How fast can we ride in Spain?

Cycling in Valencia - Speed limits for cyclists

Legal and Safety 

As is the case in many countries, there are often quite a lot of grey areas in our knowledge about what is and what is not legally-permissible when cycling on public roads in Spain, which can lead to a degree of uncertainty about what we can and cannot do when we are out riding our bikes. 

In our "Legal and Safety" articles, we'd like to help shed some light on what, to the best of our knowledge, are our legal rights and obligations when out and about on our bikes in Spain. 

We hope our artciles will be of use to you. However, we are not lawyers, nor do we offer professional legal advice, so please don't take our word for it and, as always, we recommend you consult a responsible adult before taking any action in relation to doing anything whatsoever. Just in case. 

So, having said that..... 

What is the maximum speed limit for bicycles on Spanish roads?

This question was brought to light recently in the wake of an incident that occurred near the Valencian village Barx, which sits on a plain at the top of a long, fast descent down towards the coastal city of Gandia. It's a beautiful mountain road, by the way, and well worth a visit. Barx can be reached either by climbing from Gandia in the east, or from the village of Simat de la Valldigna in the north.

On April 14, a cyclist was fined 100 euros by members of a Civil Guard traffic patrol after being caught by radar travelling downhill at 77 km/h on a stretch with a 60 km/h limit, and the response - suprisingly outraged in nature from some quarters - was not long in coming. Amid the toing, froing, cursing and headscratching from members of the cycling community about the "fairness" of the penalty, the question about just how fast cyclists are allowed to travel on Spanish roads remained.

It's a pertinent question and one to which the answer, as is so often the case in these matters, is "it depends......".

Let's take it by parts.

Firstly, we have the maximum speed limits for bicycles on the road as applicable within cities, villages and other built-up areas. Given Spain's highly decentralized political system, the country has a multi-tiered approach to the creation of regulations and legislation, and in such cases the speed limits will be established by the local/municipal authority and indicated by means of traffic signs for each specific urban area.

As every municipality has the capacity to establish its own limits, we can only recommend observing the speeds indicated on the applicable street signs. These are usually going to be around the 30 km/h limit in built-up/residential area although, we repeat, we would do well to pay attention to individual, specific indications.

Secondly, there is the question of the maximum speed limit for bicycles on interurban roads, that is, roads outside and between built-up areas.

According to a recent tweet by the Dirección General de Tráfico (Spanish  Traffic Authority), it would appear that the official maximum speed limit for bicycles on Spanish roads is 45 km/h:

@DGTes "Generic speed limits in Spain"

We can see the speed limit as applicable to bicycles in the right-hand column of following chart:

Cycling in the Valencia Region - Maximum speed limits for bicycles
45 km/h, for all roads - that would seem to make things quite clear, although again, we would be wise to bear in mind the existence of specific municipal regulations.

Furthermore, this seems to be borne out by Article 48 of the Spanish General Traffic Regulation (Regulación General de Circulación), which states:

Article 48.- Maximum speeds on interurban roads.

1. The maximum speeds which must not be exceeded, except in those cases detailed in Article 51, are as follows:
e) For bicycles, two- and three-wheel mopeds and light quadracycles: 45 kilometres per hour.

However, Article 48 1 e) immediately proceeds to mention an exception to this limit:

Nevertheless, cyclists may exceed the mentioned maximum limit on such stretches where the traffic/road circumstances allow for higher speeds.

This would seem to be a definition open to varying interpretations, and hence a possible cause of conflict. It would, in principle, seem to be the interpretation applied by the Civil Guard to our budding Nibali on the descent from Barx, as the fine was issued for travelling at 77 km/h on a stretch of road with a 60 km/h limit, and not for having exceeded the 45 km/h maximum limit established for bicycles in the General Traffic Regulation.

Exactly when and where the "traffic/road circumstances allow for higher speeds", however, is not clear.

Is this an important issue while cycling in Spain?

In general, it probably isn't: the case in question made the news to a large degree precisely because of its unusual nature, and cyclists being fined for speeding is certainly not the order of the day.

However, it would be wise to bear in mind that such speed limits do exist when cycling on Spanish roads.

The damage that one can do to oneself when emulating Lo Squalo di Messina is, in principle, a matter for personal concern, but things can, and often do, become more complicated when other road users and third parties are involved and not speaking Spanish, chasing a Strava segment or being on our holidays are not, to the best of our knowledge, considered extenuating circumstances under Spanish legislation.

Be safe.

Michael Dixon

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