Colorado bike laws have been doing some pushing back and forth as cyclists have been trying to shed old laws and many riders have been trying to better understand what their duties and obligations are under the law. While this has led to some good work for lawyers who specialize in bike law, it can be confusing for the average rider! What sort of laws should you keep in mind while you ride to ensure that you don’t get into trouble?
Some Basics About Operating a Bike (and any other human-powered vehicles)
There are some basic laws to understand in order to operate a bike legally in Colorado. Most of them are the same as laws in other states:
- All bike riders have the same rights and duties as the drivers of other vehicles and riders are subject to local laws and ordinances while riding in town and in the state. This also covers electric bikes! (So yes, e-bikes are legislated by Colorado, at least to some extent).
- You aren’t allowed to carry more people on your bike than you have the seats to carry them. So, one seat is one rider. You’re also not allowed to be towed by cars or other vehicles. This is pretty much the same as other laws in other states.
- You cannot ride two abreast unless you’re on a bike path or on a bike exclusive part of the road. This is one area where Colorado differs from many other states.
- When signalling a turn, you must signal your intention to turn starting in the last one hundred feet traveled by your bike (or e-bike) before making the turn. However, you don’t have to do this if doing it would mean having both hands off the handlebars.
- Colorado law stipulates that you must say something to a pedestrian when you pass them on a sidewalk, road or bike path, but the law doesn’t care what it is. You just have to say something audible. Saying things like ‘behind you’, ‘excuse me’, or ‘coming up behind you’ would be polite and quick.
Many of these laws are uniform throughout the United States, though you should always check on whether you’re allowed to ride beside your buddy or whether you’ll must ride single file, as that is prone to changing.
Bikes and Cars
For the most part, bikes enjoy the same duties and obligations as vehicles with respect to things like yielding to pedestrians, proper signalling, and dismounting in order to use crosswalks. But there are a few things Colorado does differently:
- Drivers must leave at least three feet between themselves and cyclists when turning or passing.
- Hurling an object or a substance at or against a cyclist is illegal and the one who did it has committed a class 2 misdemeanor.
- If a car drives too close to a cyclist, the driver is guilty of careless driving, which is a class 2 misdemeanor. And if the careless driving results in serious injury or death, it is a class 1 misdemeanor traffic offense.
It’s rather nice that Colorado goes a little above and beyond to protect cyclists!
Using the Left Lane
Different states have different ideas when it comes to whether or not cyclists can use the left lane while riding. In Colorado, cyclists may use the left lane, but only under certain circumstances: when preparing for a left turn at an intersection, private road, or driveway; when passing a slower vehicle; or when using it as a way to avoid hazards or road conditions like construction. You can also use the left lane in a right-turn lane, even if you don’t want to turn right.
Otherwise, you are required to use the right-hand lane, and yes, that includes electric bikes.
Colorado has some different laws when it comes to safety compared to other states. A big difference is the lights that a bike is required to have and use. First, lights must be used at night, but they also must be used during bad weather. This is based on visibility: if you can’t see people and vehicles on the highway at a distance of one thousand feet, the weather is bad enough to require lights.
As for the lights themselves? The lamp at the front must emit a white light that is visible from at least five hundred feet. The rear light is a red reflector which is visible for six hundred feet when under the lower beams of head lamps on a car or truck (or etc.). There’s no law regarding size; they just must be large enough to be visible.
Weird things you’re not allowed to have? You’re actually not allowed to have a siren, or a whistle equipped on your bike! There’s nothing about a bike horn though, so you’re safe there.
In Colorado, it is legal to ride on the sidewalk (unless forbidden by municipal law), but you must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians, give some sort of audible signal when passing, and just generally be polite to the people walking. In fact, a person riding or walking a bike (or e-bike) on a sidewalk, path, or across the road and on a crosswalk enjoys the same rights and duties as a pedestrian! (http://colobikelaw.com/coloradolaw.html, 42-4-802, or 10c on the website).
As noted with the turn signalling, riders must keep one hand on the handlebars at all times. Both pedal bikes and e-bikes are subject to this. The brakes must let you stop within twenty-five feet from a speed of ten miles per hour on a dry, level, clean pavement. That’s a lot more precise than other states!
So, you need to have very precise brakes, lights, and turning laws, but there is something missing: helmets. In Colorado, there is no law governing the use of helmets, so you could ride without one. We would strongly recommend wearing one at all times while riding though! Furthermore, municipal law actually trumps state law, so if you’re riding in a city where it’s illegal to ride without a helmet on, put on your helmet.
Where the laws are the same as other states? Colorado observes the Idaho Stop law which means that cyclists must come to a complete stop at a stop sign and observe laws around traffic lights and signals, just like cars. Colorado also uses a similar classification of electric bikes as other states: Class 1, 2 and 3, with the division at when the motor kicks in (Class 1, the motor only provides assistance while pedalling and ceases once the bike reaches 20 mph and class 2, the motor provides assistance regardless of pedalling, but stops at 20 mph) and speed (Class 3: the motor is capable of propelling the bike up to 28mph and the motor only provides assistance while the rider is pedalling). The laws around e-bikes in Colorado are quite new and most of them are the same as regular pedal bikes, though with the inclusion that passengers under the age of sixteen must wear a helmet. (http://denverbicyclelaw.com/colorado-bike-laws/)
Colorado is a beautiful state to cycle in, but it’s important mind both the state and municipal laws when riding to ensure you don’t get into trouble! Enjoy the ride this spring and stay safe and legal.