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Is riding a bicycle on Shabbat permitted within an eiruv, being ridden only on pavement (so no unintended plowing), for transportation and not exercise, and with the understanding that repairs aren't possible (so you'd have to get off and walk it)?

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And while you're at it, what about scooters (or should that be a separate question)? – yydl May 15 '11 at 2:42
It appears from the responses so far that this is controversial, with some holding one way and some the other. I can only credit one answer, so I would welcome an answer (or edit) that brings these differing positions together in one place. – Monica Cellio May 18 '11 at 13:12
I know people who, as advised by the rabbi, stopped driving to bet kinesset on shabbat and took up biking instead. – Baal Shemot Tovot Jun 19 '12 at 4:09
Part of the Gezerah is a fear that you might come to fix it, as you alluded to, but remember that a Gezerah remains in effect even if you personally are not likely to violate the laws against which the Gezerah is meant to protect. For example, I once asked my Rav if I could shampoo my hair on Shabbath because pulling my hair out is a Pesik Reisha DeLa Niha Leih - an inevitable consequence which (however) is unappealing to me - because a)I don't want to lose my hair and b)I have Yirath Shamayim and specifically don't want to violate the Isur DeOraitha. He chuckled, but the answer was no. – Seth J Aug 28 '12 at 15:08
@SethJ How can you talk about a Gezira in this case? There weren't any bicycles in Talmudic times as far as I know. – Robert S. Barnes Oct 1 '13 at 18:38
up vote 10 down vote accepted

There are several issues that poskim have with a bicycle on Shabbat:

  • Carrying/transferring in a public domain. (The bike is not considered part of the rider.)
  • The bicycle may break, causing the rider to perhaps forget himself and fix it.
  • Riding a bike is uvdin d'chol (weekday activity), and not appropriate on Shabbat.
  • One might ride over soft soil, thereby transgressing the biblical prohibition against plowing. (Though the transgression in this case, I think would be Rabbinic.)
  • A bicycle is muktza, as its primary use is for riding in public domains, which is generally hotza'ah (carrying), thus it is a kli shem'lachto l'issur (utensil that is designed primarily for a prohibited use).
  • Even in a walled city, or one with an acceptable eruv, one may inadvertently ride outside of the eruv, or even outside of the t'chum shabbat.

For one or more of these reasons, many contemporary poskim prohibit riding a bicycle on Shabbat, though there have been those that have permitted it. As Joshua Lee linked in the comments, see here for a short discussion.

You implied in your question that perhaps riding a bike would be permitted with the understanding of the reason behind it being potentially prohibited, such as with the understanding that one may not ride over soft soil, or with the understanding that repairs may not be done. In general, the knowledge behind the reasoning of a rabbinic prohibition does not entitle one to transgress it. For example, the Sages felt it was necessary to forbid dancing on Shabbat, lest one come to bring musical accompaniment and further come to fix the instrument(s) if they break. This holds even if one understands that it is forbidden to fix instruments on Shabbat. We are still worried he may come to transgress a biblical prohibition.

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thank you for this good summary of the argument against riding. – Monica Cellio May 19 '11 at 0:56
You can't compare an opinion of modern Talmedai Chachmim to a gezirah of our Sages from Talmudic or earlier times. One is universally binding, while the other is only binding on those that personally follow that particular Talmid Chacham. – Robert S. Barnes Oct 1 '13 at 18:35
Kli Shemelachto LeIssur is mutter for Gufo, such as here. – Shmuel Brin Oct 3 '13 at 19:47

Most people do not consider it proper on shabbat. Perhaps it has to do with the fear that you may come to fix it, but no actual gezerah was made forbidding it. It may also have to do with "uvda d'chol", a somewhat vague prohibition on doing weekday activity. Though there are some who allow it if you're in a place that does not have a minhag against it.

Joshua Lee posted this link in the comments that expands on this answer: http://www.dailyhalacha.com/Display.asp?PageIndex=48&ClipID=310 .

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Citation would be nice (who are these "most people" and "some", and is there a source for the other statements?). – msh210 May 15 '11 at 3:55
dailyhalacha.com/Display.asp?PageIndex=48&ClipID=310 Here's one from Google. ;-) Apparently the Ben Ish Chai allows it, but Rav Ovadia Yosef, the pre-eminient contemporary Sephardic posek, forbids it. Ashkenazic authorities tend to forbid this even more frequently... @msh210 – Ploni Almoni May 15 '11 at 5:30
and @JoshuaLee, thank you for the summary and pointer. – Monica Cellio May 19 '11 at 0:56
@arielk the source is Rav Pealim 1:25 Hashmatot. – Hacham Gabriel Dec 28 '11 at 20:02
@JoshuaLee - I heard in the name of Rav Shlomo Aviner that Rav Ovadia Yosef said that the Ben Ish Chai changed his mind and forbade the bike. But there are some however who say that is not the case. – Adam Mosheh Jun 19 '12 at 4:28

As mentioned in my answer to the question "If no one else was available, could a mohel ride a bicycle on shabbos to perform a circumcision?":

According to the Ben Ish Chai, one can ride a bicycle on Shabbos inside an eiruv for leisure. Outside of an eruv, a mitzvah purpose might be needed, which includes attending shul to daven with a minyan, and certainly would include performing a bris. So, in summary, the Ben Ish Chai allows riding a bicycle, even outside of an eruv for a mitzvah purpose, and inside an eruv for even relaxation.

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I merged your old unregistered instance into your new one. Please register your account, so that the system can better keep track of your many contributions! – Isaac Moses May 16 '11 at 2:14
thank you for the pointer. – Monica Cellio May 19 '11 at 0:57
@Curiouser My wife told me that in the Syrian community in Brooklyn they ride bicycles on Shabbat, and that they base it on the Ben Ish Chai's position. – Robert S. Barnes Oct 1 '13 at 21:37

The Kaf Hachaim 404:8 argues with the Ben Ish Chai's ruling cited by Curiouser and forbids it.

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