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Nothing feels better than bicycling down the open road. It’s a chilly fall afternoon and you’re enjoying the wind blowing through your hair, the sound of your wheels spinning on cement and the scent of crisp air.
Besides being a low impact form of exercise, biking offers plenty of other health benefits, like improving joint mobility, reducing anxiety and depression and strengthening bones. However, not knowing the rules of the road can make bike riding unpleasant or even dangerous.
READ MORE: No Time For the Gym? 6 Ways to Stay Active
If you’re a Cali girl, do you know the seven rules – provided by the California Vehicle Code – that can keep bicyclists safe? Keep reading to find out!
Whether you’re getting directions or T Swift is just killin’ it, don’t wear headphones or earbuds that cover both your ears. This rule applies to anyone operating a motor vehicle or a bicycle. Police officers, city employees and those with hearing devices are the only exceptions.
If you can’t imagine biking without some tunes for company, consider these research results: Not only have studies shown that cyclists wearing headphones are less likely to hear traffic sounds, they also seem to disobey traffic rules more often. Although some argue that laws banning cyclists from using headphones are ignoring more pressing issues, research suggests that songs and cycling shouldn’t go hand-in-hand.
Maybe you’ve tried carrying your groceries home balanced on your handlebars. Maybe you realized too late that you should have bought that basket yesterday. Well, according to California Code, you can carry things on your bike as long as you have at least one hand on the handlebars at all times.
Not sure you can handle (pun intended) all that you need to carry? Hilary Angus at Momentum Mag offers several different storage options for bikers, including:
Bike Cargo Racks: These are racks attach to your bike frame over the wheels and can be used to carry crates, boxes or any other items you need to transport. You can attach a rack to the front or back of your bike and they come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Panniers: Though their name may seem laughable, these bags – which clip to the side of your bike rack – are anything but. While panniers were originally sold a solely “bike” gear, they’ve gained more variety of the years in their style, brand, functional details and materials.
Boxes, baskets and crates: If you want to rock a hipster vibe as you bike to work, look no further than these old-fashioned bike accessories. Do I really need to say anymore?
Trailers: For heavy-duty transport, attach a trailer to the back of your bike. Depending on the type of trailer you buy, you can carry everything from a Christmas tree to a kayak. If your load is heavy, you’ll also get an extra workout biking with the extra weight.
With the right gear, you can bike while carrying everything you need … without breaking any laws or bike parts.
Remember that time you dressed up as a disco ball for Halloween? Well, your bike should look like that every time you’re traveling at night. In particular, California law requires bikes to be equipped with a white/yellow light or reflector in the front and a red reflector or light in the rear. There should also be reflectors on the bike pedals or worn on your ankles or shoes as you ride. You need to be visible for cars at far distances.
To stay safe during night rides, Active also suggests picking a route that you’re familiar with (so you know what potential hazards, like potholes or cracks, could be hiding in the dark) and staying hyper-alert. As John Duggan, an attorney who commonly represents injured cyclists, says, “Cars will look right through you so it’s on the cyclists to make themselves visible.”
Even though attaching your bike to another moving vehicle on the road may look cool and harmless in the movies (we’re looking at you, Marty McFly), California law says you can’t do it in real life. The same rule goes for people riding motorcycles, coasters, roller skates, sleds or toy cars.
If you’re desperate for a bike with a little more kick, check out motorized bicycles instead. Bicycling released its 2016 list of the top E-bikes earlier this year, mentioning standouts like the Yuba Spicy Curry (a large e-bike with plenty of storage space on its sides and back), the Faraday Porteur (which boasts an elegant and customizable design that any fashionista would proudly ride) or the Italjet Ascot (if you want to look like a vintage movie star, this retro bike is your soulmate).
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Don’t drink and drive” countless times. But did you know that driving a bike while intoxicated is also a strike against you? California law forbids men and women to bike on a highway when under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
READ MORE: Behind the Bottle: Why Women Drink
While this rule may seem obvious, plenty of people are learning the hard way. In fact, a study examining bike accidents between 1996 and 2005 found that 21 percent of bicyclists who died three hours or less after a bike accident tested positive for alcohol. A study in Portland, Oregon, also found that half of adult bicyclists who received fatal injuries had high blood alcohol levels. Basically, getting on two wheels while drunk may be just as dangerous (at least to yourself) as getting behind a car wheel while intoxicated.
For many cyclists, this is the million dollar question. The answer to whether it’s illegal to ride on the sidewalk, sadly, is not straightforward. According to CVC 21206, local authorities regulate bike lanes and sidewalks. So this question seems to be a case-by-case basis. However, CVC 21202 (a-b) does say that bikes traveling slower than the flow of traffic in the roadway must ride as far to the right as reasonable and safe, unless there is something blocking the path or the right lane is a turning lane.
If you do decide that the sidewalk is calling your name, you could lower the risks of getting ticketed or hurt by going slow, yielding to pedestrians, only crossing the street at crosswalks and being willing to walk your bike, according to Bike Shop Hub.
This is one of the most important rules of all: As a bicyclist, you have the same rights as car drivers on the road. However, you are also held to the same safety standards. Knowing your bicycling rights is especially important in the case of accidents, according to Steven Sweat at California Accidents Attorneys Blog. Because bicyclists have the same legal responsibilities, they can – and in rare cases, even have – face legal charges. For instance, a San Francisco biker ran into and killed a pedestrian and pled guilty to “vehicular manslaughter” in 2013.
Knowing these laws shouldn’t scare you anymore than any other law does. Instead, this knowledge should empower you, making you a more aware and educated cyclist.
So the next time you give your wheels a spin, enjoy the wind blowing through your hair and the crisp fall breeze. Just don’t leave these seven rules in the dust!