Last year, a cyclist fatally collided with a pedestrian who was crossing the road. The cyclist was charged with Manslaughter and jailed for 18 months as his bicycle had only one working brake.
By law it is illegal to ride your bike on the road unless it meets the requirements of the Road Traffic Acts, and specifically Statutory Instrument 1983 No. 1176, The Pedal Cycles (Construction & Use) Regulations 1983 (as amended).
These Regulations provide that (subject to certain exceptions), a bicycle must have
two, efficient independent braking systems, one which operates on the front wheel and one which operates on the back wheel. 2
If you ride a certain type of bike, the rules are slightly different:
1. Fixed wheel bikes, aka track bikes or ‘fixies’. A track bike (not to be confused with a single speed bike) is not intended for use on the road, but rather competitive track cycling. This type of bike does not come fitted with brakes. Instead the rear wheel is ‘fixed’ in that it is incapable of rotating independently of the pedals (so when you stop pedalling the wheel stops rotating). As noted above, the law requires you to have two independent braking systems. Whilst the law classifies a fixed wheel as one braking system, the front wheel also needs to be fitted with a front brake for your bicycle to be road legal. 3
2. Tricycles (provided they are not adapted for carrying goods, e.g. a cargo bike), may have two brakes operating on one wheel. 4
3. Other types of bikes with more than two wheels, for example i.e. tricycles used as cargo bikes and/or bikes with more than three wheels. If the bike has two or more front wheels, the front brakes must operate on at least two of the front wheels; if the bike has two or more rear wheels, the rear brakes must operate on at least two of the rear wheels. 5
4. Ebikes. Ebikes must have an independent braking system on the front wheel and an independent braking system on the rear. Additional, ebikes must comply with British the 2014 BS EN Standard” means the specification for safety requirements for city and trekking, young adult, mountain and racing bicycles published by the British Standards Institution under the reference BS EN ISO 4210-2:2014(a). 6
Brake condition and maintenance
As noted above, the regulations specify that your brakes must be ‘efficient’. Regulation 10 clarifies that a braking system shall be deemed not to be in efficient working order if any brake operates directly on a pneumatic tyre wheel.
7 Although, no further guidance is given we have set out below other examples of brakes that are not efficient, given the potential for failure or a significant reduction in braking performance:
1. Poorly fitted brake pads: brake pads that do not operate squarely (figure 2) on to the rim, or only a section of the brake pad comes into contact with the rim (figure 3) will not operate as efficiently as correctly fitted pads. Incorrectly fitted brake pads will also wear unevenly, requiring more regular replacement (see the next section).
2. Worn or contaminated brakes pads
Worn brake pads
Check your brake pads on a regular basis to assess their level of wear. Worn brake pads will reduce braking performance. Once the brake pad material is worn to the metal, you will be at risk of causing unrepairable damage to your brake systems.
Contaminated brake pads
When you are cleaning, polishing and/or lubricating your bike, avoid getting anything other than specialist bicycle brake cleaner on brake components. Oil and even certain cleaning products can contaminate brake pads reducing their efficiency, requiring replacement. And please, if your brakes are making a squealing noise, don’t put oil on them (we’ve seen it done!). Get a qualified mechanic to check your brake system over. Fitting a different brand of brake pads and/or setting up the brake system correctly should resolve the issue.
3. Detached, corroded or damaged brake cables.
Cable operated rim brakes can be disconnected/loosened by hand to help taking your wheels out. However, always remember to check they have been reattached before you ride!
Check out this handy video to show how to disconnect and reattach your v-brake cables.
Corroded or damaged brake cables will be prone to failure. Check the outer cable to make sure the plastic sheath is not damaged or cracked as this will allow water to sit inside the brake cable housing and corrode the inner brake wire. Check the inner brake wire (the silver wire that runs inside the outer cable). If you find any frayed or corroded sections the brake wire should be replaced.
If you carry out adjustments yourself, be careful not to over-tighten the cable pinch bolts as over-tightening will damage the integrity of the cable, making it more prone to snapping or slipping and your brakes failing (see recommended torque settings below).
4. Check your brake bolts
All brake bolts should be tightened to the correct torque. Incorrectly torqued bolts can damage components or cause your braking system to fail. ParkTool, one of our favoured suppliers provides some excellent guidance on their website:
However, if you do not have a torque wrench or not confident to carry out this check yourself, a professional bicycle mechanic will be able to carry out this check for you for around £10.00 – £15.00.
Can we start by explaining we are not the police and are not here to tell people what to do. We’re trusted by clients to give professional advice to keep bikes running smoothly and safely. An element of that professional advice is to explain the consequences of failing to keep their bike roadworthy. No one has to follow that advice, but given most people we meet are responsible road users, they prefer that their bikes are roadworthy.
Firstly, if your bike does not comply with the Regulations, you may be issued with a fixed penalty notice (a fine), which means you’ll have less cash to spend on your latest bit of bike bling.
However, if you are involved in an accident with another person who is hurt (or worse), you may be charged with an offence under the Offences Against the Person Act which can carry a prison sentence of up to two years. In the event someone is fatally injured and the cause is a non-roadworthy bike, manslaughter can be brought. The maximum sentence for manslaughter is life imprisonment.
What can you do?
Buying a bike
Firstly, it’s best that you buy your bicycle from a reputable bicycle dealer. When buying your bike you should check the bike is intended for road use. If you’re buying your bike second hand, think about taking it to your local bike shop first and asking them to give it a quick once over for roadworthiness (and any potential costly repairs).
Keeping your bike roadworthy (and helping others)
You should think about getting your bike serviced at least once per year (or more if you are a regular user) and ask the bike shop to check your brakes and replace the pads and cables (if necessary).
If you like to tinker yourself, why not look at booking on to a home mechanics course such as the
ATG Home Mechanic Course.
If you are a bit bike savvy, why not help your colleagues, friends who may be new to cycling and need some help. You may not want to become their mechanic support crew, but you can help them understand the basics and point them in the right direction of a friendly bike shop or useful website.
Read our blog
Over the next few weeks, check out our blogs in which we’ll be looking at the following:
- Brake set up
- Replacing brake pads (rim and disc brake pads)
- Brake cable maintenance
- Effective braking technique (and other urban cycling skills) to help keep you and others safe
In certain workplaces across the City of London, we will be running a series of workshops, covering various topics such as bike safety and security. Look out for a workshop in your workplaces; we will offering free brake services to help you #BeBrakeReady.
Nick Brown, Managing Director, havebike
Nick qualified as a solicitor in 2003, working in the City as a finance lawyer, with specialisms in infrastructure and real estate projects. In 2010, Nick chose to turn his passions for bicycles and bicycle maintenance into a business, setting up havebike in 2010, and creating what is now the UK’s leading bicycle maintenance company.
2 Regulation 7(1)(b)(ii), SI 1983 No. 1176 (as amended)
3 Regulation 7(1)(b)(i), SI 1983 No. 1176 (as amended)
4 Regulation 9(2), SI 1983 No. 1176 (as amended)
5 Regulation 7(2)(b)(i) and (7)(2)(b)(ii), SI 1983 No. 1176 (as amended)
Regulation 4A SI 1983 No. 1176 (as amended)
Regulation 10(2) SI 1983 No. 1176 (as amended)