Bicycling Street Smarts, CyclingSavvy Edition
Supplement for California Bicyclists
This supplement has been created for California bicyclists to accompany the print or electronic version of Bicycling Street Smarts (CyclingSavvy Edition, 2019) by John S. Allen (author) & Keri Caffrey (illustrator). Print copies of Bicycling Street Smarts may be ordered at CyclingSavvy.org/cyclingsavvy-store. An electronic Kindle version can be purchased from Amazon.com or borrowed free by Kindle Unlimited subscribers.
California Traffic Control Devices for Bicyclists
California uses some roadway signs and pavement markings specifically for bicyclists. Here are some of the newer ones.
Bikes May Use Full Lane Sign
[CA-MUTCD, Section 9B.06]
This sign may be used on roadways with no bicycle lanes or adjacent shoulders usable by bicyclists and where travel lanes are too narrow for bicyclists and motor vehicles to share safely side by side. It may also be used where it is important to inform road users that bicyclists might occupy the travel lane.
Shared Lane Marking (“Sharrow”)
[CA-MUTCD, Section 9C.07]
This pavement marking is intended to assist bicyclists with lateral positioning on streets with parallel parking and in lanes too narrow for a motor vehicle and a bicycle to share side by side. In addition, it alerts road users to where bicyclists are likely to be in the travel lanes, encouraging motorists to respect their right to be there. The SLM also can indicate where bicyclists may legally proceed straight in a right-turn-only lane.
NOTE: These markings are sometimes placed incorrectly and should not be followed if they are near the right edge or in the door zone.
Proceeding Straight From A Turn Lane [CVC 22101(e)(1)]
In California, bicyclists are required to obey the rules for turn lanes and should merge out of a turn-only lane to go straight. If an “Except Bicycles” sign is posted or a sharrow is marked in a turn lane, bicyclists are permitted to proceed straight ahead.
Bicycling on Freeways [CVC 21960]
Bicycling is prohibited on most California limited-access roadways. When bicycling is allowed on a freeway, the standard regulatory sign will say only NO PEDESTRIANS. Any prohibition for “motor-driven cycles” does not apply to Class 1, 2, or 3 electric bicycles because they are legally considered bicycles.
Bicyclists using a freeway shoulder are required to exit and return, rather than risk being crossed by high-speed exiting and entering motor traffic. Standard regulatory signs direct bicyclists (and in some cases also motor-driven cycles) to exit at each off ramp. Bicyclists may only return to the freeway if the next entrance is signed to allow entry.
Bicycle Traffic-Signal Heads [CVC 21456.2 & .3]
Traffic control signals showing the bicycle symbol apply to bicyclists in the signal-controlled bikeway, not to bicyclists in general travel lanes.
California Traffic Laws for Bicyclists
This section outlines several key California Vehicle Code (CVC) laws applicable to bicyclists. The entire CVC is available via cyclingsavvy.org/statutes.
Bicyclists’ Rights and Responsibilities [CVC 21200] (a) Every person riding a bicycle upon a highway has all of the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle . . . .
Comment: Bicyclists on public roads must follow the same laws as vehicle drivers, including riding on the right side of the roadway, yielding appropriately at intersections and driveways, and observing all traffic control pavement markings, signs and signals.
Roadway Position [CVC 21202 (a)] Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic… shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except under any of the following situations… (see flowchart below)
Comment: “As far right as practicable” means “as far right as reasonable and safe,” not “as far right as possible.” While California law requires bicyclists traveling slower than other traffic to ride as far right as practicable, it also provides several exceptions, and at least one usually applies. This CVC 21202 flowchart outlines the exceptions, any of which authorizes bicyclists to use the full lane. Learn more about where to ride on the road in Chapter 2 (p. 10) as well as Chapters 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8 of Bicycling Street Smarts.
See CyclingSavvy.org/cvc21202/ for a video explanation and more information about the history of CVC 21202 in California.
Bike Lanes [CVC 21208 (a)] Whenever a bicycle lane has been established on a roadway… any person operating a bicycle upon the roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic… shall ride within the bicycle lane, except that the person may move out of the lane under any of the following situations… (see flowchart below for exceptions)
Comment: While California law requires bicyclists traveling slower than other traffic to use provided bike lanes (called Class 2 Bikeways), it also provides several exceptions to this requirement. The CVC 21208 flowchart above outlines these exceptions, any of which permits bicyclists to use the general travel lane instead of the bike lane. Learn more about bike lanes in Chapters 2 (pp. 12-13) and 3 (p. 20).
Comment: There are no laws in California requiring bicyclists to use bikeways separated from motor vehicles instead of the nearest public roadway. These include separated bikeways on their own right-of-way (Class 1 Bikeways) and bikeways separated from adjacent motor traffic by a physical barrier (Class 4 Bikeways). Class 4 Bikeways are also referred to as physically separated bikeways or cycle tracks, and are sometimes imprecisely described as “protected bike lanes.”
