California Bicycle Laws

The California Vehicle Code contains the state laws that specify where and how bikes must operate-essential reading for anyone who rides a bike in California.

Below is a summary of CVC sections relating to bicycling, with links to the exact statutory language.

RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES

Bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicle drivers. CVC 21200

WHERE YOU CAN RIDE

Roadway: Bicyclists can ride wherever they want if they’re traveling at the speed of traffic. If traveling slower than the speed of traffic, they can still position themselves wherever in the lane is necessary for safety. The law says that people who ride bikes must ride as close to the right side of the road as safely practical 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

Bicycle lanes: 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

Direction of travel: 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

Motorized bicycles: Motorized bicycles may not be used on trails, bike paths or lanes unless allowed by local authorities. CVC 21207.5

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
      • 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

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

OTHER RESOURCES

Bike Etiquette and Common Sense, from the Marin County Bicycle Coalition.

Think you know the rules of the road? Take the East Bay Bicycle Coalition‘s Bicycle Safety Quiz and find out.

Bicycle and the Law: The Case of California, by Alan Wachtel, Esq.

Video public service announcements from the San Luis Obispo County Bicycle Coalition‘s Share the Road Campaign.