Many people like to ride their bikes on the road, but is that the best place to ride? And if so, should bicyclists ride their bikes with traffic, or against it?
It is illegal for bicyclists to ride their bikes against traffic. Although bike laws vary by state, all state laws state that bicyclists must ride with the flow of traffic on the right side of the road. If someone doesn’t ride their bike with traffic, they will be ticketed and possibly fined.
Now that you know that it is illegal in all states to ride your bike against traffic, you are likely wondering if it is safe to do so if you can ride your bike against traffic while on a sidewalk, and why it is illegal to ride your bike against traffic. Keep reading to find out.
Should You Bike With or Against Traffic?
You shouldn’t ride your bike against the flow of traffic. Instead, you should ride your bike with the flow of traffic, especially because it is illegal in all states in America to ride your bike against the flow.
“The Uniform Vehicle Code provides, essentially, that bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as operators of automobiles, except where the law specifies otherwise or where it can naturally have no applicability. A basic statement of cyclists’ rights and responsibilities has been adopted in the vehicle codes of most American states.”Source
Bicycles are considered motor vehicles by law, so if you ride your bike against the flow of traffic, you are technically ‘driving’ on the wrong side of the road, which is illegal. As a motor vehicle by law, you have to follow the rules of the road when you are riding your bike.
When you are riding your bike, you need to stay as close to the side of the road as you can. If you are using a bike lane, stay to the right side of it, especially when cars are coming from behind you or are beside you. This will prevent a car accident and ensure you and the drivers stay safe while on the road.
Riding your bike with the flow of traffic is safer and can reduce the number of bicycle accidents that occur every year. If you ride your bike with the flow of traffic, you are being predictable and cars are less likely to hit you. Bicyclists that ride their bikes against the flow of traffic cause car accidents because they aren’t being predictable and they aren’t as visible as the other motorists that are on the road.
Is It Safer to Ride a Bike Alongside Traffic than Against?
It is safer to ride your bike alongside traffic because drivers can see you and determine where you are and where you will be more easily than they could if you were to ride your bike against the flow of traffic. If the people driving cars can’t determine where you are and where you will be, they will be more likely to hit you, which could end in disaster. In their eyes, you are doing something unexpected, and that is dangerous.
When drivers can’t tell where a cyclist is going, they don’t have time to move out of the cyclist’s way, and the cyclist has little time to move out of the driver’s way, so there is a high chance that an accident will occur if a cyclist isn’t going with the flow of traffic.
Riding facing the opposite direction of the flow of traffic also makes it nearly impossible for you to read street signs, so you won’t know when a part of the road is ending or if cars are supposed to yield to others, so it becomes more likely that you will be in a car accident.
When you are riding your bike, make sure you are on the right side of the road as much as possible, and stay as far right as you can be without hitting any debris or other vehicles that are parked on the side of the road.
If you ride your bike against the flow of traffic at night, you will be blinded by headlights and it will be nearly impossible for drivers to see any of the reflective or light gear you are wearing.
It is safer for you to ride your bike with the flow of traffic because pedestrians on the sidewalk won’t be able to tell where you are going, so they won’t be able to move out of your way and it will be hard for you to avoid them. One of the last things you want to happen is to hit a pedestrian with your bike.
Is It Illegal to Bike Against Traffic?
It is illegal for you to ride your bike against the flow of traffic because a bike is considered a vehicle, so it, and the rider, needs to follow the rules of the road.
This means that even when there is a bike lane, you need to go with the flow of traffic rather than against it. This changes if the bike lane is wide and there are arrows telling you which direction to go, but those bike lanes are few and far between.
Bike lanes tend to be skinny and made for only one cyclist at a time, but there are times where there are two cyclists in the same lane that are close together. If one cyclist is going against the flow of traffic and the other one is going with the flow of traffic, one of them has to move out of the way and into the road so the other can pass. If that doesn’t happen, they crash into each other.
If you are caught riding the wrong way, you could receive a hefty fine. For example, in Corvallis Oregon, riding a bike against the flow of traffic is a Class B violation, and you could be fined $260. Breaking bike laws in California is a bad idea, as the fines start at almost $200. It is always better to be safe than sorry and to bike going the right way!
Do Bike Laws Vary by State?
