On the beaten path
Riding on shared paths is a great way to enjoy a day of riding without battling traffic, but they can still be busier than a main road. Emma Clark explains the rules.
Safe, scenic and motor-traffic-free: shared paths are perfect for anyone wanting to avoid riding on the road or access areas where cars can’t go. However, shared really does mean shared: you will have to share the space with people of all ages and paces, including those walking or jogging in all directions, other bike riders of varying speeds, kids, people pushing prams, animals, rollerbladers, skateboarders and groups of people doing any of these activities. Being hyper-aware of your surroundings will go a long way to ensure you enjoy your ride and don’t end up crashing.
In the Australian road rules, shared paths, bike paths and off-road paths are considered road-related areas, which is the name given to an area that is not a road, but is open to the public and designated for use by cyclists or animals. Road users are classified as riders, passengers, drivers and pedestrians. Bikes are considered vehicles, unless specifically stated otherwise, and so a person riding a bike on a shared path must follow the same rules as a person driving a car on a road.
The majority of all paths in Australia are shared paths, which means they can be used by both pedestrians and bike riders. All the regular road rules apply to these paths, such as keeping left unless overtaking, not riding more than two abreast and remaining no more than 1.5m from the other rider, and following all road signs and signals. It is important to note that if you do have a collision on a shared path, you might not be covered by your state’s motor accident insurance. Generally, only crashes involving another motor vehicle are covered, so it can be a good idea to contact your state bike organisation about riding insurance.
Whilst normal road rules apply to users of shared paths, there are some specific exemptions and clarifications. Wheeled traffic, including bike riders, rollerbladers, skateboarders and people on scooters, must give way to all pedestrians on shared paths. On bike-only paths, pedestrians are not allowed to walk along the path unless crossing it, and must always give way to bikes.
Courtesy and common sense goes a long way on shared paths. Don’t try to break any speed records, instead, try to keep your speed at a reasonable pace. Move off the path if you are stopping, especially on paths with blind corners. Use your bell or voice liberally to alert other path users that you are passing them, and beware the plugged-in pedestrian. If you see the tell-tale earplug cords, ding your bell or call out loudly to warn them of your presence.
Paths are often not as well lit as the road, so take extra care when riding in the dark. Many pedestrians don’t think to wear lights and early-morning dog-walkers can be a serious hazard, so make sure you have good lights, not only for being seen but also for seeing the path in front of you.