Bridleways, byways and cycle tracks (England & Wales)

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Cyclist riding off-road
The rights of way network has the potential to offer many more motor traffic-free routes for cycling
Headline Messages: 
  • The right to cycle on some public rights of way (RoW) but not others does not necessarily relate to their suitability. While cyclists have the right to (bi)cycle on bridleways and byways, many of them are unsuitable; on the other hand, cyclists are not automatically allowed to ride along footpaths, many of which are perfectly fine for cycling.
  • The suppressed demand for good traffic-free cycling routes for both recreational and utility use is considerable, but much of the RoW network is best suited to mountain-biking. More people could enjoy off-road cycling if the network were expanded, more coherent, and better maintained and signed. This needs concerted action from local and national government, plus reform to RoW law.
Key facts: 
  • Cyclists have a right to ride on bridleways, byways and restricted byways, but not footpaths.
Cycling UK View (formal statement of Cycling UK's policy): 
  • Improvements and additions to the bridleways and byways network would enhance the opportunities for motor traffic-free cycling, particularly for families and casual cyclists.
  • National government should review RoW law to enhance cycling opportunities by, for example:
  • following the lead of Scotland’s Land Reform Act 2003, which gave cyclists lawful access to most countryside in Scotland;
  • simplifying the legal process for converting footpaths to cycle tracks.
  • Highway authorities should fulfil their duties under existing legislation to make sure that the potential of the RoW network is fully realised for both recreational and utility cyclists.
  • Cycle racing on bridleways should be permitted by law, subject to appropriate consultation and regulation.
  • While signing from roads onto the RoW network is now reasonably acceptable, waymarking of the network itself needs improving.
  • Highway authorities should not only fulfil their legal duties to maintain byways and bridleways, but should also carry out maintenance programmes to ensure that they are rideable.
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Publication Date: 
March 2016

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