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Is it Dangerous for a Bicyclist to “Take the Lane” on California Roads?

The beautiful California climate makes it perfect for bicyclists. If you decide to ride your bicycle to work or for pleasure, it is important for your own safety and the safety of others to know the rules of the road. One practice that bicyclists and motorists often wonder about is whether it is dangerous to ride in the middle of a lane on a road with motorists.

What exactly is “Taking the Lane” in Cycling?

Although it is legal, many are concerned that riding in the middle of a lane, also called taking the lane or riding in primary position, is a dangerous practice for bicyclists. Some common situations in which a bicyclist may want to take the lane include: when a driver opens the door of a parked car on the side of the road and when a bicyclist is maneuvering or preparing to make a turn.

Pros of Taking the Lane

Many bicycle experts claim that taking the lane is actually a safer practice for bicyclists than other methods of navigating the road. By riding in the middle of the lane, bicyclists can see the road clearer and motorists are more likely to see them, reducing the chances of them accidentally hitting bicyclists. Experts advise that riding in primary position is the right choice if a bicyclist is ever in doubt about where it is safest to ride.

Cons of Taking the Lane

Unfortunately, many people do not realize that riding in primary position is the legal and safe choice. As a bicyclist, deciding to take primary position may frustrate drivers who don’t understand the rights of cyclists. Drivers behind you may feel as if you are holding up traffic and being inconsiderate by riding directly in front of them. To avoid misunderstandings when you take the lane as a bicyclist, look behind you and try to make direct eye contact with the driver behind you so that he or she understands your intentions.

Other Important California Bicycle Laws

Taking the lane is not the only bicycle rule that is important to know. California law outlines numerous bicycle regulations that will keep you and others safe while you are on the road. Here are some of the most crucial to know before you hop on your bike.

Use the bicycle lane. Though taking the lane is legal if you are moving the same speed or faster than traffic, you must use the bicycle lane in California if you are traveling at a slower speed than the rest of traffic. Cyclists should use the bike lane unless you are:

• Making a left turn
• Passing someone
• Avoiding dangerous conditions
• Riding in places where you can take a right turn

Ride with traffic. Bicyclists must ride on the right side of the road unless they are:

• Passing someone
• Making a legal left turn
• Riding on a one-way street
• Riding on a road that is too narrow
• On a road where the right side is closed because of road construction

According to California law, mopeds and high-speed bikes are not the same as regular bicycles. Some California residents try to take electric bicycles on bike paths, trails, or other on and off-road situations reserved for bicyclists. People can use them in bike lanes next to roadways but may not ride a moped or high speed electric bike unless you are age 16 or above.

However, California law does equate low speed electric bikes with regular bicycles. Electric bicycles with top speeds of 20 miles per hour are allowed on all paths, trails, and lanes that regular bicycles can travel on unless local authorities specifically prohibit it.

Wear and outfit your bicycle with the necessary equipment. According to California law, all bicycles must have:

  • Functioning brakes.
  • Handlebars no higher than your shoulders.
  • A white light attached to the front for nighttime bicycling.
  • A series of reflectors spread around the bicycle.
  • A permanent seat.

California bicycles also must be small enough so that each rider can easily stop, support it, and start safely. Anyone under the age of 18 must wear a helmet when on a bicycle, whether as a passenger or operator.

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