While out with a fellow rider the other day we got the usual bike comment in the form of “You should ride in the bike lane” as we rode on the sidewalk and passed the pedestrian going the other direction. This was at the conclusion of our ride and I don’t know why but this one was different. The pedestrian’s level of irritation was just palpable enough that we both caught onto it because we asked each other “what legally constitutes a bicycle?”. Welp… As it turns out. We were almost riding one wheel bikes, according to The california vehicle code section 231 since it states
A bicycle is a device upon which a person may ride, propelled exclusively by human power, […] , through a belt, chain, or gears, and having one or more wheels.
The “one or more wheels” got my brain-hamster running in its itty-bitty wheel. I said almost above because my inner rules lawyer noted we were riding fixed axle unis which have no “belt, chain, or gears”. The same applies to freewheel unicycles. This then means that a uni with a Schlumpf hub or chain drive means you aren’t one of the cool kids riding a unicycle, you are simply a bike rider.
There’s no clear description in French law regarding unicycles as far as I know. Human-powered vehicles are broadly defined (using terms such as “large”…). So we don’t really know -in regard of the law only- if we should use the road or the sidewalk, and we rely on our good faith.
Well… You’re kind of wrong. In the French law, it is clearly stated that a bike is a two-or-more-wheel vehicle propelled by human power. Section 311-1, 6.10:
Bike: vehicle with 2 or more wheels and exclusively propelled by human power of people on this vehicle, in particular with pedals or cranks.
So, unicycles fall into the “non-motorised personal mobilitydevices” - such as scooters and skateboards. Then, unicyclists have to ride on the sidewalk at the pace of a pedestrian. Do we respect that? Well… Usually no. As we can go at the speed of a bike - especially those of us who have a geared hub -, it seems stupid to stay on the sidewalk.
The way the americans write the law simply blows my mind.
In China there is a law to rule the road, called the Road Traffic Safety Law (RTSL). It blacklists a few kinds of wheel, such as skateboards and rollerblades, but not unicycles (actually, it did not mention unicycle at all); nor does it have a whitelist of what could be ridden on the road. Great right? Anything not forbidden is allowed. NO. Because there is another law, called the Rules of Conduct of the RTSL - well, theoretically it’s a legal interpretation, not even not a law, but they are kind of the same in China - which specifically blacklisted unicycles!
In the real life, I find most police I encountered either does not know it’s illegal to ride a unicycle on the road, or lacks the motivation at all; I’ve only been stopped for a handful of times, most just for a kind advice of safety.
OK, just for a laugh (and a groan, and astonishment) I googled for the Australian Capital Territory Road Transport Regulation.
It makes a lot of regulations for bicycles although it does not define what a bicycle is. However, it seems that a bicycle CAN have 3 (or even 4) wheels. Whereas a motorcycle has 2 wheels (but can have 3, but only if it is otherwise ridden like a regular motorcycle). A unicycle is mentioned once as part of the definition of “wheeled recreational device or wheeled toy”, but it is only a “wheeled toy” if the user is a child less than 12 years of age. Interestingly, the default meaning of “pedestrian” includes a wheeled recreational device (and therefore a unicycle). An electric unicycle, however, is a “personal mobility device”. Strangely, it seems that unlike a bicycle “rider”, a unicycle “user” would be able to lead an animal attached by a leash and does not have to wear a helmet. “Wheeled recreational devices” are not permitted on most roads, some “pedestrian only” footpaths and even not permitted on some cycle paths. All a bit weird - it shows that the people who drafted it had no thoughts about unicycles, and probably view skateboards and the like as nuisances.
I guess you can get away with all kinds of things on a unicycle in practice (well, maybe not riding on a highway at night!), unless you meet a police officer with OCD who doesn’t like the look of you. I’m sure a defense lawyer could have a lot of fun with the resulting charges.
In New South Wales, Australia the Road Rules explicitly state that a unicycle is a “not a vehicle” and a unicycist is “not a rider” but “a pedestrian operating a wheeled recreational device”, similarly roller skaters and skateboarders.
Bicycles are defined as vehicles and subject to much the same rules as a car.
A unicycle may be operated on a footpath (sidewalk for the US readers), where we must give way to pedestrians other than those also on wheeled recreational devices, cycleways, where we must give way to cyclists or roads without lane markings where the speed limit does not exceed 50 kph, unless there is a sign prohibiting WRDs.
We cannot operate the unicycle on any road between sunset and sunrise except to cross it in the shortest safe path. Nothing prohibits the use of the unicycle on footpaths at night without lights.
I think you missed another consequence of this one: in California, a GUni rider must have a handlebar on his (b)uni and must always keep at least one hand on it (and if Schlumpf hubs were sold as full (b)uni, they may be required by law to include a handlebar).
The most surprising part is that I was expecting to see having some kind of a brake as part of the definition (trying to anticipate one possible joke) but there seems to be an oversight here (or California is a lot flatter than I thought ).
Ontario Canada, we have bike defined as I e or more wheel and requires reflectors, a bell, and 2 independent braking systems. I ride with lights always if I’m on the road as I commute on my 29", and it’s never been an issue yet.
I argue each leg is an independent braking system lol
Cops won’t know the law, so it doesn’t really matter, but I think your interpretation is correct, as far as it goes. My theory for what happened in the CVC is that they wanted to exempt kid’s trikes and Big Wheels and such, so “driven by a chain, belt or gears” was added to an existing statute, without the lawmakers understanding (or caring) that unicycles would also be included in the exception.
In Austria a Unicycle is like a children’s toy. So you are allowed only to ride on the pedestrian walk and only you don’t disturb pedestrians.
In fact with the uns you are always illegal.
But cops most don’t know or don’t care
Ride politely and safely. There will always be irritated pedestrians who are annoyed (probably because they believe they could never do it) and share their irritation with you. Smile and give them a wide berth.
If I don’t feel comfortable riding on a section of roadway, I’ll ride (bike or unicycle) on the sidewalk. I don’t care if it’s against the law. I’ll adjust my speed, of course. Luckily (or unluckily), I live in the Land of the Lazies, where walking is seen as a punishment and the sidewalks are relatively empty.
As for offroad, there are a few trails in the area that prohibit bicycles (sign with bike X-ed out), and I’ve been tempted to ride a uni, but I’ve always honored the spirit of the rule.
The new problem I’ve seen are e-bikes on trails that prohibit motorized vehicles. They’re just too fast, especially on single track, and they eat up the trails.