“Where should I ride?” is a question cyclists ask me frequently. Legally, bicyclists have all the rights and duties of a motorist when riding on roadways. However, there are some specific laws as to where on the roadway a bicyclist should ride.
Marked Bike Lanes
If there is a marked bicycle lane, a bicyclist is required to ride within the bicycle lane and in the same direction as traffic. Vehicle Code §21208(a) only allows a cyclist to move outside the bike lane under four conditions:
• When overtaking and passing another bicycle, vehicle, or pedestrian within the lane, or when are about to enter the lane if they cannot safely pass within the bike lane
• When preparing to make a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway
• When reasonably necessary to avoid debris or other hazardous conditions
• When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized (like a right turn only lane where the cyclist is going straight)
If you must leave the lane under one of these circumstances, and if nearby vehicles might be affected by your movement, then you must give an appropriate signal before making your move. If no vehicle is affected by your movement, it can be argued that no turn signal is required.
No Marked Bike Lane
Where there is no marked bike lane, it is most important for motorists and bicyclists to share the road. As a cyclist, you are required by Vehicle Code §21200(a) to “ride as close as practicable to the right hand curb or edge of the roadway” except under the same four conditions listed above. When there is no bike lane, groups of riders should ride single file when vehicles are approaching so that the cyclist on the left will not obstruct the lane for vehicles. This suggestion, however, depends on factors like road width and traffic conditions.
However, when you are riding on a one-way street, you may ride close to the lefthand curb or edge of the road. Once in a while I see a bicyclist riding against traffic—a practice that can catch motorists off guard and increase the chances of a collision.
Since a cyclist is subject to the same local laws as a motorist, a bicycle—just like a motor vehicle—has no place on the sidewalk. Some counties have actually enacted ordinances against this, and cyclists may be cited with a traffic violation for “off road” riding such as this.
The keys to safe cycling are simple: be predictable, visible, and communicate your intentions to motorists. And most of all, obey the rules of the roadway.
Richard Duquette is a Carlsbad, California-based attorney. His firm has been sponsoring triathletes and representing injured athletes since 1983. Richard himself has completed the Hawaiian and New Zealand Ironman triathlons, and over 100 half ironman, international and sprint-distance triathlons. For more information, see www.911law.com.