Ontario Bike Law Explained
Knowing about Ontario bike law and e bike laws before you go could save you time, money and—most importantly—even your life. But there's more to road cycling rules than simply wearing a helmet and "sharing the road."
Ontario Bike Law and Safe Cycling Practices
Enacted in 1923, Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act was at first more concerned with keeping cars from tangling with horses-drawn buggies on provincial roads. Lycra-clad cyclists have since taken over from horse drivers as the main complicating factor on a system or roadways all-too-often dominated by motorized vehicles.
But cyclists belong on the roads too, and need an understanding of the laws that both protect and restrict them.
Sasha Gollish is a road safety engineer and holds the safety and advocacy portfolio for Morning Glory Cycling Club, a group of road riders with 1,200 members in the Greater Toronto Area. She says Ontario cyclists should be glad Ontario is ahead of the game. In Ontario, a bike has always been defined as a vehicle with broad rights to be on roadways. Some other jurisdictions are playing catch up with their legal definitions.
Before riding, it’s important to understand the rules of the road and practise proper safety and handling techniques. Get Ontario’s Guide to Safe Cycling.
Below are laws cyclists should be aware of, bearing in mind these provincial laws always take precedence over municipal bylaws.
Required Safety Equipment
It is important for cyclists to be heard and seen by other road users. The bike law requires that you equip your bike with some basis safety equipment. Other equipment is optional.
You need to be able to alert other drivers and cyclists to your presence with a bell or a horn. Interestingly enough, a gong is also acceptable, according to section 75 (5) of the Highway Traffic Act. Penalty for non-compliance: $110.
At a minimum, bicycles need a back braking device that can cause the tire to skid on flat, dry pavement. Handlebar brake levers need to be tuned so they stop with at least 2.5 cm of space between the lever and the handlebar grip.
From a half-hour before sunset until a half-hour after sunrise, cyclists need the following to improve their visibility:
- A white or amber front light
- A red light or reflector on the rear
- White reflective material on the front forks (6 cm2)
- Red reflective material on rear of frame (6 cm2)
For what it’s worth, unicyclists are exempt. Everyone else risks a fine of $110 (recently increased from $20) if not outfitted correctly.
Bike Helmet Law
The bike helmet law in Ontario requires every cyclist under the age of 18 to wear an approved bicycle helmet. If you are a parent of a child younger than 16 years of age, responsibility falls to you to ensure they are equipped.
E-bike laws require that all e-bike operators must be 16 years of age or older and all must wear an approved bicycle helmet that fits properly.
To make sure the helmet is positioned properly on the head, check that there are two finger widths of space between the eyebrows and the helmet rim. Acceptable certifications include: Snell, CSA, ANSI, ASTM, BSI, SAA, CPSC.
Where to Ride
The Ontario Highway Act defines bicycles and e-bicycles as vehicles that belong on the road. You can ride on most Ontario roads and secondary highways. Learn the rules and best practices on how to ride safely in traffic.
Many municipalities in Ontario offer special bicycle riding areas: on-road (shared roadway with signs, bicycle lanes, raised cycle track or bicycle priority streets), in-boulevard (bike paths, raised cycle track) or separate multi use bike paths.
Where Not to Ride
The bike law, and common sense, says you need to stay off 400-series highways. This includes the 400, 416, and similarly marked expressways, but also the Queen Elizabeth Way in Mississauga, the Queensway in Ottawa, and other stretches marked with a No Bicycling sign. Cycling on secondary highways, such as Highway 17 in Northern Ontario, is allowed when better options aren’t feasible.
For the sake of everyone’s safety, cyclists should make their intentions known. Extend the left arm straight out to indicate an upcoming left-hand turn. When about to stop, extend the left hand and bend at the elbow to point to the ground.
Traditionalists might insist on indicating a right-hand turn by extending their left arm and bending it at the elbow to point to the sky, but common sense, and now provincial guidelines, argue that there’s nothing wrong with just pointing right with your right hand to indicate a right turn. Get used to flapping those arms. Failure to signal could earn you a $110 ticket.
Walking Your Bike
Be considerate of other users when walking your bike on shared use sidewalks or paths.
If you are walking your bike on a highway where there are no sidewalks, you are considered a pedestrian and you should walk on the left-hand side of the road facing traffic.
Ontario Bike Law About Riding in Groups
The issue of riding with other cyclists in group formation is contentious, according to Sergeant Kerry Schmidt of the Ontario Provincial Police Highway Safety Division. Section 147 of the Highway Traffic Act is clear, up to a point: “Any vehicle travelling upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic…shall be driven…as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway.”
Section 148 goes further: “Every person in charge of a vehicle…who is overtaken by a vehicle travelling at a greater speed shall turn out to the right and allow the overtaking vehicle to pass.” Failure to comply can earn a ticket of between $150 and $1,000.
Sasha Gollish of the Morning Glory Cycling Club argues this does not explicitly rule it illegal to ride in group formations with riders positioned beside each other, riding two abreast. She argues bicyclists are advised to be one metre away from the side of the road for their own safety. Further, passing vehicles must, by law, keep one metre away from a cyclist while they pass. That means any car overtaking even a single cyclist would have to cross the centre lane to safely pass. When cyclists organize themselves into an orderly formation in which they are two abreast, they effectively shorten the length of their group by half and make it easier and safer for cars to overtake them. The logic is that they will have to cross the centre yellow line in either case, and when the riders are two abreast the group is shorter, so easier to overtake.
Sergeant Kerry Schmidt of the Ontario Provincial Police Highway Safety division sees both sides of the argument but maintains that the law clearly states that slower vehicles have to be positioned as far to the right as practicable. He says the principle of “Tight and to the Right” should guide cyclists. “Riding two abreast is fine, but cyclists need to move to single file if cars are behind and not able to pass. Otherwise, they could be seen by an officer as unlawfully impeding traffic.”
Road Signs and Traffic Signals
Cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities to obey all traffic laws as other road users. You can be charged and fined (around $110) for disobeying traffic laws.
The penalty for rolling through a stop sign is $110.
Distracted Driving Law
The distracted driving law that punishes drivers up to $1,000 for using a phone while driving is geared to motorists and is not written to include cyclists. That doesn’t mean trying to talk or text while cycling is a good idea.
No License Needed
You don’t need a license to ride a bike. If you are stopped, you need only identify yourself to the officer, not provide documentation, in case you can’t fit your wallet in your tight cycling suit.
Learn About Ontario Bike Law
Bike riding in Ontario is a safe, fun and active way to explore the beautiful cities, towns, villages and countryside. Be sure to learn about Ontario bike law, e-bike laws, and cycling safely before you go.