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Unfortunately, most motorists don’t realize that they are legally obligated to share the road with bicycles. As a result, cyclists can quickly find themselves in very hazardous situations that can quickly lead to serious injuries and even death. One step that cyclists can take to keep themselves safe is to familiarize themselves with California’s bicycle laws. In the event of an accident, demonstrating that you were following the law may be critical if you need to pursue a claim for compensation. 

Regardless of how safely you ride, accidents can still happen. If you have been injured in a bicycle accident, the bicycle accident attorneys at the Banafshe Law Firm can help you pursue a claim for your injuries. 

California’s Laws Governing Where You Can Ride Your Bike

The operation of bicycles is subject to the California Vehicle Code. In general, cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as other drivers on the road. This means that cyclists must obey all traffic signs and signals, obey speed limits, and generally follow the rules of the road. 

More specifically, cyclists moving slower than the speed of traffic must ride as far to the right as practicable, except in the following situations: 

  • When overtaking another vehicle or bicycle in the same lane;
  • When preparing to make a left turn;
  • When reasonably necessary to avoid hazardous conditions; 
  • When riding on a one-way street with two or more lanes, you may ride as close to the left side as practicable. 

Bicycle Lanes

Bike lanes are a fantastic addition to our roadways. They keep cyclists safer by providing them with a dedicated lane of travel, making them more visible to drivers, and separating them from faster-moving traffic. When traveling slower than the normal speed of traffic, cyclists are required to use the bike lane by California law. 

However, it is important to note the distinction between a bike lane and a separated “bikeway,” such as a bike path that is adjacent to the roadway. Cyclists are not required to use separated bikeways, even when they are moving slower than traffic.

Taking the Lane

As mentioned above, cyclists are required to ride as close to the side of the road as practicable, except in certain situations. One of those situations is when the lane of travel is too narrow to safely share with cars moving in the same direction. In this situation, California law allows cyclists to “take the lane.” In other words, you are entitled to ride in the middle of the lane when cars cannot safely pass you. This protects cyclists from being struck from behind or forced off the road. Unfortunately, many motorists - and even police - are not aware that you have this right. 

Riding With Traffic

Cyclists are required to ride in the same direction as traffic. In other words, cyclists must ride on the correct side of the road rather than against the direction of traffic. 


Whether or not you can ride your bicycle on the sidewalk is determined by local city or county ordinances. For example, in Los Angeles, biking on the sidewalk is permitted, provided that you are mindful of others’ safety. Check with local authorities if you are unsure whether biking is allowed on the sidewalk in your area. 

Freeways and Expressways 

California law prohibits bicycles and other non-motorized vehicles from being ridden or operated on freeways and expressways. This includes entrance and exit ramps or any other portion.  

Toll Roads and Toll Bridges

Bicycles are also prohibited from being ridden on toll roads and toll bridges unless expressly permitted by the California Department of Transportation. 

Bicycle Equipment Required by California Law

In addition to specifying where you can ride, California law also imposes some restriction concerning how your bicycle must be equipped: 

  • Brakes: Bicycles must have at least one brake that allows the rider to make a one-braked wheel skid on dry, level, clean pavement. 
  • Handlebars: Your bicycle’s handlebars cannot be higher than the rider’s shoulders.
  • Size: Your bike must be small enough that you can stop and support it with one foot on the ground and be able to start again safely.
  • Reflectors: Your bike must be equipped with reflectors when riding at night. This includes a red rear reflector (or flashing red rear light), white or yellow reflectors on the pedals or your ankles, and side reflectors (white or yellow for the front, white or red for the rear).
  • Lights: When riding at night, you must have a white light mounted to the front of your bike that is visible up to 300 feet.  
  • Seats: Your bicycle must have a regular seat. If riding with a child passenger four years old or younger or weighing less than 40 pounds, they must ride in a bicycle-specific child seat with a seatbelt. 

Laws Governing Bicycle Operation

Lastly, California laws do impose certain requirements that apply when riding your bike: 

  • Helmets are required for anyone under the age of 18
  • Cyclists may not wear headphone or earplugs while riding, but hearing aids are allowed
  • Cyclists may not ride while under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Cyclists may not hitch rides on motor vehicles
  • Cyclists may carry items while riding provided that they have at least one hand on the handlebars at all times. 
  • Cyclists must yield the right of way to pedestrians in both marked and unmarked crosswalks and to vision-impaired people who are using a guide dog or carrying a white cane. 

Banafshe Law Firm - Bicycle Accident Lawyers

Banafshe Law Firm has been an advocate for bicycle safety since 2003. Whether you have been injured or simply want to understand your rights, we can help - call us at 800-789-8840 or complete our online contact form to schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys today.