Welcome to Bike Safe California!
Safety for the cycling community is a two-way street, a shared-use path.
We exist together on the same roads. Unfortunately, cyclists are at a large disadvantage.
Cycling is an incredible sport. It offers an escape from the urban grind, a path to minimalist living and, for many people, an opportunity to be mobile.
We start advocacy by focusing on the cycling community. We want our behavior to reflect lawfulness and respect.
From there we can push forward towards working with the city council in each of our communities to help create studies on what areas need more bike paths and how we can adjust laws and lane striping to create a healthier, safer cycling community.
A strong cycling community can create a stronger economy, less homelessness and healthier families with fewer missed work days.
BIKE SAFE CALIFORNIA was created by the California Bicycle Coalition with funding from the Healthy Transportation Network, a project of the California Department of Public Health’s California Active Communities program. It has been resurrected and is now managed by an advocate of a safer cycling community. Questions? Contact us!
Please Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Putting Your Skills Into Action
The 5 essential skills of safe bicycling matter most in situations where using them can help you avoid a collision or a fall.
Here are some common situations you should be prepared for:
- Entering the roadway
- Passing parked or stopped cars
- Driver makes a right turn in front of you
- Driver makes a left turn in front of you
- Driver directly crosses your path
Important! Like all activities, riding a bicycle anywhere involves some risk – and every bicyclist decides how much risk is acceptable. The risks you face when riding on the road with other traffic depend on many factors and how they affect one another, including laws, roadway and traffic signal design, roadway conditions, time of day and weather, riding skill, and common sense. While you may not be able to avoid all risks, you’ll ride more safely and confidently when you understand the risk factors and master the skills that can help reduce them.
“You are a car.”
“Ah, that explains it,” you think. You stare thoughtfully at your cup of coffee. Maybe it is motor oil.
Probably one of the hardest concepts for the new cyclist to grasp is that they need to switch from the runner’s mindset of going against the traffic and start flowing with it. It seems that almost daily, we drivers encounter a cyclist who is hell-bent on going the wrong way.
Controlled By Motor Vehicle Law
Your actions on the bike are mostly controlled by CVC 21200, giving you the same rights as vehicles.
With those rights come responsibilities.
It may also be worth noting that mopeds and e-bikes with top speeds greater than 28 mph do not get the privilege of riding in the bike lane, is restricted to those 16 years of age and up and do require a helmet to be worn to operate them. They may also require registration and insurance.
Scooters and assisted bikes with speeds under 20 mph can still ride in the bike lanes.
Can I Ride In The Road?
If you are keeping up with traffic, then, yes, without question. However, even if the traffic is moving faster than you, you still have the right to use the right-hand edge of the road.
There are even provisions that allow you to move further into the roadway when avoiding hazards or if the edge of the road is blocked. And, of course, you’ll need to move left when making a left-hand turn.
Cyclists are never allowed on freeways.
With A Bike Lane Present
When there is a bike lane, you are required to move over into that lane when riding slower than the traffic.
Of course, bike lanes offer their own set of challenges for cyclists, especially when they are used by unauthorized vehicles or when they merge with a right-hand turn.
Anytime I am sharing the road; I like to be proactive about choosing routes with less congestion and, when necessary, waiting for traffic to pass before proceeding.
It is not always feasible, but I do like to be proactive about my safety.
Motorists and officers are not always as well versed in these matters. Do not press matters or become confrontational. If you are cited, seek the resources of a reliable bicycle attorney.
May I Ride On The Sidewalk? These rules vary from city to city and are not controlled by the local code. While the sidewalks distance you from the dangers of passing traffic, it does move you closer to the hazards of cracks, telephone poles, and absent-minded pedestrians.
I use the sidewalk when I feel that there is no other safe option available. So far, I have not been cited, but this use of the sidewalks is always judicious and performed at reduced speeds and away from pedestrian traffic.
Do I Need Insurance?
You do not need bike insurance to operate in the state of California. Most of us are already covered under provisions from our homeowners or vehicle insurance.
Must I Wear A Helmet?
All people under the age of 18 must wear a helmet in the state of California. This is primarily enforced in public roadways, sidewalks, and bike lanes
Additionally, in the cities of Bidwell Park, Chico, and El Cerrito you are required to wear a helmet regardless of age.
