Cycling Proficiency License?

Biker's License

Not the best example but you get the idea.

I recently saw an article discussing bicycle safety and the need for, wait for it…. bicycling licenses. I know, I know, such an idea is outrageous but it isn’t to me when I see people riding recklessly either because they’re clueless or they arrogantly believe the road is theirs. That said, as much as I want cyclists to be proficient (so those that are reckless don’t give me a bad name) I’m not sure where to take a stand here since there are glaring questions that would need to be addressed before any legislation is written.

Here’s a couple:

1. Would you need a license even if you ride only a handful of times a year?

2. What kind of test (written and behind the handlebar, haha) would you be running to determine proficiency?

3. Who would run the tests? The DMV? A local bike shop certified in testing?

These are some concerns I have. Personally, I lean towards having no license since laying down infrastructure for it seems impossible. On the other hand, I also think a lot of people need help with bicycling naivete!

What about you guys? What do you think?

Original article


  1. Ghost Rider

    I am torn on this issue…part of me thinks it would be worthwhile in the sense that a)it would help provide some desperately-needed training/instruction to cyclists (many of whom have a dim understanding of what it means to “share the road”) and b) perhaps lend some “legitimacy” to chosen form of transportation. Maybe it will even help shut up all those “you don’t pay for the roads, so you don’t belong here!” idiots.

    On the other hand, I am a strong subscriber to Bob Mionske’s take on “right vs. privilege”:

  2. Iron_Man

    Rather than create yet another bureaucratic hassle (not to mention the wasteful spending associated) for law abiding people to negotiate, I’d rather see the law just up the fines for cycling infractions to be on par with auto fines, which would incentivize law enforcement to bust lawless riding behaviors. If a cyclist’s wallet gets popped enough times he’ll reconsider riding like everyday is a Critical Mass event. If a cyclist, knowing full well how exposed he is to injury, doesn’t care about his own life enough to learn about safe riding and his rights and responsibilities under the law, then licensing is not going to be of much help to him.

  3. JeffS

    When is the last time you heard a motorist saying… these incompetent and/or lawbreaking drivers are reflecting negatively on me. Never. Why cyclists even have this discussion is beyond me. An overwhelming majority of motorists break a traffic law every single time they get in a car. Every stop sign you don’t completely stop for. Every time you exceed the speed limit by even 1mph.

    A certain percentage of motorists dislike cyclists. Lawbreaking is an after-the-fact justification for those feelings. Arguing the point is pointless. It’s a fake reason. Being there is the only reason they need. If you want to have a conversation, at least make it an honest one.

    Stop perpetuating this pointless discussion. As for the license… it’s another red herring by the “i hate bikes on my road” crowd. The proposal is always bundled with other plans to punish cyclists or ill-conceived plans to extract money from them. They are all money losers and if our current motor vehicle licensing programs are any indication, a bicycle licensing program would do nothing to prove competency.

  4. Ghost Rider

    @JeffS — good points, all. I suspect the reason “lawbreaking cyclists” stand out is that there are so few cyclists on the roads in comparison to motor vehicles. But, at least that means all those motorists are noticing us, right? 😉

    We periodically bring up discussions like these to see what our fellow cyclists feel about issues…and for that, these discussions are worth the effort. They’re not pointless, as we can all learn something from them.

  5. BluesCat

    I’m with JeffS: this is a totally ludicrous proposal which would create more problems than it solves and bring up more questions than it answers.

    At what age will the license be required? 16? 10? 7?

    If a non-working 10-year-old gets a citation, who bears ultimate responsibility for the ticket?

    Will you now have to carry TWO licenses, a DL and a BL?

    If a person has lost his/her driver’s license because of a DUI, will he/she also lose his/her biking license?

    Will we now require license plates and registration on the bicycle, too?

  6. Dwayne

    I think I’d rather see money go towards bicycle safety training for kids, and inclusion of more bike specific laws in regular drivers manuals.