The laws regarding bikes do vary slightly by state, but they all have determined that it is illegal for you to ride your bike against the flow of traffic. Most states also require cars to pass bicyclists no closer than 3 feet away, so it is wise to move over as far as possible when a car is passing you on the road so they have plenty of space.
The bike laws for each state do vary, but how they vary typically involves helmets and whether or not people can ride their bikes on sidewalks rather than on the road. The laws of each state do say that all bike riders have to follow the rules of the road, which means it is illegal for you to ride your bike against the flow of traffic no matter where you are in America.
Let us look at some examples of specific state laws regarding cycling:
In Alabama, if there is a bike lane available, cyclists must use it and are not allowed to ride in the street at all. And because bicycles are considered vehicles, it is also illegal in Alabama to ride a bike under the influence. However, Illinois has the opposite laws, where bicyclists can ride in the street, even if there is a bike lane available, and bikes are not considered to be vehicles.
Most states require some sort of helmet use, especially for those under 18 years of age, however, there are thirteen states that do not require cyclists to wear a helmet at all:
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
- South Carolina
If you’d like to know what your State’s laws are regarding bicycles, click here.
Can I Ride a Bike On the Sidewalk?
In some states, like Boston and Washington D.C., it is legal for your to ride your bike on the sidewalk as long as there isn’t a bike lane, and as long as you aren’t in a downtown area. However, the laws regarding whether or not you can ride your bike on the sidewalk vary by state, and in most states, it is illegal for people over a certain age to ride their bikes on the sidewalk.
When you ride your bike on the sidewalk, you have to go at a slow speed so you don’t accidentally hit anyone, and you have to follow pedestrian laws.
Although it feels like it is safer for you to ride your bike on the sidewalk rather than the road, it isn’t because sidewalks can be narrow, and pedestrians don’t always have room to get out of the way of you and your bike, so it is likely that you will hit them even if you are going slowly.
When you ride your bike on a sidewalk, pedestrians feel unsafe and because they see you coming at them quickly, and it is very easy for you to quietly sneak up on them from behind so it is nearly impossible for them to do something to avoid getting hit by you.
When people ride their bikes on the sidewalk, other pedestrians feel like they are in danger, so it is best to avoid riding your bike on the sidewalk when possible. If you are riding your bike on the sidewalk to avoid being hit by a car, then you are potentially making a fatal mistake. When you ride your bike on the sidewalk and go onto a crosswalk, it is hard for drivers to see you because they are looking in their side mirrors for cyclists on the road, not on the sidewalk.
When you ride your bike on the sidewalk, you are making it nearly impossible for drivers to see you, so it is more likely that they will hit you when they are turning and you are in a crosswalk. Ride your bike where you are comfortable, as long as it is legal, but be aware of the risk factors that are involved.
When you are riding your bike on the sidewalk, be cautious and aware of the other people sharing the sidewalk with you. Be clear with where you are going, and loudly give signals when you are going to pass someone. Don’t use hand signals because they may not know what they mean, and if you are behind someone they won’t be able to see the hand signals, so you will still surprise them and potentially run into them. It is common practice for bicyclists to yell “on your right” or “on your left” before passing a pedestrian. This not only alerts them of your presence, but it also tells them which side you will pass them on.
If possible, yield to pedestrians. Don’t worry about going slowly on your bike. Instead, focus on making sure that you, and others that share the sidewalk with you, get to your destination safely.
Overall, it is illegal for you to ride your bike against the flow of traffic. Before you try to avoid this law by riding your bike on the sidewalk, check and see what the laws are regarding bikes on sidewalks in your state. If possible, ride your bike in the bike lane and stay as far to the right as possible so you can avoid cars and cars can avoid you.
When riding your bike on the road, be aware of where cars are in front and behind you. Don’t ride your bike on the road while wearing headphones, as you won’t be able to hear cars when they are behind you, so you won’t know to pull more to the side when possible while the car tries to pass you.
If you don’t ride your bike alongside the flow of traffic, then you can potentially get a ticket, and the likelihood that you will be hit by a car increases exponentially.
My Recommended Gear for Year-Round Cycling on a Budget
It took me years of trial and error to figure out the best and most affordable setup for my daily bike commuting. I would only recommend the gear that is good quality for a good price. Here’s my full year-round gear recommendation guide.
Want to know how much your cycling gear should cost? Check out my guide with different budget options here.