California Vehicle Code (as it pertains to bicycles)

Learning the rules of the road is key to being a safe bicyclist. The
following are important excerpts from the California Vehicle Code (VC)
relating to the operation and equipping of bicycles.

Bicycle Defined. VC 231

Defines bicycle as a device upon which any person may ride,
propelled exclusively by human power through a belt, chain, or gears
and having one or more wheels. Specifically provides that persons
riding bicycles are subject to Vehicle Code provisions specified in
Sections 21200 and 21200.5 (see below).

Bicycle Use. VC 21200

Every person riding a bicycle upon a street or highway has all the
rights and is subject to all the duties applicable to the driver of a
vehicle, including the provisions of law dealing with driving under the
influence of alcoholic beverages or drugs, except those provisions
which by their very nature can have no application.

Bicycling Under Influence of Alcohol or Drugs. VC 21200.5

Provides that it is unlawful to ride a bicycle upon a street or
highway while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or drug or
the combination of alcohol and a drug, punishable by a fine of up to
$250. A person arrested may request a chemical test. If the person is
under 21 but over 13 years of age, his or her driving privilege will be
suspended for one year or delayed for one year once the person is
eligible to drive.

Equipment Requirements. VC 21201

a) No person shall operate a bicycle on a roadway unless it is
equipped with a brake which will enable the operator to make one braked
wheel skid on dry, level, clean pavement.

b) No person shall operate on the highway any bicycle equipped with
handlebars so raised that the operator must elevate their hands above
the level of their shoulders in order to grasp the normal steering grip

c) No person shall operate upon any highway a bicycle which is of
such a size as to prevent the operator from safely stopping the
bicycle, supporting it in an upright position with at least one foot on
the ground, and restarting it in a safe manner.

d) Every bicycle operated upon any highway during darkness shall be equipped with the following:

  1. A lamp emitting a white light which illuminates the highway and is
    visible from a distance of 300 feet to the front and the sides of the
  2. A red reflector mounted on the rear of the bicycle and visible from 500 feet to the rear of the bicycle.
  3. A white or yellow reflector mounted on each pedal visible 200 feet
    to the front and rear of the bicycle and a white or red reflector on
    each side to the rear of the center of the bicycle, except bicycles
    which are equipped with reflectorized tires on the front and the rear
    need not be equipped with side reflectors. All reflectorized tires must
    meet DMV requirements.

e) A lamp or lamp combination, emitting a white light, attached to
the operator and visible from a distance of 300 feet in front and from
the sides of the bicycle, may be used in place of a lamp attached to
the bike.

Duty of Bicycle Operator: Operation On Roadway. VC 21202

a) Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less
than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at such
time shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge
of the roadway except under any of the following situations:

  1. When overtaking and passing another bicycle or motor vehicle proceeding in the same direction.
  2. When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
  3. When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including, but not
    limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians,
    animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes) that make it
    unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge. For purposes of
    this section, a “substandard width lane” is a lane that is too narrow
    for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the

b) Any person operating a bicycle on a one-way street or highway
with two or more marked traffic lanes, may ride as near the left-hand
curb or edge of such roadway as practicable.

Hitching Rides. VC 21203

No person riding upon any motorcycle, motorized bicycle, bicycle,
coaster, roller skates, sled, or toy vehicle shall attach the same or
themselves to any streetcar or vehicle on the roadway.

Riding On Bicycle. VC 21204

a) No person operating a bicycle on a highway shall ride other than on a permanent and regular attached seat.

b) No person operating a bicycle on a highway shall allow anyone to
ride as a passenger other than on a separate attached seat. If the
passenger is four years old or younger or weighs 40 pounds or less, the
seat shall adequately retain the passenger in place and protect him/her
from the bicycle’s moving parts.

Carrying Articles. VC 21205

No person operating a bicycle shall carry any package, bundle, or
article which prevents the operator from keeping at least one hand upon
the handlebars.

Permitted Movements from Bicycle Lanes. VC 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 moving in the same direction shall ride in the
bicycle lane, except under the following situations.

  1. When overtaking or passing another bicycle, vehicle, or pedestrian
    within the lane or about to enter the lane if such overtaking and
    passing cannot be done safely within the lane.
  2. When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
  3. When necessary to leave the lane to avoid debris or other hazardous conditions.

b) No operator of a bicycle shall leave a bicycle lane until it can
be done safely and then only after giving an appropriate hand signal in
the event that any vehicle might be affected by the movement.

Parking. VC 21210

No person shall leave a bicycle lying on its side on any sidewalk,
or shall park a bicycle on a sidewalk in any other position, so that
there is not an adequate path for pedestrian traffic. Local authorities
may prohibit bicycle parking in designated areas of the public highway,
provided appropriate signs are erected.

Obstruction of Bikeways. VC 21211

No person shall place or park a bicycle or vehicle so as to impede
or block the normal and reasonable movement of any bicyclist on a
bikeway or bicycle path or trail unless the placement or parking is
necessary for safe operation or otherwise in compliance with the law.

Youth Helmets. VC 21212

Prohibits persons under 18 from riding or being a passenger on a
bicycle without wearing helmets meeting specified standards (ANSI or
SNELL). Violations are punishable by a fine of not more than $25.

Bicycles on Roadways VC 21650.1

A bicycle operated on a roadway or highway shoulder shall be
operated in the same direction as vehicles are required to drive upon
the roadway.

Bicycling on Freeways VC 21960

a) The Department of Transportation and local authorities may
prohibit or restrict the use of freeways or any portion thereof by

b) Such prohibitory regulations shall be effective when appropriate
signs giving notice thereof are erected upon the freeway and the
approaches thereto.

Hand Signals. VC 22111

All required signals given by hand and arm shall be given in the following manner:

  1. Left turn-hand and arm extended horizontally beyond the side of the bicycle.
  2. Right turn- left hand and arm extended upward beyond the side of
    the bicycle or right hand and arm extended horizontally to the right
    side of the bicycle.
  3. Stop or sudden decrease of speed signal- left hand and arm extended downward beyond the side of the bicycle.

Toll Crossing. VC 23330

Except where a special permit has been obtained from the Department
of Transportation, bicycles shall not be permitted on any vehicular
crossing, unless the Department by signs indicates that bicycles are
permitted upon all or any portion of the vehicular crossing.

Headsets and Earplugs. VC 27400

No person operating any vehicle, including a bicycle shall wear any
headset covering, or any earplugs in, both ears. There are exceptions
for persons operating authorized emergency vehicles, special
construction or maintenance equipment and refuse collection equipment,
and for any person wearing personal hearing protectors designed to
attenuate injurious noise levels and which do not inhibit the wearers’
ability to hear a siren or horn from an emergency vehicle or horn form
another motor vehicle, and for any person using a prosthetic device
which aids the hard of hearing.

License Requirement. VC 39002

a) A city or county may adopt a bicycle licensing ordinance or
resolution providing that no resident shall operate any bicycle on any
street, road, highway, or other public property within the city of
county, unless such bicycle is licensed in accordance with this

b) Any bicycle not licensed under this division may be additionally
regulated or licensed pursuant to local ordinance or may be licensed
upon request of the owner.

c) It is illegal for any person to to tamper with, destroy, mutilate
or alter any license indicia (marking) or registration form or to
remove, alter, or mutilate the serial number, or the identifying marks
of a licensing agency’s identifying symbol on any bicycle frame
licensed under the provision of this division.

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