Helmets for those under 18 are required to pass CPSC certification and to have a valid, current sticker (you can find that on the inside of the helmet)
Must I Have Lights And Reflectors?
A white headlight must be visible from the front when cycling after dark. Additionally, you will need a rear reflector, and you may attach a solid or blinking rear light in addition to the rear reflector.
They also want you to have a white reflector on the front of the bicycle, white or yellow reflectors on the pedals or shoes, and white or yellow reflectors that are visible from the side, whether that is on the wheels or the frame.
Most cyclists tend to remove reflectors that are in their way, so be sure to double check your ride before doing night riding.
Can I Wear Headphones?
In many states headphones are permissible and a fun way to add some variation to your workout.
You must have at least one ear open to the traffic at all times. So you would be limited to riding with only one earbud. You are allowed to also use a hand-held cellphone while operating your bike, but my experience has demonstrated that it is best to pull over before answering calls.
Can I Park In The Bike Lane?
Even as a cyclist, you are not allowed to park or obstruct the bicycle lane.
Can I Ride A Bike While Drunk?
In the state of California, you may not ride a bicycle under the influence of Drugs or Alcohol.
Interestingly enough, 27% of fatal bicycle accidents occur when the rider is inebriated. Considering how many of thousands of sober cyclists there are, it is thought that cycling while drunk greatly raises your chance of being injured.
A Bicycle-Friendly State.
In 2015, the League of American Cyclists ranked California the #8 most bike-friendly state. This not only encompasses the laws but how well they are used to keep cyclists safe.
As a central state for many of our pro team’s training California has a lot to be proud of. Considerate cyclists like yourself will only continue to improve those relationships.
Choosing A Good Bike To Ride In The City
You can ride virtually any bicycle in the city. Each bicycle has their own advantages and disadvantages. Of course, theft is an ever-present concern, so you might go for the more affordable options, first.
Mountain Bikes are where many new commuters start. These bicycles are robust and affordable. The wide tires help prevent punctures and they are perfect for jumping curbs and potholes.
Hybrid Bikes are another top pick. They tend to also be affordable, and some of them are very lightweight and fast to ride. They do tend to have narrower tires, so you want to avoid cracks and grates.
Road Bikes are what most dedicated commuters use. These bicycles have the advantage of skinny tires and curved handlebars to make the rider aerodynamic and fast. Many bike messengers and bike racers start off by buying a beginner-level road bike like one of these and continue to stay in the sport long after their commuting days are over.
Whatever avenue you choose, always wear a helmet, stay alert, and inform yourself on the laws so you can better protect yourself.
A vehicle has many costs. Not only do you have to pay for the car itself, but licensing and upkeep can run in the thousands of dollars per year.
Oh, and gas. Cycling, while slower, is powered by a much more efficient engine.
You also don’t have the parking costs. Many of us pay to park at work or pay extra for garage parking. With a bicycle, you can carry it inside with you — saving hundreds of dollars a month in fees.
Boost Weight Loss And Fitness
We sit for 6-12 hours every single day. This sedentary lifestyle boosts our insulin resistance and causes us to gain weight (which further inflates our pre-diabetic symptoms.
Do this long enough, and you raise your risk of cancer http://www.esmo.org/Oncology-News/Sedentary-Behavior-Increases-the-Risk-of-Certain-Cancers
The healthcare risks and costs drive up your costs even further.
By commuting by bike, you can cut down on the time you need to spend in the gym while simultaneously improving your health. It is a win-win.
In this video, Don’t Feed The Animals explains 8 more benefits to riding your bike.
Everyone in LA is in a rush. And that means drivers tend to prioritize their hurry and their speed over a cyclist’s well-being. So you have to be aware not only of the drivers around you but also have to be aware of the dangers that can pop up in the path.
One movement striving to change that is the Los Angeles Bike trains. They choose a route that helps to avoid the hardest intersections, taking cyclists on the safest route possible.
The goal is to provide safety for people who need to commute to work. Bike trains allow riders to join the safety of the train on their way to work and then peel off to their destinations.
There is safety in numbers, and a group of cyclists is harder to be ignored — even by the most absent-minded drivers. Riding in a group can provide the safety that many would-be commuters wish they could have and can inspire more people to ride by making it more “normal.”