  7. Matt

    How about we just offer bicycle safety training in elementary school, and then include bicycle-related information in drivers’ education materials and training? Those two steps would go a long ways to improve things – and while they’re offered in some select locations in the U.S., they’re far from common.

    The idea of a bicyclist’s license is patently absurd. By this rationale, we should also have pedestrian’s licenses, so that we’re approved to walk on sidewalks and so serial jaywalkers can be tracked.

    All this idea does is to say, “roads are the place for cars.” This is especially true when the requirements for getting a driver’s license are so ridiculously easy to satisfy in most areas – you don’t have to actually be able to drive well to get a license.

  8. PaulS

    I have to agree with JeffS.

    I would have to add that if I need to get a license to ride my bicycle, why not require motorists to take a bicycle safety course.

  9. hermes (Post author)

    I can see how someone can think that the law being passed could lead to other problems like any law that seems like it’s the beginning of hell (obamacare, mandatory car insurance) but I don’t think it’s going to be like that at all if such a license were to be implemented.

    I generally do think that lawmakers are friendly to bicyclists. Maybe not BMX riders or youths with any bike for that matter (I remember from experience) but my experience as an adult has led me to believe that if they were to implement laws, it would be for the good of the cyclist in mind.

    For instance, someone mentioned rights v. privilege. In Irvine, California where I reside, helmets are MANDATORY for people under 18. That seems like a pretty good rule. If you’re an adult, make your own choice. If you’re not, put on a helmet.

    What is hard to do though is to get the rest of the population to care enough for those that bike frequently. For those that casually bike ride (I consider them to be part of that population), they may hate laws that protect them (at least here in the U.S.) like riding on the right side of the road, wearing a helmet, or having lights that are visible to car drivers.

    I think having a license wouldn’t be such a bad idea. I know I mentioned that I leaned against it for reasons of infrastructure, but if the DMV can implement licensing with little impact on its licensing and registration processes then I don’t see why not.

    Lastly, I think the issue here is bicycling proficiency. It’s not fees. It’s not license plates. It’s certainly not a series of questions that could undermine cycling proficiency. At the end of the day, everyone who is a bicyclist should have some kind of proficiency for the good of all not just one’s self.

  10. Ghost Rider

    That word “proficiency” keeps popping up, but like a number of commenters stated, part of motorists’ licensing procedure is to demonstrate proficiency. And the standards are pretty laughable: recognize a few signs, weave through some orange cones, stop and start smoothly.

    As anyone who spends a large amount of time on the road can tell you, there’s not a whole lot of proficiency being demonstrated out there!

  11. 2whls3spds

    In a land far, far away, and an long, long time ago…

    We used to teach basic safety in elementary school! Things like how to cross the street, walk facing traffic, and using the rules of the road while cycling. We even had Bicycle Rodeos, AND (GASP) rode our bicycles to school!

    They have tried a variety of licensing schemes for bicycles and cyclists in the past they always get dropped because the cost greatly outweighs the benefits and the income.

    I can assure you there are more lawbreaking motorists out there than there are cyclists, the cyclists are more visible due to being in the minority. In NC nearly 1/3 of the cars on the road on any given day are being operated illegally.

    You cannot legislate morality or personal responsibility.


  12. Spoke Guy

    So, uh, would my five year old daughter need a license for her little cycle?

  13. cycle storage Joe

    Just another idea to milk cyclists for money, next they will bring out proficiency tests for daily walkers crossing busy roads. its a joke!

  14. Rob E.

    The article on bicycling as a right vs. a privilege is interesting, but logic is circular. Driving is a privilege because driving is licensed and can be revoked, biking is a right because it falls under a generally understood (but not implicitly stated) right to travel, and is not licensed, so therefore cannot be revoked. The only difference the article makes between driving and biking is the license, so a license requirement for a bicycle could turn bicycling into a a revoke-able privilege.

