Bicycle Licenses: Should they be Introduced?


We cycle for sports, transportation, exercise and for recreation. Regardless of why you cycle, there are a myriad health benefits of cycling including;

  • Weight management;
  • Helps build your muscles;
  • Strengthens your leg power;
  • It is a low impact activity

Apart from the physical benefits, cycling can also help you to improve your mental health. It has been scientifically proven that aerobic exercise reduces stress, depression, and anxiety.

Cycling is also an environmentally friendly mode of transport as there are no emissions and carbon footprint.

Do you need a licence to use your bicycle?

Cycling is not as highly regulated as other modes of transport. In fact, it is encouraged by most governments and health professionals because of its numerous benefits. The reason being that it does not pose great risks to you and to other road users.

However, the idea of bicycle licensing is not new and some jurisdictions have tried to implement it over the years, with varying degrees of success.

Let’s take a little trip back in history!

In 1935, the City of Toronto introduced bicycle licensing for every resident who had a bicycle and who used it on the city’s highways and roads. The process required one to go to a nearby police station and have their bicycles inspected and some documents filled.

Residents owning bicycles were to pay 50 cents to have a bicycle license, failure to which attracted a fine of 5 dollars.

However, the by-law was abolished in 1957 due to various reasons including ‘poor public relations between children and police officers’ and an ‘unconscious contravention of the law at a tender age’.

Why is it difficult or impractical to license bicycles?

If bicycle licensing was as easy as car licensing, most jurisdictions would have done it already. But, there are a few challenges that come with licensing cyclists. Here is why it is almost impossible and why many jurisdictions have tried and failed to enforce bicycle licensing laws.

1.   Under-age cyclists

To obtain a bicycle license, you must be an adult – at least 18years of age. You need to provide valid documents including your valid identification. In most regions, you are only issued an ID when you turn 18.

However, many children, some as young as 3, own and use bicycles. Many school-going students use bicycles to travel to and from their schools.

Does it mean they will need to carry their licenses every time they are using their bikes?

It is difficult to license bicycles when a big majority of the cyclists are children.

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2.   Cost

If bicycles were to be licensed, there will be a need to keep a complete and current database. However, maintaining a database is not that easy, it requires resources and costly investment.

Processing the licenses also requires manpower to issue and enforce the law.

From the cyclists’ view, the whole process is also expensive. Licenses are taken for a specified period, once the period lapses, you have to renew it. Now imagine having to pay a fixed sum of money every month or yearly just because you own or use a bicycle? Eventually, the cost of bicycle licensing will be more than the cost of the bicycle itself.

In terms of cost, both the governments and cyclists can’t afford it, so why should they introduce the licenses? It’s not worth it.

3.   Public policy considerations

Licensing serves many purposes among them; regulation.

However, cycling has many benefits from health to the environment and therefore it should be encouraged. Yes, the objective of licensing cyclists could be to ensure compliance with traffic laws, but we need to look at it from a different perspective.

If bicycle licensing is introduced, many people will shy away from buying and using bicycles. Some will opt for other modes of transport, especially personal vehicles, which encourages a sedentary lifestyle and has a high carbon footprint. It will also greatly increase congestion on roads.

4.   Implementing the law

If all bicycles were to be licensed, then police officers will be tasked with ensuring that all cyclists obey the rules of the road.

This would mean that the policy will only be enforceable on major roads and highways.

But, not all cyclists use the main roads and highways. Some use mountain bikes out in the wild but never use them on major highways. How do you implement the policy equally across all bicycle users?  It would necessitate deploying police officers all over the trails and every suburban street, which will be costly exercise and a gross waste of time and public resources.

Also, what if you only use your bike around your compound and you don’t go beyond? Will you also need a license for cycling in your own compound?

5.   Double taxation

Cyclists are already paying for road taxes, insurance, and other things. Telling us to take up bicycle licenses will be tantamount to excessive taxation.

If the licenses were being issued at no cost – which is not the case, it could be fair and most of us would agree to the policy without hesitation.

Also, considering the fact that some cyclists can’t afford to pay for vehicle transport, licensing would be punitive to the most vulnerable people in our society.

What are the pros of bicycle licensing?

Well, an argument must have two sides.

Therefore, we should not just focus on the negatives of bicycle licensing and forget the good things that might come along with it.

Suppose the bicycle licensing policy was implemented, what good would come from it?

1.   Easy identification

A cycling license can be used to identify you. For instance, if you are involved in an accident you may not be in a position to identify yourself.

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However, if you have a validly registered bicycle, the police can easily identify you and quickly get in touch with your next of kin.

If you are taken to a hospital and you are unconscious, the information on your cycling license can be used to begin the admission process.

