Cycling on the motorway

Cycling on the motorway is illegal. Yet, you can’t help but look at the road some times and think that looks appealing. For a start, motorways have a hard shoulder lane that provides about 12 feet of clearance between yourself and the cars. This is far more than any cycle lane. They are often the shortest distance between two points and also they tend to cut through hills rather than go over them.

I’m not the first person to think this. When the Kenyan cycling team arrived in England they spotted an amazing looking blue line on the map that would make a great cycle route. It turned out to be the M61.

On the first day they were not caught but then when they cycled for the second day the police stopped them. Apparently at the time they were doing around 40 mph and appeared quite happy and careless.

Sam Williams, a cycling adventurer, decided the best route through Serbia, avoiding pot holes and slow winding roads, was the motorway. He started cycling on the motorway and eventually approached a toll booth. While he was considering his options he was approached by someone who worked there and was asked “Nis?”. Sam just nodded and the guy let him through.

He managed to pick up some good speed and was enjoying the motorway route wondering why no one does this more often. At the second toll booth he was told it was illegal and normally would face a fine. When he asked the officers where to go from here they just pointed him to continue along the motorway road.

cycling on motorwayI’m sure a lot of people in the UK could cut out huge amounts of time by taking the motorway route. So is this just an archaic rule to ban cyclists from motorways that should be reconsidered?

Well, from a health and safety perspective I guess the motorway could be a very dangerous place for a cyclist. For a start when coming off the motorway there is some tough junctions to manoeuvre. Also with the high speeds cars are travelling at any collision would definitely be deadly. But then is it more dangerous than some of the A roads people use? Where they are overtaken far too close by careless motorists.

The best solution would be to expand the cycle path network along the motorway route to provide a barrier between motorists and cars. This would then provide a quick direct route that is safe from vehicles. Of course considerations would also need to be made at junctions to allow for cyclist access. I’m sure this is done in some places.

Would you cycle along the motorway?

Image source: Kevin Steinhardt

See also:

Join 9,241 fellow cyclists who are subscribed to the London Cyclist newsletter

Sign up for our free newsletter to get...

  • Advice on the best cycling gear
  • A Friday roundup of all the latest London cycling news
  • Exclusive content not available on the blog

Subscribe today, and get exclusive access forever! (It's free)

*No spam, ever!

As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

18 Responses to Cycling on the motorway

  1. Ian 27/11/2009 at 1:43 pm #

    I’d like to see how far you could get down the hard shoulder before you get a puncture.

  2. Kimberley 27/11/2009 at 1:52 pm #

    I would never cycle down a motorway as they currently exist, but if they were augmented as you suggest, with a separated lane, then yes, I would. It has always irked me that cars get the fastest route and cyclists have to go the long way around.

  3. Clive 27/11/2009 at 2:19 pm #

    Whenever I went to see my mates on the Wirral, we would go on the motorway (M53) at night and race each other… never got stopped, never saw any police, several motorists would wind down their windows and shout, some would laugh…
    there was one section where the surface was so painful (pitted) to ride on it wasn’t worth the effort… on reflection I would not do it again, certainly not in the South

  4. MarkA 27/11/2009 at 2:58 pm #

    I echo Ian’s sentiment – the hard shoulder is full of crud and debris swooshed aside by the passing motors that makes a puncture-inducing paradise, and I’d never cycle in the traffic lane.

    I once walked down the hard shoulder of the M5 near Bristol, dressed as a boy Scout and carrying a huge back pack, but that’s a long story and I was very very lost.

    Most M’ways these days have very high fences down each side to stop kids playing / cattle straying etc. If you had a catastrophic puncture / off on the hard shoulder, you wouldn’t be able to wheel your bike away to the side to the nearest village but could only walk it to the next junction, which could be miles away. Would you have to wait for the RAC to turn up??

  5. Andreas 27/11/2009 at 3:15 pm #

    hhaha @ boy scout story! Think I want to hear more about that!
    Clive – that sounds like a lot of fun! Though I don’t think I would ever risk it!
    Kimberley – agreed, I think alongside motorway is probably not most pleasant route in the world but sometimes its all about speed.

  6. Phil 27/11/2009 at 5:02 pm #

    The draft from big lorries travelling at high speed would be significant and dangerous. I’ve cycled over Le Pont de Normandie bridge in Le Harve. It’s not a motorway but it’s not far off. Cyclists are given a cycle-lane width space at the side. There is a large container port on one side and a lot of lorries carrying containers use the bridge. Every time one of these lorries passes you the draft is like being shoved firmly in the back. Actually quite helpful on the steep incline up the bridge, but you have to hold firm and it is very unnerving.

  7. Andreas 28/11/2009 at 10:04 am #

    I’ve noticed the same thing Phil doing going down A roads where the cars don’t slow down a little for you. When they pass at 70mph you get pushed side to side. It is a shame because cycling down an a road when it is quiet like at night is a great pleasure! Wide roads, plenty of chance to pickup speed.

