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8 Interesting California Bicycle Law Facts You Need to Know

Locals in Riverside ride bikes year round to commute to work, travel to class, and get exercise. While some recreational bicyclists stick with trails including the Santa Ana River Trail and the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park, many ride on roadways on a daily basis. Knowing all of the California bicycling laws can help you stay safe and avoid involvement in serious accidents.

Here are some important California laws you might not have heard before:

  1. Most bicycle laws apply everywhere across California. Many states allow local jurisdictions to govern their own bicycle ordinances. In CA, the rules that apply in Riverside apply in Sacramento. The uniformity of laws improves awareness for riders, motorists, and law enforcement officials.
  2. Sidewalk riding ordinances vary. While most bicycle laws in California universally apply, sidewalk-riding ordinances do not. You can ride on the sidewalk in some areas and you can’t in others. In Riverside, Section 10.64.310 of the municipal code addresses sidewalk riding. Bicyclists cannot ride on sidewalks in the city unless signs specifically indicate bicycle use.
  3. The three feet rule is more than a suggestion. Drivers must legally maintain a distance of three feet between the vehicle and the bicyclist while overtaking or passing it. If a driver can’t reasonably maintain the three feet rule, he or she can slow down and pass at a closer distance if doing so will not put the bicyclist at risk.
  4. Watch those ear buds. As of 2016, neither drivers nor bicyclists can wear ear buds or similar devices in both ears. If you need hands-free access to a device, you may leave one ear bud in your ear. This law increases the likelihood that bicyclists and drivers will hear what is going on around them. With two ear buds in, drivers and riders may miss important cues such as sirens, traffic horns, and more.
  5. Bicycling under the influence is illegal. Cycling under the influence (CUI) is a crime in the state of California. If an officer catches a bicyclists riding while drunk or otherwise intoxicated, he or she can fine the cyclist up to $250 for the offense.
  6. A new law allowing bicyclists to yield at stop signs. A new measure, if passed, would legalize the “California roll” and allow bicyclists to move through stop signs if safe to do so. The law would not change requirements for other traffic signals. Under this new law, bicyclists would still be required to stop at red lights.
  7. Unicycles are legal on the California roadways. Whether they are EUc (electric unicycles) or regular foot-powered, they may go wherever bicycles are allowed. You are, however required to wear a helmet, and at least 16 years old to legally operate a unicycle on the road.
  8. Bicyclists can use handheld devices. No motorist can use a handheld device on the roadways, but bicyclists can. While technically legal, riding with one hand for long periods comes with a certain level of risk.


Some bicycle laws are straightforward: Ride on the right side of the road; yield to pedestrians; and follow all traffic rules. Others are not so intuitive. These existing and prospective laws offer a different perspective on bicyclist rights and responsibilities. While some questionable bicycling activities are technically legal, they may not be safe. Always err on the side of caution to avoid the risk of an accident and serious injuries.

For more bicycle riding info, read our article about How to Safely Share the Road with Bicyclists.

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