You could be on a bike tour, pedalling feverishly to make it to the next campsite before dark, or you could be on the streets of a car-centric city racing on your bike in an effort to be at work on time. But how fast is too fast? Is there such a thing? Can you get a speeding ticket while riding a bicycle?  



Stephen J. Reichert

Attorney at Law, Law Office of Stephen J. Reichert, LLC

The answer, like many matters in law, depends upon where the act was committed. State-to-state the answer is different and to further complicate matters, various cities and counties have ordinances that apply to the operation of bicycles. That said, in general, which is to say in most places across the U.S., a bicyclist is held to most of the same standards as a motorist and this includes obeying the speed limit.

Bikes often don't have speedometers but in places where bicyclists must obey the speed limit, not having a speedometer (‘sorry judge, I had no idea!’) will not be an acceptable defense as you have a responsibility to know if you're operating within the law. Just as ‘I couldn't see whether the light was green or red so I entered the intersection’ isn't a defense as you have an obligation to know the color before proceeding. So, if you're a speed racer you should invest in a good speedometer.

Under New York state law bicyclists can receive speeding tickets. ‘​Every person riding a bicycle or skating or gliding on in-line skates upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this title...’ with some exceptions and additional duties such as age of riders, etc. (N.Y. Vat. Law § 1231). There is no exception for speeding on your bike, or gliding on your skates, for that matter.

In Maryland, the same is true. Bicyclists can be issued speeding tickets, but they are also allowed to travel in a lane of traffic--unless prohibited by posted signs--just the same as a vehicle so long as the speed limit on the roadway is 50 mph or less. But find a steep hill, a stiff back-wind, no posted bike restrictions, and zoom 60 mph on your bike in a 50 mph zone and you could get a ticket or killed. But say you're taking your donkey for a ride in Maryland, you're also bound by the speed limit and could receive a ticket for ridin' that donkey too hard and you're allowed to ride that donkey only on roads posted 35 mph or less--unless you're riding that donkey in Charles, Worcester or St. Mary's counties--but I digress.

— In Seattle, particularly in school zones with reduced speed limits, officers have ticketed bikers who, on a downslope, have exceeded the 20 mph posted limit. They’ve been treated like motorists; however, the citation amount for bicyclists is reported as being less than that charged to motor vehicle drivers.

Source: Seattle Times

In New York City, police in Central Park have demonstrated uncertainty of the speed limits and have issued several bicyclists tickets that have been contested.

Source: Gothamist


Best biking cities in the world

 Copenhagen, Denmark

 Amsterdam, Netherlands

 Utrecht, Netherlands

 Strasbourg, France

 Eindhoven, Netherlands

 Malmö, Sweden

 Nantes, France

 Bordeaux, France

 Antwerp, Belgium

 Seville, Spain

Minneapolis, USA

Source: The Copenhagenize Index 2015


Neil Gaffney

Public Affairs Specialist, Department of Transportation

The short answer is it depends on the state and locality. Local governments (police departments) enforce speed limits and which users of the road are allowed where (for example, height limits for trucks underneath certain bridge overpasses or single-occupancy vehicles using a carpool lane). I would suggest you contact a couple of local governments and see how bicycling is handled in terms of rules of the road. I would ask them specifically if there is a speed limit for cycling in say, a school zone.


Julia Kite

Policy and Research Manager at Transportation Alternatives

In New York City, you can indeed be ticketed for speeding on a bicycle. Cyclists are subject to the same road laws and regulations as motor vehicles, so you can also be ticketed for going through a red light or a stop sign. Speeding tickets for cyclists are rare - most recreational cyclists will not break the limit on city streets - but they do happen, and not having a speedometer will not be accepted as an excuse.

— Transportation Alternatives has created a Biking Rules handbook, which explains rights and responsibilities when riding in the city.



NYC 311 operator who read from NYC Department of Transportation's Safe Bicycling in New York City publication

Bicyclists have all the rights and are subject to all the duties applicable to drivers of motor vehicles. This includes obeying all traffic signals, regulating signs and pavement markings. Bicycle riding is permitted on arterial and local streets throughout the City even though no designated route exists. Bicycle riding is prohibited on the roadways of certain bridges, expressways and highways. Often a separate path exists on these facilities for bicycles.

§ 1231 - Traffic Laws Applicable to Persons Riding Bicycles: Bicyclists are granted all rights and subject to all duties applicable to operator of vehicle except where not applicable.

— Fred Rompelberg from Maastricht, the Netherlands, is the oldest professional cyclist in the world and the current holder of the Absolute Speed World Record for Cycling, with 268.831 km/h (167.044 mph) as he cycled behind a motor dragster.



ILLUSTRATION:  Nikita Treptsov