Elevated, or separated bike lanes are the ideal option. But, until that happens, the bike train can help educate new cyclists on the nuances of commuting safely and provide a stopgap measure that encourages greater commuting.
Here we start getting into some testy waters: limited resources and both cars and cyclists need access.
Many communities have begun either widening the road or repurposing the edge of roadways and marking them off to serve as “bike lanes.”
That part is all “fine and dandy”, and we cyclists applaud the nod towards a healthier cycling community. Once in awhile we even write a letter of thanks to a city council member or something.
Very quickly, however, these lanes start being violated by drivers, most noticeably the police and delivery drivers.
Police In Bike Lanes
This is the one cyclists like to point out the most. They are trying to drive in the bike lane — in New York, you can be ticketed for cycling outside of the bike lane — but there is a cop car smack dab in the middle of your morning commute.
Of course, you merge into traffic, wishing you could use this as an excuse the next time a cop hollers at you for holding up traffic.
It is unfair.
In most municipalities, police officers have special parking privileges: they can park wherever they damn well, please.
It’s a requirement of the job. Thugs aren’t courteous about where they commit crimes, and so, officers must be able to park where needed to fight said crime.s
It also comes in handy when stopping for donuts.
Since there is no shoulder in many of these locations with bike lanes, officers are left with no choice but to park in the lane while handling their business.
This is a battle we cyclists cannot win. And we only seem uninformed and petty when we point it out. An abuse of power? likely.
But who truly wants to spend the time and money fighting it in court? (ok, so we want to, but few of us can afford to!)
These guys are skirting the law, but they’ve gotta get their packages delivered. Packages create commerce and commerce pay the taxes that gives us nice roads… and bike lanes.
So everyone just gives them a friendly nod and assumes that they will be out of their way, shortly (they typically are).
After all, the beer isn’t going to deliver itself.
I don’t need to say anything, here. When shit breaks, it breaks. Be especially careful when navigating around these guys and don’t hesitate to use verbal cues if they are actively working and you must pass close by.
“Oh, I’ll just pop on in to grab a sandwich. I’ll be right back out.”
These are the only ones we stand any chance of fighting. They are playing a dangerous game of roulette, and they will continue to do so until we impound their cars.
In our community, repeated issues with people taking advantage of the bike lane typically have been easily resolved by buying a cup of coffee for a local officer, carrying it over to him, and having a friendly chat over coffee.
Of course, I do that regularly, anyhow. I like them to be on my side.
Some of the more stubborn violators, however, were only dislodged when cyclists recorded multiple days of violations and brought it up with their local alderman or at city council.
And, there has been the rare case where it has to go to the local newspaper.
Staying Safe With A Blocked Lane
The trick is awareness, especially of occupied vehicles.
The inconsiderate driver who is parking there is probably in an abject hurry to get out of their car and into the store and return before they get cited.
They will fling their door open with abandoned and hurt any cyclist in their way. Give these cars extra berth.
The same goes for cop cars. We can hope they are more observant, but they might be focused on a perp and not on you.
As a preventative measure, you must maintain awareness of the traffic patterns beside you. If you are going to be forced into traffic, it is better to claim your position early — or wait until the traffic has passed and then merge (my preference).
In general, however, we cyclists appreciate these lanes and the community is on board with protecting them, as long as the cops and the beer delivery guys still get to park there.
I used to run around town sans helmet. I am way cooler (literally and figuratively) without a helmet.
And, where I lived, there were no laws regarding helmet usage.
At best, you might find me sporting one of those snazzy cycling caps. You know, the ones with the hip little bill that flips up.
I was just as cool as all of those tour de France riders from the early 1900s, riding up the Alpe d’huez with a cigarette dangling from their lips. Neither one of us had any idea how much we were flirting with death.
Here’s the thing: none of us plan on crashing. If we knew it was going to happen, we’d prevent it.
I’ve seen enough cracked helmets in my day — and had enough close calls — that I finally recognized the danger and started becoming anal about wearing a helmet.
Just like that, wearing one was no longer enough. I needed to know what was the safest helmet.
The Safest Helmet And Rating Agencies
Motorcycle helmets are tightly regulated. You have the ECE regulation and the Snell regulation, and they all must be DOT approved.
In other words, you have the US government — for better or worse — looking out for you.
