Riding Your Bicycle

AuthorCraig Forcese; Nicole LaViolette
chapter 2
Riding Your Bicycle
Many Canadians f‌irst learn to ride a bicycle when they are children. At that
age, the ability to pedal away on a bicycle seems like an exhilarating and
emancipating activity. Our parents and members of our communities often
teach us basic rules about how to ride a bicycle on the road or on a trail,
but for the most part, we consider cycling a freewheeling activity — one
that provides fun and independence. As children, and later as adults, we are
often oblivious to the fact that riding a bicycle is actually a highly regulated
activity in Canada. In fact, cyclists and the equipment they use are subject to
a large number of rules under federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal
laws and regulations.
For the most part, the basic rights and duties of cyclists are found in
highway traff‌ic and safety laws and regulations at the provincial, territorial,
and municipal levels of government. The full body of rules that regulates
cycling also extends further to include many other types of statutes, regula-
tions, and bylaws, and include court decisions as well. The f‌irst main chap-
ter of this book outlines the most important legal rules that apply to riding
a bicycle in Canada.
Some of you will disagree with a number of these rules. Mandatory hel-
met requirements galvanize serious debate. Bells on bikes are a source of
mirth (and irritation during police bike-check blitzes) among many cyclists.
Cyclists commonly disregard full stops at stop signs, a car-centric rule that
many cyclists perceive as risky.
 » every cyclist’s guide to canadian law
this chapter’s takeaways
» Cycling is a thoroughly regulated activity and cyclists generally must abide
by the rules of the road.
» Rules do vary from province to province and municipality to municipality
and you should be aware of such things as different expectations on hel-
met use, licensing, etc.
» There is a long list of things that you need to attach to your bike, do on
your bike, or not do on your bike.
» There is no better way to understand these rules than to read on!
From time to time we discuss the merits of these rules below. But rules
they are — if you do not like them, then knowing about them is the f‌irst
step in changing them.
statutory def‌initions
A good number of law books, and almost all statutes, start with “def‌initions.”
A book on bicycling law is no different, and “what is a bicycle” is a surpris-
ingly convoluted issue. This is especially the case on the margins — for
instance, over the issue of whether power-operated two-wheel vehicles are
entitled to “bicycle” status and should be allowed on, for instance, bicycle
There is no uniform legal def‌inition of what constitutes a “bicycle” or a
“cycle” in provincial and territorial laws. Some jurisdictions such as British
Columbia,1 Alberta,2 Nunavut,3 and the Northwest Territories4 specify that a
bicycle is a device with three characteristics: (1) it has any number of wheels;
(2) it is propelled by human power; and (3) it can be ridden by a person.
Manitoba law provides the same, but adds a qualif‌ication that a bicycle is
propelled by human muscular power “through the use of pedals.”5 In all
four Atlantic provinces6 and in the Yukon,7 a bicycle is a device propelled
by human power upon which a person may ride, but laws in those jurisdic-
tions generally restrict the legal def‌inition to devices that have “two tandem
wheels.” Neither Ontario nor Quebec highway traff‌ic laws describe what
constitutes a bicycle despite referring to such vehicles throughout the legis-
riding your bicycle » 
lation. In Saskatchewan, the relevant provincial law does not explicitly refer
to bicycles, but the def‌inition of a vehicle is broad enough to include them;
the def‌inition provides that a vehicle is “a device in, on or by which a person
or thing is or may be transported or drawn on a highway.”8
It is possible that provincial, territorial, or municipal regulations will
adopt a slightly different def‌inition of a bicycle depending on the purpose of
the regulation. For instance, for the purposes of implementing a mandatory
safety helmet requirement for youth, Alberta regulations def‌ine a bicycle as
“a cycle propelled solely by human power on which a person may ride that
has 2 wheels, and includes a bicycle with training wheels.”9
unicycle, tricycle, and quadricycle
It is clear that some statutory def‌initions of a “bicycle” exclude unicycles,
tricycles, and quadricycles. This is the case in New Brunswick, Prince Ed-
ward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador, where laws regulating high-
way traff‌ic specify that a bicycle has “two tandem wheels.”10 In the Yukon,
territorial legislation applies only to bicycles with two tandem wheels, or to
a device that has three wheels, “but not more than three wheels.”11 In Nova
Scotia, the def‌inition of a bicycle includes devices with either two tandem
wheels, or four wheels.12 Ontario legislation specif‌ically mentions that a “bi-
cycle” includes a tricycle or a unicycle.13 In other jurisdictions, a bicycle can
have any number of wheels.14
power-assisted bicycle
Some provincial and territorial laws contain references to power-assisted
bicycles, commonly called e-bikes, electric bicycles, electric assist bicycles,
or electric scooters.15 There exist many possible types of power-assisted bi-
cycles as different technologies are available to equip these devices. How-
ever, according to federal regulations,16 a power-assisted bicycle is def‌ined
by the presence of the following essential components:
(1) it has steering handlebars and pedals;
(2) it has a maximum of three wheels;
(3) it is capable of being propelled by muscular power;
(4) it has an electric motor with a 500W output or less for propulsion;
(5) the electric motor alone must not be capable of speeds in excess of
32 km/h on level ground; and

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