Bike symbols

Bicycle symbol #1 in the image below is the one used on signs for the official cycle route network in the UK and which Cycling England refers to as cycle route waymarking. Someone, somewhere, was given the job of drawing the symbol and the pleasure of seeing their work reproduced tens of thousands or maybe even hundreds of thousands of times all around the country. Was it a junior official or did a more senior person grab this important task for themselves? Perhaps it was chosen by a Committee. Either way it's almost certainly the work of a public sector road engineer, not an artist.

Bike symbols

Bike symbols

100% accurate representation for a simple bicycle graphic isn't really necessary, or even possible. In fact I think it's better to characterise it instead of what the government's official sign designer tried to do by including the cranks and pedals. The wheels are also too small (probably accidentally), the crossbar (top tube) is horizontal (rarely seen these days), and the handlebars are either old fashioned or Dutch. I suppose this symbol does its job, just about.

Bike symbol Symbol #2 is from the CTC's awful logo, with the bike blown backwards by the wind or collided with a wall. #6 is clean and expressive but for me is too 'public lavatory' in style. Others – #7 and #10 – have a tube fixed to both wheels: artistic licence gone a step too far. Of the fifteen bicycle symbols in the image my favourite is #9 but it would be no use for cycle route waymarking as it might be seen to signify a rider pitched over the handlebars.

Inset (with the blue background) is my personal attempt to draw a bicycle symbol suitable for cycle route network signs. I quite like it. I've used the minimum number of elements without losing the immediate vision of a bike, and left out the fork, rear stays, drive train, and hubs. Symbols #1 and #13 are the only ones that include the cranks and pedals; they are completely superfluous. Anyway, I could send my drawing to Cycling England, or whoever is taking over their duties, to see if they like it as much as I do, but I wonder if I own the copyright. Logos are copyright but can a symbol be?

Public footpath sign The worst bike symbol I've ever seen is this one hand-painted on the road in Chorley. Incidentally, the 'walker' symbol on public footpath signs in the UK is wrong. He is swinging forward the arm on the same side as his leading leg. That isn't how humans walk – we swing forward the opposite arm to the leading leg.

Bicycle symbol (now completed) »

10 comments on “Bike symbols”

  1. Chris wrote:

    I don’t mind symbol 1. Perhaps its designer(s) included the cranks and pedals because they wanted to make a distinction between pedal cycles and, say, motor bikes. Dunno. For old-fashioned I would read ‘timeless’. Whatever their merits, all the above – including yours, Patrick – seem to do the job of symbolising a bike. What do you suppose determines whether the bike faces the viewer’s left or right, though?

    I agree that the CTC’s wobbly bike symbol is hideous.

    On the public footpath symbol, how do you know it’s not the right foot forward and left arm? Or vice versa? It is a sort-of silhouette after all.

    Incidentally, does anyone else think that this warning sign for speed cameras looks a bit like a robot basset hound?

  2. Patrick wrote:

    The speed camera sign always makes me think Hasselblad – a camera with roll film, hence the little rings (winders). It's interesting how they still use that symbol as it's nothing like any modern camera. Not sure about the right and left bikes. Right-facing bike is on one side and left-facing on the back maybe. My guess would be that the bike points the way you're supposed to pass the sign but I'll have another look next time I see one.

    The footpath sign symbol... it doesn't matter which is the leading foot. Either way, the same side's arm is over it. I tried walking that way a few times today just to make sure. Try it. It ain't natural!

  3. Garry wrote:

    Michael McIntyre, the loonatic comedian, bounds across the stage like that sometimes. I like your logo but none of the others annoy me, I must say. I saw a great TV documentary on the life of Matisse some time ago. It appears that he invented the modern logo. Logos are very clever. One of the cleverest ones I've seen, is David Beckham's. With a few squiggles only, it still captures his free kick-taking style.
    Google David Beckham Logo and you'll see what I'm referring to!

  4. Hilary wrote:

    Art and design is really not my thing – I struggle to draw stick men! 🙂
    Your symbol has very clean lines Patrick, I like it.
    Another vote against the new CTC logo. I still like the Winged Wheel, even if the spokes are wrong and nothing has 3 wings (except I suppose, a triplane). I just like the idea that cycling gives you wings!

  5. Alan wrote:

    That's a neat collection. I like the ones that give an impression of motion, especially 4 and 11. Number 15 looks like a hobby-horse coming to a screeching halt.

    I like Patrick's new symbol. It looks more modern than #1, both in graphic style and the type of bike it represents.

    If I recall correctly, a work of art has to be "subtantial" to be copyrightable, and I think this is.

  6. Patrick wrote:

    Thanks for the thumbs up. I was joking about sending my bike symbol to Cycling England but now I think I'll produce a larger version. Ideally it should be drawn in Adobe Illustrator, the industry standard, but I've only got version 7 (ten years old) which doesn't work in Windows 7 (new). I got this computer in March and lost the ability to use graphics programs I've had for years. Macromedia Fireworks 8, which does just about work in Windows 7, lets you draw symbols and logos but it's limited. At nearly $600 I won't be buying the new Adobe Illustrator.

  7. Alan wrote:

    You could draw it in Inkscape ( and save it in SVG format, which pretty much any vector graphics software can read.

    Inkscape isn't as powerful as Adobe Illustrator, of course, but is free and open source.

  8. Patrick wrote:

    Thanks Alan. That's great. It works really well in Windows 7. Bike symbol now redrawn larger using Inkscape:

    Bicycle symbol

    Bicycle symbol © All rights reserved

    Bike route sign

    Bicycle symbol © applied to Cycle Network sign
    (sign drawn in Inkscape)

  9. Derek Read wrote:

    #1 is almost identical to those used in Japan. The Japanese version often (always?) has all the tubes meeting inside the crank (so slightly more detailed than #1).

    I quite like the American DOT version, which many places in Canada seem to be adopting, though we also have an odd mixture of #1, things that look like #1 with slightly less detail (no cranks), etc. On signage they seem to like to add more detail, and on roads there is typically less.

  10. Pete H wrote:

    This is a very interesting topic!

    one of the strangest things about the INTERNATIONAL SYMBOL for a bike is – The chainset is shown incorrectly on the LHS!!!!
    to my knowledge bikes have NEVER had the chainset on the LHS it's always been on the RHS possibly because people are right handed and therefore lead with their right leg and put their left foot on the kerb??
    who knows why? – bikes were a UK invention though.

    Anyhow, millions of symbols show this incorrectly all as the chainset on the LHS(cutting through the frame) whether painted on a cycle lane, on a post or elsewhere – it's wrong and has been used for nearly 100 years????
    What's the problem with drawing the bike correctly anyway? I get the impression the original artist wasn't a bike rider:-)
    Some wrong choices in life are unavoidable but basic stuff like this are just so annoying!
    Anyone agree?

Leave a comment

Add a Smiley Smiley »