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How to Bike in Colorado Without Breaking the Law

September 3, 2014

More than ever, people are realizing just how environmentally friendly using a bicycle to get around can be, and they’re appreciating the health benefits of using a bike as their primary mode of transportation. However, as those people hop on their bikes, many do so without first learning the traffic laws for bicycles, which causes ever-growing strife between drivers and bicyclists with each side blaming the other for not following the rules of the road. Before hitting the pavement, it’s important for both drivers and bicyclists to understand bicycle laws. So, strap on your helmet (although there are no helmet laws in Colorado) and familiarize yourself with the laws that pertain to riding your bicycle in Colorado.

A Bicycle Is Legally Considered a Vehicle

In Colorado, bicycles are defined as vehicles, which means many of the same legal rights and duties that apply to motorists also apply to cyclists. This means no texting or using a cell phone while riding your bicycle and no headphones. While it may seem fun to have your favorite tunes pumped up and pounding in your ears as you zoom along in the sunshine, it’s actually quite unsafe (even if you do feel like you’re in a movie). The headphones impair your hearing when you need to be aware of your surroundings and other vehicles. You definitely want to make sure you can hear that car horn beeping at you if they’re trying to warn you of oncoming traffic. Headphones are considered a distraction just as much as talking on a cell phone or texting.

As with driving a vehicle, it’s also illegal to operate a bicycle while under the influence of alcohol or any other impairing substances, including marijuana, which is now legal in the state. So if you do decide to drink (or partake of anything else), be sure to walk that bike all the way home.

“Look, Ma, No Hands!”

When you were a kid pedaling your bike around your neighborhood, it was always an exhilarating feeling when you mastered riding your bike with no hands while still maintaining your balance and direction. However, according to Colorado law, you must keep at least one hand on the bike’s handlebars at all times. This allows you to still obey the hand and arm signals you’re supposed to use to indicate when you’re making a turn or stopping at an intersection.

Using Your Hands as Turn Signals and “Brake Lights”

Before hitting the road, be sure to brush up on your hand signals for making turns and braking. It’s important for vehicles around you to know what you’re up to, both for your own safety and the safety of those around you.

  • Left turns: To make a left turn, be sure to make that turn as close to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway as possible. Extend your left arm straight out and horizontally in the direction of the turn.
  • Right turns: For right turns, you can make an “L” shape with your left arm by extending your left arm to the side, and bending it upward at a 90-degree angle at your elbow. Colorado law also says you may signal a right turn with your right arm horizontally.
  • Braking: If you’re stopping and beginning to brake, extend your left arm to the left side and bend your forearm downward at a 90-degree angle at the elbow. It’s important you give other motorists enough notice of your intentions. Perform your signal no less than 100 feet before turning and still maintain the hand signal while you’re stopped and waiting to turn.

When it comes to “traffic control devices,” i.e., stop signs and stoplights, cyclists are required to come to a complete stop. Cyclists must obey the same laws when it comes to traffic lights and stop signs as someone driving a vehicle, so cyclists shouldn’t run that red light even if there is no other oncoming traffic.

“Share the Road”

When it comes to riding your bicycle as a form of transportation on roadways, Colorado law doesn’t require that you have to use any other lane or path other than a “normal vehicular traffic lane.” It is important to note, however, that when riding your bicycle, you have to stay in the right-hand lane and ride as close to the curb or shoulder as possible. There is also a 3-foot passing requirement when it comes to other vehicles passing you, and vice versa.

The only circumstances when you don’t have to stay on the right-hand side are if you’re passing another bicycle or vehicle or trying to avoid hitting parked cars, people, animals or other “surface hazards.” In other words, use common sense. When riding with another person or in a group, cyclists typically must ride single file unless riding “two abreast” will not disrupt normal traffic flow.

No Other Passengers

No matter how fun and romantic some movies make it seem to ride on the back of your friend’s bicycle or on your sweetheart’s handlebars, it’s illegal in Colorado to have a passenger ride along with you. The law states, “no bicycle shall be used to carry more persons at one time than the number for which it is designed or equipped.” So if you want to take your tandem bike out for a spin, more power to you, but don’t put more people on a bike than the number of seats.

Riding Your Bicycle on the Sidewalk Is Prohibited

In Colorado, bicyclists are prohibited from using sidewalks unless the sidewalk is part of a designated bike route, if they are delivering a paper, or when they are within one block of preparing to mount/ dismount at parking (speed limit 6 MPH). Bicycles must always yield to pedestrians.

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