The 1861 Carriages Act, anybody? You’re probably riding illegally and never even knew it

I have broken the law. There. I said it. You probably have too, and your mum, maybe even your nan. That’s because there are loads of little-known cycling rules and regulations in the UK that mean anyone who’s ridden a bike before has probably, at some point, committed a criminal offence.


The Highway Code is a combination of both advisory and mandatory rules, described as either "should-do’s/not do’s" or "must-do’s/not do’s". Whilst you should wear a helmet, should keep two hands on the handlebars except when signalling or changing gear, and should avoid carrying anything which will affect your balance or may get tangled up with your wheels or chain, you cannot be penalised for failure to comply. (Though it is worth mentioning that breaking these rules can be used against you in court as evidence of, say, cycling recklessly, which is an offence). "Must-do’s", on the other hand, are compulsory by law and by breaking them you could land yourself a hefty fine, or even a prison sentence.


Here are some of the more unusual ways that you can break the law on a bike…

Five and ride

Ever had a few too many at the pub then stumbled outside, thrown a leg over your bike and zig-zagged your way home? Yes? You’ve broken the law! Section 30 of the 1988 Road Traffic Act states: “A person who, when riding a cycle on a road or other public place, is unfit to ride through drink or drugs (that is to say, is under the influence of drink or a drug to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the cycle) is guilty of an offence.” And you probably thought you were being responsible not driving to the pub. 

These lads look like they know how to have a good time, let’s just hope they save the drinking for after the cycling

Giving a backie

23rd July 2015, North Kensington, London. The then mayor, Boris Johnson, puffs out his cheeks. He’s stood up, pedalling hard. His barrister wife Marina Wheeler is sat on the saddle clutching her handbag. He’s giving her a backie.


Not only was this act “very naughty”, as one cycle safety campaigner put it, it was also very illegal as by law, “Not more than one person may be carried on a road on a bicycle not propelled by mechanical power unless it is constructed or adapted for the carriage of more than one person".


Bojo’s response when made aware of this by passers-by? “Night, night”. Citizen’s arrest is still a thing, right?

Former London mayor and lawbreaker Boris Johnson

Brakes – Why penny farthings are OK but (some) fixies are a no-no

The law states that regular two-wheel cycles must have two independent braking systems: one on the rear wheel and one on the front. So that’s bad news for hipsters because riding a fixie (without a front brake) is 100% illegal. Unicycles are still OK though, and penny farthings get a pass because the pedals operate “without the interposition of any gearing or a chain.” Phew.

Second from the right has just spotted the police up front - but don’t worry, my friend, penny farthings are A-OK under UK law 

Cycling furiously

Under legislation dating back to 1861 (which originally applied to drivers of carriages) a cyclist can be prosecuted for ‘cycling furiously’, i.e. dangerously or without due care and attention. In cases where doing so causes injury to others - in a collision with pedestrians for example - the offence carries a sentence of up to two years in prison. Furious cycling also allows for the prosecution of cyclists deemed to be going too fast for the conditions - so although you can’t be prosecuted for speeding on a bike, you could still face a fine of up to £1000. Grrrr.

You don’t want to see Alberto Contador when he’s furious

Catching a tow

Ever felt the urge to reach out and grab hold of the car in front, coast for a couple of hundred metres, save some energy, get there faster? It would be easy, wouldn’t it? It would certainly be fun. Sure it’s cheating, but nobody needs to know, not even the driver. Well, don’t!  If a person retains hold of a moving vehicle on a road without reasonable cause or lawful authority, that person is guilty of a criminal offence. And “I was knackered, Officer” does not count as reasonable cause.

In America they call it ‘sktching’ and it’s illegal there too | Image: Austin Augie

Related articles