Photo by Tim Reese

Photo by Tim Reese

State law gives bike-riders the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicle drivers. In other words, bicycles are traffic, just like motor vehicles, and are expected to follow all the same traffic laws and rules of the road. Where and how bikes must operate on public roads and trails are mostly contained in the California Vehicle Code. Below is a summary of CVC sections related to bicycling, with links to the exact statutory language.

Your rights and responsibilities

People riding bikes have the same rights and responsibilities as people driving motor vehicles. CVC 21200

Where you can ride

CVC 21202On streets and roads without bike lanes: Because they usually travel at slower speeds than other traffic, people on bikes must ride as close to the right side of the road as safely possible (the same rule applies to cars and other vehicles driving slower than other traffic).

However, people on bikes may ride in the center of the lane when they're:
- traveling the same speed as vehicle traffic
- passing (e.g., a double-parked car, another bike-rider)
- making a left turn
- avoiding hazards in the road (e.g., broken glass, an open car door)
- unable to share the lane (ride side-by-side with vehicle traffic) because it's too narrow
- avoiding a place where a right turn is authorized, such as at an intersection or a dedicated driveway entrance.

On a one-way street, people on bikes may ride on the left side as far to the left as safely possible, with the same exceptions described above. CVC 21202

On streets and roads with bike lanes: People riding bikes must use the bike lane. However, they can leave the bike lane and ride in the traffic lane when:
- traveling the same speed as vehicle traffic
- making a left turn
- passing (e.g., a double-parked car, another bike-rider)
- making a left turn
- avoiding hazards in the road (e.g., broken glass, an open car door)
- avoiding a place where a right turn is authorized, such as at an intersection or a dedicated driveway entrance. CVC 21208

Direction of travel: People riding bikes in the roadway or on the shoulder must travel in the same direction as motor vehicle traffic in the adjacent lane. This rule also applies to bike lanes: unless otherwise indicated, bike-riders in a bike lane must travel in the same direction as motor vehicles in the adjacent lane. CVC 21650.1

On sidewalks: Cities and counties make the rules about whether bikes may be ridden on sidewalks. CVC 21206  See below for a summary of the rules about riding on sidewalks throughout the Sacramento region.

On freeways: Bicycles may not be ridden on freeways and expressways where doing so is prohibited by Caltrans and local authorities. CVC 21960

On toll bridges: People riding bikes may not cross a toll bridge unless permitted to do so by Caltrans. CVC 23330

Motorized bicycles: Motorized bicycles (mopeds) may not be used on trails, bike paths or lanes unless allowed by local authorities. CVC 21207.5

Electric bicycles: State law defines three classes of e-bikes and specifies where and how each can be ridden. Class 1 and 2 e-bikes may be used in bike lanes and on off-street bike paths (unless specifically prohibited by a city or county). Class 3 e-bikes, the most powerful type, may only be ridden in the street and bike lanes but may not be ridden by anyone under age 16. Sacramento County Parks allows use of Class 1 and 2 e-bikes on the American River Parkway. CVC 312.5 and CVC 21213

Bike path obstruction: No one may stop on or park a bicycle on a bicycle path. Instead, park to the side of the path. CVC 21211

Equipping your bike

Bicycle size: Bicycles must be small enough for the rider to stop, support it with one foot on the ground, and start safely. CVC 21201(c)

Handlebar height: Handlebars must not be higher than the rider's shoulders. CVC 21201(b)

Seats: All riders must have a permanent, regular seat, unless the bicycle is designed by the manufacturer to be ridden without a seat. Bicycle passengers weighing less than 40 lbs. (children) must have a seat which retains them in place and protects them from moving parts. CVC 21204

Brakes: Bicycles must be equipped with a brake that allows an operator to execute a one-braked-wheel skid on dry, level, clean pavement. CVC 21201(a)

Bicycle_diagram_reflectorsLights: At night a white headlight visible from the front must be attached to the bicycle or the bike-rider. CVC 21201(d) and CVC 21201(e)

Reflectors: At night bicycles must have reflectors visible from the:
- Back: red reflector
- Front & back: white or yellow reflector on each pedal or on the bike-rider’s shoes or ankles
- Side: 1) white or yellow reflector on the front half of the bicycle and 2) a red or white reflector on each side of the back half of the bike. These reflectors are not required if the bike has reflectorized tires. CVC 21201(d)

Operating your bike

bike-signalsSignalling: Just like drivers, people riding bikes must signal their turns:
- Left turn: Left arm and hand held out to the left side
- Right turn: Left arm and hand held pointing up OR right arm and hand held out to the right side
- Stopping or slowing down: Left arm and hand pointing down. CVC 22111

Helmets: People on bikes and their passengers under age 18 must wear an approved helmet. CVC 21212

Head phones: People riding bikes may not wear earplugs in both ears or a headset covering both ears. Hearing aids are allowed. CVC 27400

Alcohol and drugs: People on bikes may not ride while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The ticket for riding under the influence is $250. CVC 21200.5

Hitching rides: People riding bikes may not ride while holding onto a moving vehicle. CVC 21203

Carrying objects: People on bikes may not carry objects that keep them from using at least one hand on the handlebars. CVC 21205

Pedestrians: People on bikes must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians within marked crosswalks or within unmarked crosswalks at intersections. People riding bikes must also yield the right-of-way to visually impaired pedestrians who are carrying a white cane or using a guide dog. CVC 21950 and CVC 21963

Parking: People on bikes may not leave their bikes lying on the sidewalk or parked in a way that obstructs pedestrians. CVC 21210


State law lets cities and counties decide how to regulate bike-riding on sidewalks. Sidewalk riding is allowed in parts of the Sacramento region but the rules vary considerably from place to place.

But first, let's talk about common sense and common courtesy. Even if you live in an area where sidewalk riding is legal, remember that sidewalks are designed for people walking, not for riding bikes or sharing with bikes. And in most areas, pedestrians don't expect to encounter bicycles being ridden on sidewalks, especially coming up from behind. In recent years, several pedestrians in Sacramento have been severely injured by people riding bikes on the sidewalk.

If you feel you must ride on the sidewalk, you can help keep pedestrians safe by riding slowly, carefully and respectfully. Extra care is needed when riding near small children, animals (especially pets and companion animals on leashes), senior citizens, and people who are visually impaired or have any kind of mobility impairment. Ride at walking pace whenever you're near a pedestrian -- getting off your bike and walking it is an even better way to help keep pedestrians safe.

Local rules for riding on the sidewalk:

sidewalk riding

Bikes on the sidewalk in Midtown Sacramento

Riding on sidewalks is not allowed in:
- Folsom
- Galt
- Davis (central business district)

Elk Grove: Bikes can be ridden on a sidewalk that has been designated as a part of the city's bike route system. People riding on the sidewalk must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians. (Elk Grove Municipal Code 10.12.010)

Sacramento: Bikes cannot be ridden on sidewalks where the City of Sacramento has posted a sign that prohibits sidewalk riding. (Sacramento Municipal Code 10.76.010)

Sacramento County (unincorporated): Bikes may be ridden on sidewalks that are designated as bike routes, but are not prohibited on any sidewalks. (Sacramento County Code 10.12.010)

West Sacramento: Bikes can be ridden on a sidewalk in the business district. People on bikes must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians. (West Sacramento Municipal Code 10.32.020)

Citrus Heights, Rancho Cordova and Yolo County do not have ordinances that allow or prohibit riding on sidewalks.


Ride on!

Support SABA to make the Sacramento area a safe, convenient, and enjoyable place to get around by bike.

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