  8. Sam 28/11/2009 at 12:15 pm #

    I wouldn’t suggest cycling along British motorways, but the thing about the Serbian ones is that the traffic is not that busy. In fact, it’s no busier than the other roads, but you can position yourself a good 10-feet from the traffic, so there’s virtually no turbulence and the road surface is smooth. Additionally, if you catch the trucks right, they can give you a pretty helpful boost as they thunder past!

    Sam

  9. Peter 29/11/2009 at 10:39 am #

    I accidentally cycled along some French motorways on a tour in Brittany and it wasn’t pleasant.

    When the lorries go past at speed the draught from them first pushes you towards the side or the road and then as they pass sucks you back into the road, which could potentially be very dangerous if you didn’t counter it and swung out into the path of the next one.
    I also was doing it after dark, and the glare of the oncoming headlights draws you, and again has a tendency to pull you into the road

  10. Alastair Humphreys 29/11/2009 at 11:11 pm #

    I got caught by police on the M6 once. They were not amused.

  11. Andreas 30/11/2009 at 8:19 am #

    I guess the playing the dumb tourist doesn’t get you far in your own country?

  12. Craig 30/11/2009 at 12:28 pm #

    Fantastic – as for junctions it would be the same route I take on A roads with turnpikes….follow the turnpike up and over. The advantage is that most stuff has to slow for the roundabout at the top so it is a lot safer than trying to cut across the turnoff and hoping no-one prangs you from behind.

  13. Darren Alff 01/12/2009 at 8:11 am #

    I’ve cycled on the freeways quite a bit over the years. While bicycle touring in California there are a few parts where you are forced to cycle on the freeway as there is no other way to go.

    And this year while in Macedonia the police actually told me to ride my bike on the freeway. They said I could ride on the freeway all the way to Greece if I wanted (150+ miles). They just said I couldn’t be on the freeway at night.

    I cycled for 30+ miles on the unfinished freeway in Albania this year as well. That was really fun!

    Other than these rare occasions, I will often times jump on the freeway at one on ramp and them jump off at the next one. I just make sure to sprint as fast as I can while on the freeway. However, I only do this if there is no other (easier) way to go.

  14. John Rawlins 03/12/2009 at 6:00 pm #

    One of the nicest biking experiences I have had was cruising alone downhill on 15 miles of beautifully finished, but not yet opened, motorway near Valencia in Spain.

  15. Adam Edwards 08/12/2009 at 9:37 am #

    If you want to try this out, in Hertfordshire the M10 is now the A414, but the hard shoulders are still in place. I’m not sure I’d want to, but it’s now legal.

    Cheers

    Adam

  16. Bill Pierce 26/12/2009 at 3:13 am #

    I spent nearly a year as a touring cyclist in Europe in 1985-86. I. too, found the motorways quite attractive as a cycling route, especially in Serbia, where the alternatives were terribly potholed and downright damaging to the bike (and rider). By comparison, the motorways were smooth and well-maintained, with wide shoulders. Traffic at that time was not that heavy. I did attract some strange looks when I rode through the toll booths with nothing but a wave. Only once was I stopped by the police, who seemed far more concerned that my passport was in order and my bags were tightly attached than whether I was violating the rules of the road. Perhaps the fact that I spoke no Serbo-Croatian worked to my advantage.

    In other countries, I stayed off routes that were clearly posted as being forbidden to cyclists. I recall several times in Italy where I laboured up mountain switchbacks and hairpin turns on secondary roads while gazing longingly at the nearby autostrada with its cuts through the hills and sections on raised pylons across valleys that afforded far less steep grades.

    There are areas in the US where freeway riding is legal. It depends on the availability of suitable alternate routes as to whether I would use them. In general I am not a fan of such riding, but neither do I favour spending additional hours in order to avoid them.

    A related issue concerns river crossings. There were times I had to make considerable detours to find cycling routes. Having to take the Mersey ferry at Liverpool cost me several hours, while the Tyne Tunnel for cyclists was a godsend.

    In North America, the US-Canadian border at Detroit-Windsor is a cycling bottleneck, forcing riders to go 80 km (50 miles) north to the ferry at Marine City-Sombra. And only in the past year has there been a bicycle crossing of the Missouri River between Omaha, Nebraska, and Council Bluffs, Iowa.

  17. jon doe 10/11/2010 at 8:32 pm #

    Elderly cyclist rides on motorway
    An elderly cyclist has been driven to safety by police after he was spotted riding on the M1 in Bedfordshire.

    Bedfordshire Police received a series of 999 calls, beginning at about 0800 BST, after the man was seen riding on the northbound carriageway.

    Callers said the man was on the hard shoulder between junctions 11 and 12 and was veering into traffic.

    Police found him, took him back to the junction 11 Dunstable exit and advised him to take a different route.

  18. Del Whilden 01/12/2010 at 12:38 am #

    Hey sudmrwjx8ye55fyvpmgh, very interesting post, it really got me thinking. Thank you. z317pjokid

Leave a Reply