The same goes with bike helmets, sans the DOT sticker of approval (for what it is worth).
Our helmets must pass CPSC impact tests. These are more stringent than ASTM tests, and so you are advised to always go with a CPSC certified helmet. However, this is the only test helmets undergo and it is not possible to purchase one with a verified higher “rating.”
Spending more on a helmet typically just results in one that is more lightweight and has more ventilation (two key elements of a more comfortable fit!)
Giro Sutton MIPS
Giro — and their sister company, Bell — have done a respectable job creating a helmet that is designed specifically for the dedicated commuter.
You get more of an Urban style that is smooth, functional and low-key. The racing-style helmets with their huge air holes and swooping styles seem to be so over the top in the urban environment.
I recognize that there is no official way to measure whether a helmet is more crash resistant, but I have to think that a solid design with this one has to offer more integrity. You never see a motorcycle helmet that is dotted with holes. And we all know that every time you cut a hole in something, you make it weaker.
So it stands to reason that this helmet — with its solid design — is possibly offering greater protection for the unforgiving urban environment.
It has a removable visor and full adjustability of the straps so you can customize it to your comfort and your (constantly changing) riding conditions.
I’ve found this helmet sizing to be very on point. Whatever their sizing chart says, you can measure your head and make your purchase decision directly off of the chart.
A unique idea is the notable rear ports that are carefully measured to allow you to slip a U-lock through. This allows you to lock your helmet to the bike rack, and frees your arms for more important things, like school books and milk.
Probably the largest selling point of this helmet is the light clip. This small clip lets you attach a blinking light to help capture motorists attention. Most of us already ride with a small light clipped on a backpack or near our saddle.
By moving a flashing light to the helmet, we are setting it closer to eye-level for the drivers who are trying to avoid us. I think that is a smart play and makes this helmet a top consideration.
Finally, it comes in safety yellow.
I’m sold. Shut up and take my money. This is hands-down my favorite option on the list.
The Bern Allston (Hard To Find)
The Bern is a fun helmet for the cyclist who wants something different. You have to hunt for this one.
The bulky, block-helmet style looks a lot like the Giro Sutton. However, it adds more ventilation to the top which keeps your head cooler while also adding a lot of style points that the Sutton is missing.
It has a cloth visor like the Sutton. It is also removable for hand washing if you have an exceptionally nasty commute. It also has winter inserts you can purchase to insert for those colder commutes.
The sizing chart is pretty accurate, but, if you are close to the top of a size, go ahead and step up to the next size.
It also has more protection that extends down the back of your head, protecting that critical area in the event you go down backwards or get knocked to the side.
The downside is that the surface of this helmet seems to pick up more scratching.
I’d say that if you shopping for a helmet that stans out from the crowd while still offering every feature you could hope for in safety and functionality, this is an excellent option.
Specialized Echelon II
The Specialized Echelon II is an affordable helmet option that is attracting a large following amongst riders who want a quality helmet without overpaying for it.
There are several different colors available, although most end up going with a neutral color such as white or black so it will match your clothing.
The straps work really well. They lay flush against the face and aren’t always getting wadded up behind your ears like some of the other brands tend to do. It has the standard spin wheel on the back like most of the high-quality helmets in this category do.
This one does have reflectors on the back. Studies have shown that helmet reflection may or may not appear to vehicle drivers because they are so thin. However, I do like to have them, anyhow. The more reflection, the better is the motto.
The velcro holds the interior pads in place, which means you can remove them and wash them with soap and water whenever they start to get too grungy. I appreciate this as there is nothing nastier than a grungy, smelly helmet (except, maybe, grungy smelly socks.)
For an upper-mid-range priced helmet (just under $100), this is one of the lightest, most comfortable helmets you can get your hands on. You will need to find a Specialized dealer near you to purchase it from.
A good choice for the rider who also does a lot of long-distance and club rides and who wants a helmet that blend in both with the commuting environment as well as the club riding world.
This one cleverly does both.
Last week, we looked at some of the laws surrounding the construction and testing of helmets. In the United States, it wasn’t until the late 90’s that we began to codify helmet safety for cyclists.
According to the most recent data, at least 60% of the fatal cycling crashes http://www.bhsi.org/stats.htm are not wearing a helmet. Only 16% of the fatalities were wearing a helmet.