    I would say that the difference between a car and a bike, and the difference between whether either mode of transportation should be subject to licensing, is in the degree of risk that inappropriate use of the vehicle can bring to the general population. A car can do considerable damage with comparatively little risk to the driver. A cyclist can ride like an idiot, disobey traffic laws, and cause an accident, but the most likely victim of that situation will be the cyclist.

    Certainly a cyclist can cause an accident that brings harm to someone else, but generally that is not the consequence of irresponsible cycling, and such consequences can rarely be brought about without the cyclist also putting their own life at risk. In contrast, a motor vehicle can easily take a life with little risk to the driver. To my mind, that is the primary difference which justifies the licensing of motor vehicles and the ability to ban a person to drive on the public roads.

    As such, I don’t think a bicycle license is in any way justified. I do, however, think education should be encouraged for every person who uses the roadways, be they on four wheels, two, or on foot. It makes sense to try to keep everyone aware of the laws that govern safe use of the road, but any attempt to license people to use the road seems like a restriction on free travel.

  15. Hermes (Post author)

    @Rob. Good points. Privilege as opposed to right.

    Safety, safety, safety.

    I don’t mean to take the easy way out but ya if safety can be attained without a license, I don’t really care. Kudos for adding to the discussion.

    @spoke guy: Your question is one of the reasons why I wanted to bring up this topic. Parameters of such a license/law/whatever is necessary.

  16. Ghost Rider

    Safety can’t be attained WITH a license…look at all the hijinks going on on the roads here. Like Aaron said, “You cannot legislate morality or personal responsibility.”

    Most of the areas that have tried licensing discover rather quickly that it’s a useless moneypit.

  17. Mir.I.Am

    +1 to Matt… If any type of legislature like this one gets passed, the prerequisite to getting your DL should be getting your BL! That way driver’s could get a better perspective on cyclists’ rights!!! They could do Bicyclists’ training with spandex shorts or jersey’s that say “STUDENT BICYCLIST” on the back in yellow and black letters. Or training could involve tandem bikes with a licensed bicyclists… And I think age 4 would be appropriate for the BL!

    (PS, sarcasm factory over here!)

  18. Rob E.

    I don’t like the “license doesn’t equal safety” argument. It seems like the logical conclusion of that is that car drivers should also not be licensed. I think if people obtain a license and still don’t know how to safely operate their vehicle, that indicates a failure in the system, but not that the system has no value or cannot be fixed. The question is why should or shouldn’t that system be carried over to cyclists, and I would say that it shouldn’t be carried over because unsafe bicycle operation is far less dangerous for the general population than unsafe motor vehicle operation.

    Also a bicycle license doesn’t actually solve a problem. When we talk of unsafe bicycle riders, we generally mean that a cyclist is doing something that is not only unsafe, but illegal: running stop lights, riding the wrong way, not using lights, etc. We already have a mechanism in place to punish people who don’t follow the law, it just is rarely and inconsistently applied to cyclists. Someone gets fined for running a stop sign a few times, I bet they stop running signs. But we don’t do that. So adding a new license requirement won’t fix the fact that laws are not currently being enforced. Instead it will criminalize unlicensed cyclists who are otherwise riding safely.

  19. 2whls3spds


    The system failed a long time ago, and I have no clue where anyone would start in trying to fix it. It takes every person doing what is right to make it work. That no longer happens, it is everyone for themselves and unfortunately that seems to be the attitude that prevails on today’s roads.

    All I can do is ride in a legal and responsible manner, setting an example that probably won’t be followed. Funny thing about all the motorists complaining about the cyclists is that they are just as bad if not worse according to several studies.


  20. Ghost Rider

    @RobE — the point was that licensure is no guarantee of competency/skill of operating a motor vehicle (or bicycle, if such licensure was required). The initial test is laughably easy to pass, and there are rarely followups to check for proficiency when renewal time comes.

    The system DOES have value, but simply holding a license doesn’t suddenly give people the magical powers of proficiency — it takes practice and personal responsibility to follow the laws and be as safe as humanly possible.

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