Riding a bike: Madrid is not a bicycle-friendly city

Are you considering riding a bike? Madrid, unlike many other cities in Spain, is not bike friendly. It has few cycle paths and no citywide bike rental scheme as in Seville or Barcelona.

As a matter of fact, upon arriving in Madrid you won’t be seeing a lot of Madrileños riding bikes everywhere… Unfortunately, only a small minority here rides a bike.

That’s why it’s probably not a good idea to explore the city by bike.

Madrid, like most cities in Spain, is not a bike-friendly city. It doesn’t have a large network of cycle paths despite offering a citywide bike rental scheme called BiciMAD. Alternatively, you can also rent your own bike.

If you want to sightsee by bike, the best idea is to go with one of the companies that organize guided bicycle tours. An experienced guide will take you along safe and scenic routes, away from the traffic.


Riding a bike: Madrid requirements

Below I have summarized the most important aspects to consider when biking in Madrid.

Lights. Between sunset and sunrise, you must have and use one white light pointing straight forward and one red one pointing straight back.

Reflectors. Your bike must have at least a rear reflector. It’s also mandatory to wear reflective clothing – but only between sunset and sunrise, on interurban roads, in low visibility conditions or tunnels.

Brakes. Your bike must have functioning front and rear braking systems.

Bell. It’s mandatory to have a bicycle bell mounted on your bike. The application of a similar-sounding device is not equitable.

Helmet. Wearing a bike helmet is mandatory outside urban areas (you can get arrested if you don’t!). The exceptions are:

  • When cycling within urban areas.
  • When cycling in extreme heat.
  • When riding up steep hills.
  • If you’re a professional cyclist.


Should you wear a helmet while riding a bike in Madrid?

Incidentally, it’s highly unusual to see any Madrid bike rider wearing a helmet. Actually, according to municipal rules, it’s not mandatory to do so. It’s up to you to consider the risks and make your own decisions about when to wear a helmet.

However, my personal recommendation is that you should always wear one. Helmets are the best short-term intervention for reducing cyclists’ brain injuries. Make sure yours fits snugly, wear it level on your head, and always buckle the chin strap.

Odds are you won’t have an incident while riding a bike in Madrid. But what if…?

A nasty fall can end up into some sort of brain injury. You’re actually on holidays and the last thing you want to do is spend the day in a hospital in Madrid because you hit your head while riding a rental bike!

So let’s hope that nothing wrong happens. But in case, wear your helmet at all times and make sure you have the best travel insurance.

To end up, bear in mind that helmets can protect against specific head injuries. But they’re no substitute for safer streets and more mindful drivers and bike riders. So, yes, do wear a helmet and be extra cautious!


Riding a bike: Madrid rules

In Madrid, as in the rest of Spain, everyone must drive/ride on the right-hand side of the roadway. Never ride your bike against the traffic flow.

If available, you must ride on bike tracks or appropriately marked trails. The speed limit is 30 km/h.

You are not allowed to ride on pavements, sidewalks, public parks and other pedestrian areas, except at a speed of less than 10 km/h and when the following circumstances apply:

  • There are no separate lanes for cyclists.
  • The sidewalk is 3m+ wide.
  • The sidewalk is not crowded (that means you can keep at least 1m distance from pedestrians and can ride in a straight line for at least 5m).
  • There are no signs or markings prohibiting bicycling.

If you cycle on the road, you have to stay on the right or middle lane (if available). The left lane is to be used only if there is no other way due to the circumstances of the road, or to turn left.

If you ride on bike paths, you must be particularly cautious when you come to sections which must be shared with pedestrians or other road users (e.g. pedestrian crossings).

You can’t ride on bus lanes, which are only intended for public transport.

Cycling in public parks, promenades and other central pedestrian areas is permitted, provided that the priority of pedestrians is considered, and you keep within a 10 km/h limit.

If you are cycling close to buildings, keep a 5m+ distance from the facade.

You are not allowed to use mobile phones or similar handheld devices which affect your attention. And you are also not allowed to ride while listening to music through headphones or earbuds.

Unauthorized races or similar competitions are prohibited.

You must always keep both hands on the handlebar while riding.

You cannot cycle with an alcohol level exceeding 0.5 grams / liter in blood (0.25 milligrams / liter exhaled). Up to €500 in fines can come your way if you do.

You should preferably park your bike in designated places, leaving a clear passage of 3+m in width for pedestrians. It’s expressly forbidden to attach bicycles to trees, traffic lights, benches, wastepaper baskets, etc. even though most locals don’t respect this rule.


Riding a bike: Madrid recommendations

Legally, bikes are allowed to turn right at a red light – if and when it’s safe to do so.

In reality, many Madrileños feel invincible once they mount their bikes, and thus they won’t stop for anything.

They’ll run red lights, weave through traffic (regardless which direction it’s coming from), and more often than not teach tourists not to walk on the bike paths by racing through small groups while loudly ringing their bells or yelling.

Having said that, don’t do as locals and follow the recommendations below:

  • Obey all traffic laws and lights.
  • Make sure you always stay visible. If drivers can see you, they are less likely to hit you. Use lights when biking at night or in low-light conditions.
  • Stay alert at all times. Keep a lookout for obstacles in your path.
  • Don’t get distracted. Don’t listen to music or talk on the phone while riding.
  • Go with the flow and ride your bike in the direction of traffic.
  • Act like a car. Drivers are used to the patterns of other drivers. Don’t weave in and out of traffic. The more predictably you ride, the safer you are. Check for traffic. Be aware of traffic around you.
  • Look, signal and look again. Use hand signals to let drivers and other bicyclists know where you’re going. Look and make eye contact. Don’t assume drivers will stop.

In this respect, you should always use hand signals to communicate your intent to other drivers/riders:

  • Stopping. Extend your left arm out to the left, point vertically downward and wave the extended arm up and down.
  • Turning right. Extend the right arm perpendicularly to the body.
  • Turning left. Extend the left arm perpendicularly to the body.

One final thing to remember is that it’s totally forbidden to ride a bike in the pedestrian streets of the city center from 10:00 to 22:00.


This article is part of a complete tutorial about exploring Madrid on bike where you can read all the information you need to enjoy the city on a bicycle.

Here is a complete summary of all the guide:

1. Cycling in Madrid: should you walk instead?
2. Riding a bike: Madrid rules and recommendations
3. 7 cycling tips to safely ride around Madrid
4. BiciMAD: Madrid’s municipal bike rental
5. The best bike on rent shops
6. The best Madrid bike tours