In California, bike safety is about way more than wearing a helmet. Being a responsible cyclist means following certain rules and practices to ensure both you and those around you are safe when you’re on two wheels. And bike safety isn’t just about personal responsibility. It’s also the law.
If you’re new to the Golden State, you’ll want to review the state’s bike laws before you hit the road. California promises a lot of fun city bike rides, gorgeous paths along the coast, and heart-pounding mountain bike adventures. And with easy access to rental bikes through ride share services and rental shops, it’s easy for out-of-towners to get in on the fun.
But with these diverse cycling environments come some complex bike safety requirements. Here are the top ten laws to know before hitting the pavement.
#1: Follow the Vehicle Codes
When it comes to biking, there is no written exam or cycling test you have to take to earn your place on the road. This can make two-wheeled transportation feel like a little improvising is allowed. It’s not. Bike safety laws require you to observe the same traffic rules and procedures you would in a car. Stop at stop signs and red lights. Stay out of the crosswalk. You get the idea.
On that note…
#2: Stop at the Crosswalk
California law requires you to stop at the crosswalk—not in the crosswalk. You may take up less space than a car, but you’re still a vehicle when compared to a pedestrian. For your safety and theirs, give them space. On that note:
#3: Yield to Pedestrians
Just as you would in a car, you must give pedestrians the right away when you’re on your bike. Will you sometimes encounter a renegade pedestrian crossing outside a crosswalk or otherwise breaking their own safety laws? Yes. Will that be annoying? No doubt. But you still have to yield for the sake of everyone’s safety.
#4: Ride with the Flow of Traffic
You must always ride in the same direction as traffic. But what if you have to go the opposite way on a one-way street, you ask? In that case, bike safety laws dictate that you must walk your bike on the sidewalk.
#5: Keep to the Right
Okay, this one gets complicated. In general, you must ride as close to the right-hand curb as you can safely manage. However, there are exceptions allowing you to ride in the traffic lane, including situations when:
- You need to pass another cyclist.
- You are going to make a left turn.
- You are riding at the same speed as traffic.
- You must avoid an obstacle that poses a safety threat to you, other cyclists, or pedestrians.
#6: Do Not Ride on Sidewalks (Depending on Your City)
Each city in California has their own laws regarding bikes on the sidewalks. Nevertheless, it’s important to include in this list, as this bike safety policy doesn’t always occur to newbie cyclists. And because riding on roadways can be pretty intimidating at first, nervous cyclists sometimes choose sidewalks instead. You should know that many cities do not allow you to ride on sidewalks. Find out what your local laws say before you hit the road.
#7: Minors Must Wear Helmets
Bike safety common sense says everyone should wear a helmet, no matter how old they are. That said, California law declares helmets mandatory for all cyclists under the age of eighteen.
#8: One Ear Must Remain Uncovered
Who doesn’t love zipping through city streets with a killer power anthem playing in their ears? We get it. But if you’re going to listen while you ride, you have to wear only one ear bud and leave the other ear open to the road. If you’re completely closed off to the sounds around you, you’re at risk of missing important auditory signals. Horns, shouting pedestrians, screeching tires—all the cues that help you avoid disaster.
#9: Your Bike Must Be of an Appropriate Size
What’s an “appropriate size?” Basically, you need to be able to support your bike in an upright position with one foot on the ground. This law ensures that you’re able to control your bike and stabilize easily. So no tall bikes or giraffe unicycles on the roadway.
#10: Bicycles Must Be Equipped with Lights and Reflectors at Night
Nighttime visibility is essential for bike safety. As a cyclist, you are required to equip your bike with:
- A white light that is visible from 300 feet in front of the bike
- A white or yellow reflector on each shoe, ankle, or pedal. This reflector must be visible at 200 feet from both the front and back of the bicycle
- Front and rear reflectorized tires or two white or yellow reflectors on each side of the bike—one front of center and one rear of center
- A red reflector on the rear of the bike that is visible from 500 feet
It sounds like a lot, but it’s worth it. A bike can be easy to miss in the shadows of a poorly lit street. The easier you are to spot, the safer you are on the road.
Ensuring Bike Safety Laws with a Bike Share Service
Are you visiting California from another state? Or are you new to cycling and want to borrow a set of wheels before investing in your own? Renting a bike from a bike share service is a great way to get a head start on local bike safety requirements.
For one thing, a service like Spinlister allows you to rent a bike from a local cyclist who has a ride to share. This means the bike you get will most likely be equipped with all the gear necessary to satisfy state laws. Plus, renting from another cyclist helps you plug into the local biking community. Odds are decent that the person you rent from will be happy to share a few tips for getting around town safely.
But no matter how you get your wheels—whether you rent a road bike off Spinlister or buy your own cruiser bike—make sure you know the rules of the road before you hit the pavement.
Have fun out there. And wear a helmet.