Guide to Laws for Bicycle Riders in California

CyclingIn general, many of the laws applicable to car drivers (California Vehicle Code) are also applicable to those riding a bike, except when the rules are irrelevant to bikes.1Vehicle Code 21200 Many of those rules, as well as rules specific to bicycles (which also generally apply to electric bicycles and pedicabs) are described here. Such rules generally only apply to public streets, not necessarily private property.2The code usually makes reference to the “highway” which is defined as essentially any public street, Vehicle Code Section 360

Here are some important rules specific to bike riding in California.

Do cyclists need to yield to pedestrians?

Yes. Pedestrians always have the right of way.3CVC 21954 (b)

Do cyclists need to stop at stop signs and red lights?

Yes, just the same as other vehicles.4CVC 21200

Are there any streets cyclists aren’t allowed on?

Yes, cyclists can’t use streets where the speed limit is greater than 35 mph.

Are drivers required to give me a certain distance when passing?

Yes, 3 feet. Violations are punishable by $35 fine.5CA Veh. Code Sec. 21760

Is drunk cycling illegal?

Yes.6CVC 21200.5

What are the rules about equipment?

Here’s what you need to know about bicycle equipment:7Cal Veh Code Sec. 21202 and 21204

  • Bicycles must be equipped with at least a brake which allows operators to execute a wheelskid on dry, level, clean pavement.
  • Handlebars must not be higher than the rider’s shoulders.
  • Bicycles must be small enough for the rider to stop, support it with one foot on the ground, and restart safely.
  • At night bicycles must be equipped with a white headlight or white light attached to the rider and visible from the front.
  • Bicycles must also have a rear red reflector and white or yellow pedal reflectors. There must be a white or yellow reflector on the front of the bicycle visible from the side, and a red or white reflector on the rear of the bicycle visible from the side.
  • All riders must have a permanent, regular seat. Bicycle passengers under 40 lbs. must have a seat which retains them in place and protects them from moving parts.

Am I allowed to wear earplugs or headphones while cycling?

Yes, but you may not cover BOTH ears.8CVC 27400

Am I allowed to bike on the sidewalk?

Some cities allow bicycles on the sidewalk, others prohibit it. See here for Los Angeles area.

Do I have to wear a helmet or make my child wear one?

If you are over 18 you do not need to wear a helmet. If you are under 18 and either a cyclists or passenger on a bike, you must wear an ANSI or Snell approved helmet.9CVC 21212

Do I always have to travel on the right side of the road in the direction of traffic?

Yes.10CVC 21650

Can I ride my bike in a vehicle lane?

In general, cyclists must ride as close to the right-hand side as possible, except when avoiding unsafe conditions such as car doors opening.11CVC 21202

Can I ride my bike while being towed by a car?

Nope.12CVC 21203

Am I allowed to give a friend a ride on my bike if I have just one seat?

No.13CVC 21204

Can I ride a bike on the freeway?

On most of the freeways in California, you cannot ride a bicycle. But in some (mostly rural) areas, if it’s not specifically prohibited by signs, you may actually ride a bike on the “freeway.”14CVC 21960 See more here.

Related Pages

Guide to Laws about Scooters in California

Guide to the Law for Drivers in California

Guide to the Law on Public Spaces, Sidewalks, and Parks


  • Tristan Blaine

    Tristan Blaine is the founder of Law Soup Media, and has been a licensed attorney since 2013.

    About Tristan


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