Bike Culture: The Basics

So just what are cyclists allowed to do? Find out how to stay safe and avoid tickets

Photograph by Dustin Snipes

The law as it pertains to bicycles isn’t tricky, but there’s still confusion among cyclists and car drivers about what cyclists are allowed—and supposed—to do. For more details on riding safely and legally, check out the guides offered by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation or the Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition. Meantime, get to know the basics:

  • Cyclists are granted the same rights and bear the same responsibilities as automobile drivers. Not only are they entitled to ride on the street (and required to obey traffic signals), it is illegal to ride on the sidewalk in many parts of the county, including swaths of Pasadena, Culver City, Beverly Hills, and Santa Monica.
  • Cyclists must stay on the right side of the street, going in the direction of automobile traffic.
  • Pedaling to a soundtrack may be nice and all, but beyond being dangerous, it’s illegal. No headphones allowed.
  • Helmets are required for riders under 18 years of age.
  • If you’re riding at night, a good way to avoid receiving a ticket is by having a front light and a red rear reflector or taillight. Though police aren’t sticklers about it, you’re also required to have reflectors on your pedals (use reflective tape if your pedals lack them) and rims.
  • Technically, many cities require cyclists to have a bicycle license, a decal that should be available at the time of purchase. The law is rarely enforced, however, unless you’re on a collective ride and police officers are looking for a way to put a damper on things. The stickers can be had for $3 at the LAPD stations around the city. Whichever station you choose (the Central Station, 213-485-3294, oversees a swath of downtown), call before you go to check on hours and availability.
You’re permitted to take your bicycle on the MTA, but not on sme trains during rush hour. Check the Metro’s rail link before you try boarding.