We have said many times before that bikes occupy a strange space in the transportation world. As far as basic road laws are concerned, they are generally treated as vehicles with the same rights and responsibilities; however, there are many exceptions to this because it wouldn’t be practical to expect a bike to adhere to all of the same rules as a car.
Bikes can also be treated as though they are pedestrians since you don’t need a license to ride one and they don’t have to worry as much about things like speed limits and can use walking trails, back paths, and so on to avoid main roads.
But there are areas which are grey zones and can cause some confusion for cyclists. One question to ask? Can a bike go through a drive-through? (Or drive-thru – whichever spelling is even correct – I am not sure, so I will use drive-through for this article)
There are a few things to consider when looking at this question:
- Private property laws
- Corporate policy
- The technology
This all leads to the answer of: it depends, but usually no (barring any special events). However, as you will see, it’s a pretty grey zone and very subject to interpretation.
It would be easy to be quite offended by businesses that do not serve people in their drive-through while they are on a bike. After all, you are still a paying customer as a cyclist and it can feel discriminatory to be forced to lock up your bike and go inside, especially if you’re in a hurry or concerned about your bike’s safety.
However, it’s important to note that fast-food restaurants, coffee shops, banks and so on are still private property and they have every right to make the rules regarding how customers are coming in to buy things. It’s the same idea as business hours.
You may have a hankering for a Big Mac at three in the morning, but depending on where you live, you may have to wait! This means that maybe you will be able to take your bike through the drive-through and maybe you won’t.
You’ll hear stories from both sides. It can also vary depending on who’s doing the serving, how busy the line is, and many other factors because simply put, there’s no legislation that governs how businesses should treat cyclists using drive-throughs.
Without the protection of a law, most businesses will err on the side of caution and not allow cyclists through for the sake of safety and liability.
A major reason why many businesses do not allow cyclists through their drive-through is out of concern for the safety of the cyclist. Drive throughs do not tend to be very wide; after all, people are supposed to be able to give their order through a speaking device and then be able to receive their food without either party having to strain too much.
This means that the lanes cannot be very wide and that means there’s not a lot of room for cyclists and vehicles to coexist. In Britain for example, a cyclist with a bike trailer was not allowed to get his food (Even though he ordered it over the intercom and waited) because he was on a bike. The restaurant said that it was because of health and safety reasons.
Now, there can be an argument for this. Drive-throughs are not always very wide, there are often sharp corners that are hard to see around, and they tend to lead out again to busy highways, all of which combined makes for an unsafe stretch of road.
There is always the concern from the business side that if there is an accident, the business will be sued and lose a lot of money. There could perhaps also be a concern that the worker handing over the food may have to lean out further than is safe, but this has not been particularly cited by restaurants that come under fire from cyclists.
Inconvenience aside, (especially if you have nowhere safe to park your bike) it may well be that businesses have a point here. Drive throughs do pose a higher risk of an accident and maybe worth avoiding if possible.
One of the big issues cyclists have around drive-throughs is that company policies are variable and often very vague. For every story of someone being denied service at a drive-through, there’s another cyclist that goes through perfectly fine. Furthermore, policies are often vague around who can use them.
Restaurants that do not allow it usually cites something along the lines of ‘health and safety’ without explaining it. It makes it difficult for workers to defend their position and makes cyclists and drivers alike quite frustrated.
McDonald’s, for example, generally has the policy of only allowing ‘motorized vehicles‘, which bans pedestrians, bikes, and sometimes scooters as well. This is done to prevent pedestrians and cyclists from being struck, as many of the drive-throughs have sharp, half-blind corners, and are often narrow.
They also ban walkers from using the drive-throughs, for the same reasons. However, many other restaurants, banks, and other ‘throughs’ don’t have a clear policy and so it’s done very much on a case by case basis. This, of course, leads to confusion.
At this point, it may be a good idea to simply ask if you are curious because every business will handle it differently.
A final point when dealing with drive-throughs is the technology behind it. Bikes have a distinct disadvantage when it comes to sharing space with vehicles on roads (aside from being badly outweighed) is the fact that sensors don’t usually pick them up.
In the case of drive-throughs, some cyclists have noted that the sensors don’t pick them up, so they don’t get anyone on the other end to take their orders. A minor thing, but irritating, nonetheless. It can mean that the orders never go through or they go in out of order, reducing customer service satisfaction.
Now, as we’ve already said, the answer to cyclists is murky at best. It really depends on the business (you’re probably more likely to get away with going through a drive-through at a bank with just an ATM than a busy coffee place) and on the policies.
It can also depend on the customer service provider at the time and how comfortable they feel dealing with cyclists! All of this means that it’s really down to individual circumstances.
Here at Bicycle Universe, if we were being asked, we would not recommend using drive-throughs and advise just don’t plan on using them. It’s probably not worth the hassle/issues that could come with it. Ignoring the difference in corporate policy, they really aren’t built for cyclists (or pedestrians) and can be dangerous to ride through, especially when competing with drivers in a hurry.
While finding a place to park your bike securely may be annoying, it’s better than getting struck!
Do you think drive-throughs should be open to bikes or should even be constructed for bikes?