The California Vehicle Code contains the state laws that specify where and how bikes must operate. For the most part, bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicle drivers. (CVC 21200).
There are some specific rules. Below, for your benefit, we summarize the key sections of the law that relate to cycling.
WHERE YOU CAN RIDE
If you’re moving as fast as traffic, you can ride wherever you want.
If you’re moving slower than traffic, you can “take the lane” if it’s not wide enough for a bike and a vehicle to safely share side-by-side. The law says that people who ride bikes must ride as close to the right side of the road as practicable except under the following conditions: when passing, preparing for a left turn, avoiding hazards, if the lane is too narrow to share, or if approaching a place where a right turn is authorized. (CVC 21202) Unfortunately, some motorists and even police don’t understand cyclists’ right to “take the lane.” If you have a legal problem based on this understanding, consider calling one of the bike-friendly lawyers we identify on our “Crash Help” page.
Use the bicycle lane. On a roadway with a bike lane, bicyclists traveling slower than traffic must use the bike lane except when making a left turn, passing, avoiding hazardous conditions, or approaching a place where a right turn is authorized. CVC 21208
You don’t have to use the “protected bike lane.” Once a bike lane is separated from moving traffic with posts or car parking or anything else, it’s no longer a “bike lane” according to the law; it’s a “separated bikeway.” CVC 21208 does not apply. You may ride outside of the separated bikeway for any reason. (SHC 890.4d)
Ride with traffic. Bicyclists must travel on the right side of the roadway in the direction of traffic, except when passing, making a legal left turn, riding on a one-way street, riding on a road that is too narrow, or when the right side of the road is closed due to road construction. CVC 21650
Mopeds and high-speed electric bikes are not like regular bikes. Gas-powered bicycles and type 3 electric bicycles (with top assisted speeds of 28 mph) may not be used on trails or bike paths or lanes unless allowed by local authorities. They may be used in bike lanes or separated bikeways adjacent to the roadway. CVC 21207.5 They require helmets and may not be operated by people under age 16.
Low-speed electric bicycles are almost like regular bikes. Type 1 and 2 electric bicycles (with top assisted speeds of 20 mph) are allowed wherever regular bikes are allowed unless a sign specifically prohibits electric bicycles.
Bike path obstruction: No one may stop on or park a bicycle on a bicycle path. CVC 21211
Sidewalks: Individual cities and counties control whether bicyclists may ride on sidewalks. CVC 21206
Freeways: Bicycles (including motorized bicycles) may not be ridden on freeways and expressways where doing so is prohibited by the California Department of Transportation and local authorities. CVC 21960
Toll bridges: Bicyclists may not cross a toll bridge unless permitted to do so by the California Department of Transportation. CVC 23330
EQUIPPING YOUR BIKE
Brakes: Bicycles must be equipped with a brake that allows an operator to execute a one-braked-wheel skid on dry, level, clean pavement. CVC 21201(a)
Handlebars: Handlebars must not be higher than the rider’s shoulders. CVC 21201(b)
Bicycle size: Bicycles must be small enough for the rider to stop, support it with one foot on the ground, and start safely. CVC 21201(c)
Lights: At night a white headlight visible from the front must be attached to the bicycle or the bicyclist. CVC 21201(d) and CVC 21201(e)
Reflectors: At night bicycles must have the following reflectors:
- Visible from the back: red reflector. You may attach a solid or flashing red rear light in addition to the reflector.
- Visible from the front & back: white or yellow reflector on each pedal or on the bicyclist’s shoes or ankles
- Visible from the side: 1) white or yellow reflector on the front half of the bicycle and 2) a red or white reflector on each side of the back half of the bike. These reflectors are not required if the bike has reflectorized front and back tires. CVC 21201(d)
Seats: All riders must have a permanent, regular seat, unless the bicycle is designed by the manufacturer to be ridden without a seat. Bicycle passengers weighing less than 40 lbs. must have a seat which retains them in place and protects them from moving parts. CVC 21204
OPERATING YOUR BIKE
Helmets: Bicyclists and bicycle passengers under age 18 must wear an approved helmet when riding on a bicycle. CVC 21212
Head phones: Bicyclists may not wear earplugs in both ears or a headset covering both ears. Hearing aids are allowed. CVC 27400
Cell phones: Unlike motorists, cyclists are permitted to use a handheld cell phone while riding. Be careful!
Alcohol and drugs: Bicyclists may not ride while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. CVC 21200.5
Hitching rides: Bicyclists may not hitch rides on vehicles. CVC 21203
Carrying articles: Bicyclists may not carry items which keep them from using at least one hand upon the handlebars. CVC 21205
Pedestrians: Bicyclists must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians within marked crosswalks or within unmarked crosswalks at intersections. Bicyclists must also yield the right-of-way to totally or partially blind pedestrians carrying a predominantly white cane or using a guide dog. CVC 21950 and CVC 21963
Parking: Bicyclists may not leave bicycles on their sides on the sidewalk or park bicycles in a manner which obstructs pedestrians. CVC 21210