see oncoming traffic.

The direction of travel should be marked on a one-way cycle lane, however, if there is no clear guidance it is best to presume that it has the same direction of travel as the road it follows.

Bidirectional cycle lanes

Bidirectional cycle lanes are like normal roads. There are 2 streams of bike traffic passing in either direction (like cars on a road).

As with one-way cycle lanes, the direction you should be cycling in is again often marked out. And so you should follow these signs or markings.

If there are no markings to indicate which side of the cycle lane you should be cycling on, then a good general rule for cycling on a bi-directional cycle lane is that you should follow the rules for cars in the country you are in.

For example, if you are in the UK, then you should try to use the left-hand lane of a bidirectional cycle lane.

If you want to learn more about the different types of cycle lanes you can take a look at my article here.

Which side of your lane should you cycle on?

Once you have clarified if you should be cycling on the right or left-hand side of the road, another common question is whether or not you should be cycling in the middle of the road, or to the side.

This is a controversial topic, many drivers want cyclists to ride as close to the pavement as possible, as this allows them to more easily overtake a bike using the road.

However, this is often unsafe for cyclists. Not only does this mean you are more at risk of hitting a gutter or a surprise passenger door, but it also means that cars are more likely to try and overtake you while in an unsafe position on the road.

In general, you should try and cycle on the pavement side of the lane, however, you should ensure you are giving yourself enough room so that a car door opening will not hit you.

Cycle on the pavement side of your lane, however give yourself enough room that a parked car door would not hit you if it were opened.

For example, if you are cycling in the UK then you would be cycling on the left-hand side of your lane, however, you would ensure you have around 1.5 meters leeway from the side of the pavement to avoid any unexpected obstacles.

This may cause you to anger some drivers or other road users, however, you need to remember that you need to cycle in a way that keeps you safe. You have just as much right to the road as motor vehicles.

Why do some people cycle on the wrong side of the road?

If you live in a more rural area, you may have grown up walking along country roads. When you walk on the road you are often taught that you should walk on the opposite side of the road to the traffic.

This is because as a pedestrian you are able to more easily see cars approaching you and step out of the way, or make eye contact with them to help keep yourself safe.

Some beginner cyclists will follow this rule when they first cycle on the road, believing it to be the safest option, however, this is not the case.

As a cyclist on the road, you are often travelling at higher speeds than a walker. This means that your relative velocity to an approaching car is much higher than someone who is walking. Simply put, cycling into oncoming traffic gives drivers less time to see you, and also means that if you do crash, you will crash at a higher effective speed, doing more damage.

Not only this, but bikes are treated as vehicles in many countries, and so by cycling on the wrong side of the road not only can you put yourself in more danger, but you can also be fined.

Overall

As you can see, deciding which side of the road you should cycle on is often much simpler than you would think. In general, cycle on the same side of the road as cars do unless a sign or road marking tells you otherwise.

Mark Holmes

30-year-old doctor with an interest in cycling, bikepacking, and statistics.

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