(24% of the crashes did not have helmet data).
It is important not over to infer data that has not been measured, but, at the surface level, it appears that helmets may help preserve the lives of cyclists. (The Guardian has no qualms about crunching the numbers, stating that it reduces the risk of fatal head injury by 65%)
Finally, cycling is the leading cause of sports-related head injuries, according to the American Association of Neurologic Surgeons, beating our both football and boxing. https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/03/really-the-claim-cycling-is-the-top-sport-for-head-injuries/?mcubz=0
Head injuries are no laughing matter.
No US Federal Law
It makes sense that there is no federal law regarding helmets. Cyclists mostly fall outside of the range of “interstate commerce.” In fact, we aren’t even allowed to ride on the interstate!
Helmet safety standards — the quality of the helmet — is set at the federal level, but whether or not you a re required to protect yourself is left up to the individual cities — or states — to set.
Laws Mostly Set At The City Level
States haven’t been too motivated to take up the issue, leaving it to local municipalities to set the laws and enforce them.
This makes plenty of sense, as a law is only as good as its enforcement. If a local community does not have a problem with head injuries from cyclists or does not have the resources to make sure cyclists obey a law, there is no reason to add restriction to the books.
Figuring out where your city stands on the issue can be challenging. There is a municode website that displays the laws for many small communities.
Their website is confusing so that you may find a call to City
Hall might be the easiest way to figure out what your restrictions are.
Another resource is the American league of cyclists. They do a better job keeping up with the laws. However, there is no way for them to be aware of every change. So reach out to your local community leaders for the most up-to-date information.
Many of the laws are only for children under the ages of 18 or 16. So a parent who allows their kid to ride around the block without a helmet because “that’s the way I was raised” could find themselves having an uncomfortable conversation with a police officer.
Self-Policing Is Strong
You will find that most cycling events require you to have a helmet. Forgetting your helmet precludes you from participating in many club rides, local races, and even parades.
While many of these rules are in place to protect the event organizers, this attitude of self-policing extends to individual riders. There are many who will openly question your decision to ride without a helmet, and I’ve even seen riders ostracized because others felt like their decision to ride helmetless was inherently unsafe.
After all, none of us want to be the one holding your brains while you writhe in agony. And that is an all-too-real picture for many of us.
This acknowledgment within the community of a bike helmet’s importance has done as much to further the implementation of helmet laws could.
In fact, a study in Canada measured the impact of mandatory helmet laws and found that they did not decrease the risk of head injury compared to jurisdictions which did not have helmet laws on the books.
A Generational Change
Millenials tend to be a very safety-conscious bunch, choosing to avoid cigarettes and buy organic.
If you set helmet laws, they might rebel against the law. However, they do prefer a safer option, especially when the statistics back them up.
From what I can gather, mandatory helmet laws do not exist in the British Isles. They seem to have more grassroots movement to make it mandatory, but so far, the research they have uncovered seems to either be inconclusive or does not demonstrate a greater benefit from wearing a helmet.
Are Helmets Safe Enough?
One of the things to consider is whether helmets offer sufficient protection. After all, we are riding with a styrofoam cup on our heads. Is that truly enough to protect us?
Having experienced concussions with and without the helmet, I’m going to lean in favor of wearing a helmet out of choice. And my children will wear helmets.
But for now, wearing a helmet is mostly your right to choose — unless you are riding with me.
Forty-seven percent of all trips in Los Angeles are under 3 miles. This is an ideal distance for cycling.
California is one of the most bike-friendly countries in the United States. They have countless bike lanes and bike-friendly rules.
The hills are a huge challenge (no pun intended) for cyclists in Los Angeles. While it does take a little practice to get confident with the hills, most avid cyclists learn to navigate them with no issues.
The city is always installing new bike lanes, but it takes some skills to navigate them as they can disappear with a moment’s notice, throwing the cyclist into the midst of traffic.
When there is no bike lane, it is your right to take up the whole lane. However, it can annoy a lot of drivers and cause them to behave erratically around the cyclist. So most choose to drive near the side of the road, even if that puts the rider closer to car doors.
Sometimes the cyclist must revert to the sidewalks.
Commuting via bike has its challenges, but it is doable. Awareness is key.