Riding a bicycle safely in California takes complying with all applicable rules, laws, and regulations. It is up to all bikers to understand and obey traffic rules that apply to them before hitting the road. It is up to motor vehicle drivers to respect bicyclists and to operate safely around them according to state laws. Both parties can benefit from reviewing the latest bicycle laws in California, updated in 2018.
California Vehicle Code Section 21200
California lists its main bicycle laws in the state’s Vehicle Code, Section 21200. This statute outlines safe bicycling speeds, how motorists should act around bikers, and other such bicycle laws. California’s law says that bicycles are vehicles in the eyes of lawmakers. That means all bicyclists must obey the same traffic laws as motor vehicle drivers. They must move with the flow of traffic, in the same direction as other vehicles are moving. They must also obey all roadway signs, stoplights, and speed limits.
According to state law, anyone on a bicycle operating slower than the normal speed of traffic must ride as close to the right-hand side of the road as possible, except if overtaking another bicycle or vehicle, preparing for a left turn, or to avoid debris or other hazardous conditions. If the biker is traveling the same speed as surrounding traffic, he or she can take up the whole lane. Bikers in California should use a bike lane whenever available.
Bicyclists in California cannot drink alcohol and ride. As with a standard motor vehicle, it is against the law to operate a bicycle with a blood alcohol concentration level at or above 0.08%. A bicyclist can receive a DUI charge just like a driver. Unlike motorists, however, it is legal for bikers to operate their bikes while using handheld cell phones.
Bicycle vs. Electric Bike
The state of California has different laws that pertain to electric bicycles compared to standard manual bikes. In 2015, California adopted Assembly Bill 1096, which broke electrical bicycles down into three classes.
- Class 1. A class 1 electric bicycle is a low-speed pedal assisted bicycle with a motor that only kicks in when the rider is pedaling the bike. Once the bicycle reaches 20 miles per hour, the motor automatically shuts off. Bikers can operate class 1 electric bicycles on any paved surface that permits regular bicycles.
- Class 2. A class 2 electric bicycle is a low-speed throttle-assisted bicycle. These have motors that mobilize the bicycle, rather than the user needing to pedal. The motor will stop providing assistance once the bike reaches 20 miles per hour. Like class 1 electric bikes, riders can take class 2 bikes anywhere a regular bicycle can go.
- Class 3. A class 3 electric bicycle is a speed pedal-assisted bicycle. It can reach 28 miles per hour, but the motor only assists while the rider is pedaling. To operate this type of electric bike, a rider must be at least 16 years old and wear a helmet. These electric bikes cannot travel on class 1 multiuse bicycle paths.
Make sure you understand which class your electric bicycle falls under before taking it out onto the streets in California. Otherwise, you could face a fine and other penalties for riding where the law does not permit you to ride. No type of bicycle may ride on freeways, expressways, or toll bridges.
Bicycle Equipment Requirements
Before you can ride your bicycle in California, you must ensure it has handlebars that are not higher than your shoulders. It must also have a white front headlight and several reflectors (if traveling at night). All bicycles need a red rear reflector, white or yellow front and backpedal reflectors, and white or yellow reflectors visible from the side. Only riders under the age of 18 must wear approved helmets when riding bicycles unless riding a class 3 electric bike.