Riding Two Abreast
Comment: Despite what some people believe, there is no law in California limiting the number of bicyclists who may ride side-by-side in a traffic lane. Riding double is often safer and a shorter group of cyclists is easier for motorists to pass (see Chapter 6). Bicyclists in a group are, however, subject to the laws concerning Roadway Position and Bike Lanes presented above. Bicyclists are therefore legally required to ride single file (a) in a lane that is wide enough for a single rider to share safely side-by-side with a motor vehicle, or (b) when a usable bike lane is available and none of the exceptions to CVC 21202 or CVC 21208, respectively, apply. Group riding is covered in Chapter 6.
Slow-Moving Vehicles Turning Out
[CVC 21656] On a two-lane highway where passing is unsafe because of traffic in the opposite direction or other conditions, any vehicle proceeding upon the highway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time, behind which five or more vehicles are formed in line, shall turn off the roadway at the nearest place designated as a turnout by signs erected by the authority having jurisdiction over the highway, or wherever sufficient area for a safe turnout exists, in order to permit the vehicles following it to proceed.
Comment: On two-lane roads, a cooperative bicyclist makes it easy for motorists behind to pass when safe to do so and may prevent a motorist from endangering others by passing when unsafe. Learn more in Chapter 2, pp. 10-11, Two-lane Roads: Balancing Courtesy with Safety.
Sidewalk Riding [CVC 21206 & 21100 (h)] [CVC 21456.2 (b)]
Comment: There is no California law prohibiting sidewalk bicycling. However, cities, towns and other local authorities may prohibit bicycle operation on some or all sidewalks. Sidewalks and crosswalks are designed for walking speed, not normal bicycle speeds. Some crosswalk signals give an advanced-start walk signal before the travel lanes get a green. Bicyclists are allowed to proceed on a walk signal, even if the traffic signal is red, unless a specific bicycle signal is present (effective 1/1/24) but should always check to confirm that no traffic is turning across their path. It is more predictable to ride on a sidewalk in the same direction as roadway traffic. Riding against traffic on a sidewalk is especially dangerous (and may be illegal in some localities).
Comment: There is no California law prohibiting sidewalk bicycling. However, local authorities may prohibit adult bicycle operation on some or all sidewalks as is done in many California cities and towns. Sidewalks and crosswalks are not designed for bicycle speeds.
Lights and Reflectors [CVC 21201 (d)]
Comment: A bicyclist riding during darkness on a roadway, sidewalk (where permitted), or bikeway must have a front white light, rear red reflector and other required reflectors. It is best to use a rear light, as well. Many bicycle crashes happen in poor lighting conditions. It is very important to see and be seen when riding during twilight or darkness. Learn more about riding safely at night in Chapter 7, pp. 36-37) and see CVC 21201 (d) for additional reflector requirements.
Helmets [CVC 21212]
Comment: A bicyclist or passenger under 18 years of age must wear a helmet when traveling on a public road or street, bikeway or public bicycle path or trail. A bicyclist and passenger of any age is required to wear a helmet on a Class 3 electric bicycle. Head injuries account for about one-third of emergency room visits for bicycle-related injuries. Bicycle helmets, properly fitted and worn, have been found effective in reducing the incidence and severity of head, brain, and upper facial injury. Learn more about proper helmet use on page 4.
Headphones and Earbuds [CVC 27400]
Comment: Bicyclists may not use headphones or earbuds that cover, rest on, or are inserted in both ears. Use of such devices can be distracting. Sounds of an approaching vehicle may be blocked by the audio device.
Electric Bicycles [CVC 312.5; 406; 21207.5; 21213; 23127; 24016]
Comment: California recognizes three classes of electric bicycles. Manufacturers are required to label them as Class 1, 2 or 3. Class 1 and 2 electric bicycles are limited to powerassistance up to 20 mph. Class 3 electric bicycles provide power assistance up to 28 mph. Electric power is limited to less than 750 watts.. Class 1 and Class 3 electric bicycles are pedal-assist only and do not have a throttle. Operators of Class 3 electric bicycles must be at least 16 years of age and must wear a helmet.
It is illegal to tamper with or modify an electric bicycle [CVC 24016(d)] to increase its speed capability. Comment: This subsection does not apply if the manufacturer or distributor of the electric bicycle appropriately replaces the label indicating the new classification as required in CVC 312.5 (c).
Electric bicycles may be operated where a conventional bicycle is allowed. However, local governments have the authority to restrict all classes of e-bikes on an equestrian, hiking, or recreational trail that allows conventional bicycles. Electric bicycles may be operated on bicycle paths or bicycle trails, except if restricted within California State Park properties. Check with the government having jurisdiction for any electric bicycle restrictions where you plan on riding.
Resources for Bicyclists in California
The American Bicycling Education Association (ABEA) with Its CyclingSavvy program empowers people to use their bikes to go anywhere they want, safely and confidently.
The California Association of Bicycling Organizations (CABO) protects the rights of California cyclists and promotes laws, policies, and actions that treat cyclists equitably.
The League of American Bicyclists represents bicyclists in the movement to create safer roads, stronger communities, and a Bicycle Friendly America.
This addendum is sponsored by
Orange County Bicycle Coaltion