California’s Bicycle Laws Explained

by Staff Blogger | August 3rd, 2020

Understanding California’s bicycle laws is essential for every cyclist in our state. From helmet laws to bicycle lane laws, California is very specific about what’s expected of cyclists.

To begin our comprehensive list of California’s bicycle laws, let’s start with the required equipment.

Bicycle Helmet Laws in California

California law is clear about the helmet requirements for riders under the age of 18. Parents are responsible for ensuring that minors have proper equipment when they ride.

Cyclists Under the Age of 18

No cyclist under the age of 18 should ride a bike without a helmet. That helmet must be properly fitted and fastened.

The helmet must meet the standards of either the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) or the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). This also applies to any bicycle passenger in a restraining seat attached to the bicycle or in a trailer towed by the bicycle.

Helmets must be clearly labeled by the manufacturer to display compliance with the safety standards of the ASTM or the CPSC.

Cyclists Age 18 and Older

There are no state requirements for cyclists age 18 and older. But, you should always wear a helmet when riding a bicycle for safety purposes. Wearing a bicycle helmet reduces your risk of suffering a head injury by more than 50%. When buying a helmet, make sure it is in keeping with CPSC standards.

More Laws Regarding Bicycle Equipment and Size

In addition to helmet requirements, cyclists in California must ensure their bikes also meet certain requirements:

  • Cyclists can’t operate a bike on a roadway unless the bicycle has a brake that will enable the cyclist “to make one braked wheel skid on dry, level, clean pavement,” which is the legal standard for an effective bicycle brake.
  • A bike’s handlebars should never be positioned so that the cyclist must elevate their hands above shoulder level to steer.
  • A cyclist shouldn’t ride a bike so big that its size prevents them from “safely stopping the bicycle, supporting it in an upright position with at least one foot on the ground, and restarting it in a safe manner.”

When a bicyclist rides their bike in the dark, it must be equipped with:

  • A light that illuminates the road in front of the cyclist and is visible from 300 feet in front and from the sides of the bicycle. This light can be attached to the bike or the bicyclist.
  • Either a red reflector, solid red lights, or flashing red lights visible from 500 feet to the rear of the bike.
  • A white or yellow reflector on each pedal, shoe, or ankle visible from 200 feet to the front or rear of the bicycle.
  • A white or yellow reflector on each side forward of the center of the bicycle, and a white or red reflector on each side to the rear of the center of the bicycle. Bicycles that are equipped with reflective front and rear tires are exempt.
  • All reflectors or reflective tires should meet state requirements.

Rights and Responsibilities of Cyclists in California

California law states that bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists. This means that the same rules (adhering to traffic signs and signals, watching out for pedestrians, signaling when turning) apply to bicyclists as they do for car drivers.

It’s illegal for cyclists to ride a bike while they’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Bicyclists traveling at speeds slower than the normal flow of traffic must ride as close as possible to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway UNLESS:

  • They are passing another bike or vehicle.
  • They are turning left.
  • Conditions of the road make traveling on the right-hand side dangerous.
  • They are approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.
  • They are traveling on a one-way street with two lanes, in which case riding as close to the left-hand side of the road as possible is allowed.

The same rules apply to bicycle lanes. If a designated bicycle lane is available, stay in that lane unless:

  • It is unsafe to do so,
  • You’re turning, or
  • You need to pass another cyclist.

Don’t Attach Your Bike to Other Vehicles to Hitch a Ride

Bicyclists, along with every other vehicle type, are forbidden from attaching their bike to another vehicle for travel purposes. In other words, you can’t hitch a ride with other vehicles. This obviously doesn’t apply to cyclists who are simply loading their bikes on vehicles for hauling purposes.

Ride Only on the Designated Seat

California law states that cyclists must ride on the designated seats of their bikes. This also applies to passengers. Unless a bike is equipped to seat two people, it should only be ridden by one person. In other words, no sitting on handlebars or standing on pegs.

Don’t Haul Items That Restrict Your Ability to Safely Operate the Bike

When carrying items attached to a bicycle, cyclists must be able to keep at least one hand on the handlebars. So, no hauling items that restrict your ability to control the bike.

California Laws Concerning Parking or Storing Your Bicycle

Cyclists shouldn’t leave their bikes lying on their side on sidewalks. They shouldn’t park bicycles on sidewalks in any position that obstructs the path of pedestrian traffic. Local authorities can prohibit bicycle parking in designated areas of the public highway, but it must place signs in these areas that clearly indicate these restrictions.

What About Motorized Bicycles?

Motorized bicyclists also have many of the same rights and responsibilities of people riding or using other vehicles, though these vehicles are considered closer to motorcycles than bikes.

For example, a motorized bicyclist can’t travel on a bicycle path or trail, bikeway, bicycle lane, equestrian trail, or hiking or recreational trail, unless it is within or adjacent to a roadway.

Local ordinances might allow exceptions, but it’s best to reference those laws to make sure you’re following them.

Don’t Loiter or Obstruct Bike Lanes

California law requires other road users (drivers, pedestrians, etc.) to keep bicycle lanes unobstructed. This means that people shouldn’t loiter, obstruct, or drive motorized vehicles in designated bicycle lanes.

Cities Can Mandate Their Own Bicycle Laws, Too

These are just California’s bicycle laws, but each city has the right to impose stricter laws regarding bicycle use on roadways. Reference your city’s specific laws to see if any additional laws apply to bicyclists.

Vehicle Drivers Have Responsibilities Toward Cyclists

Whether it’s staying out of bike lanes or giving cyclists plenty of space on our roads, motorists have an obligation to keep bicyclists safe. When they fail to follow the law, they can be held responsible for the harm they cause others.

If you’re injured by a negligent driver in California, the law gives you the opportunity to hold that driver responsible for the injury-related costs you face. Through a personal injury claim, you can get compensation for medical bills, lost income, property damage, and pain and suffering.

If You Need Legal Help, Contact Berg Injury Lawyers

At Berg Injury Lawyers, our California bicycle accident attorneys help injured cyclists get the compensation they’re entitled to by law. If you or a loved one has been injured by a negligent driver, contact our team to schedule a free consultation.