On the other hand, if you forget to carry your Identification Card, you can easily use your cycling license to identify yourself. This works just like the driving license which is often used when traveling by air especially in the USA. A cycling license can therefore be used as a travel ID.

A cycling license contains useful information about the licensee including his or her name and address. So if you have one, don’t forget to carry it with you even when you are not cycling.

2.   Cyclists will take responsibility for their actions

Just as vehicles and motorcycles have number plates, so will bicycles need to have number plates if they were to be licensed. And with this, it is very easy to identify and trace a cyclist if they commit a crime, do something unlawful or cause an accident and run away without taking responsibility.

Yes, a bicycle may not cause a fatal accident compared to a motorcycle or vehicle, but it can hurt someone in one way or another, especially if the victim is a child.

A cycling license will therefore come in handy in cases of hit and run and may help personal injury advocates to pursue charges against a cyclist who causes injury to another.

3.   Recovery of stolen property

Suppose someone stole your bicycle and the police recovered it? How can you prove that it’s yours?

One of the reasons why policy makers were pushing for bicycle licensing was to reduce bicycle theft cases.

For bicycles to be licensed, they will need to be registered and issued with number plates. The number plates can be used to identify a stolen bicycle.

Registration of bicycles has been made mandatory in some regions and if you are found using an unregistered bike, you could be ticketed.

4.   Respect the rules of the road

Cycling is just like walking, only that it is much faster. For this reason, most cyclists tend to ignore the rules of the road. Reason – no one can identify them.

Cyclists must follow certain rules, especially when navigating through major roads and highways. If not, they not only endanger their lives, but also those of other road users.

You see, a driver has to follow all the rules when driving or risk being fined or having your license revoked, if you are a repeat offender. The process of getting your license back is time-consuming and fines are costly, motivating car licence holders to be on the straight and narrow.

But without a license, a cyclist has nothing to lose. They can do whatever they please and get away with it. But, if a cycling license is in place, cyclists will be motivated to adhere to the rules of the road.

5.   Join cycling races

Cycling races are competitions between the best and experienced cyclists and carry many risks, especially when the race is taking place on a busy road, with pedestrians and motorists.

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To ensure you qualify to participate in races, a cycling license is required.

6.   You are recognized and authorized as a professional cyclist

How do you convince someone that you know how to ride a bicycle without riding it in their presence? More so, what makes you a professional cyclist?

Well, anyone can learn to ride a bicycle – it’s not a complicated process, in fact many learn to ride before the age of 10. However, to become a professional cyclist, you have to go the extra mile and learn things that ordinary cyclists can’t do.

Again, there’s more to a bike than just riding it. Can you inflate a tire to the right amount of pressure? Can you adjust the gears and breaks correctly? How do you know that your tires are out of air? These are some of the things that an ordinary rider may not know. But as a professional cyclist, you should know and understand bikes – which means attending a learning or training institution and getting that license.

7.   Generate revenue

Obtaining a cycling license involves paying some cash.

You will also need to regularly renew your cycling license depending on the type of license you have.

The money you pay is used to fund government projects including infrastructure projects like building and maintenance of roads.

Now before you start complaining of potholes on roads, ask yourself whether you have contributed to the maintenance of those roads.

8.   You can join cycling clubs

If you are a cycling enthusiast, you probably know of different cycling clubs around your region, country, and beyond. Such clubs consist of skilled and experienced riders who do things together.

But if you dream of joining one soon, you should start thinking of how to get a cycling license if you have none. You see, no club will allow you to be a member if you have no license.

With a cycling license, you can easily acquire membership in any cycling club of your choice. Cycling clubs always have major benefits for its members which include;

  • Rider development programs to create lifelong riders;
  • Coaching consultation with a certified coach;
  • Cycling roadside assistance during races;
  • Exclusive invites to cycling events;
  • Insurance coverage.

Bottom line

Cycling is great; it has health benefits as well as environmental benefits. People should be encouraged to use bicycles rather than vehicles for transportation.

However, a move to license cyclists will discourage most cyclists from using their bicycles. The cost of licensing a bicycle is cumulatively higher than the cost of the bicycle itself. Under-age cyclists pose a great challenge to bicycle licensing as well.

But again, the policy could bring some benefits like reducing bicycle theft cases and holding cyclists accountable for their actions. The money got from licensing could also be channeled towards building and improving infrastructure.

The conflicting views from lawmakers and the public is what has kept this policy on hold for many years in many cities – and there is a likelihood that the trend could go on for years to come.

What is your opinion on bicycle licences? Let’s hear it below.

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By Marco

Marco is an avid cyclist and passionate blogger. He takes great pride in sharing his insights and experiences with the cycling community, hoping to inspire others to take up the sport and enjoy its many benefits. His words are an ode to the joys of cycling, and the exhilaration it brings.

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