Michigan has dubious distinction in the cycling world. On one hand, it hosts the largest mountain bike race and dirt road races in the entire country of the United States. Michigan is also a state with plenty of open country roads, lots of great vistas, and a culture of cycling in many of the larger cities. On the other hand, it ranks last in the country for funding for road maintenance and because Michigan is known for its history in cars, people tend to ignore the potential for bikes. The only way to shed that title (so to speak) is to encourage more people to go out cycling, so what should you know about the bike laws in Michigan?
Where Can you Ride?
In Michigan, a bike is defined as any device “propelled by human power which a person may ride, having either 2 or 3 wheels in a tandem or tricycle arrangement, all of which are over 14 inches in diameter”. Michigan is also a little coy when it comes to defining bikes as a vehicle or not: “a vehicle as every device in, upon, or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, except devices exclusively moved by human power…” This would seem to imply that bikes are not considered vehicles under Michigan law, though they often must follow the same rules and regulations.
With all of this in mind, we can look at where bikes can be ridden. First, much like most other states in America, Michigan stipulates that cyclists have to ride as close to the right as possible, except under certain circumstances:
- When passing another bike or vehicle going in the same direction
- When getting ready to turn left
- If there are hazards on the road like potholes, an uneven road surface, openings, parked vehicles, animals, or other obstacles, as well as if the road is too narrow to allow for safe passing
- If the cyclist is going to go straight and the lane is meant for traffic turning right
- When riding on a one-way street that has two or more lanes
These are all typical rules for riding on the road.
Bicycles may also be ridden on sidewalks, but cyclists must yield to pedestrians, give a signal when passing, and traffic control devices or local law may prohibit riding on sidewalks, so check your local law before you ride! Michigan also prohibits riding more than two bicycles side by side and riding double, unless the bike is equipped with more than one properly set up seat.
Michigan really has only the basics covered in terms of riding safely. In Michigan, it is not illegal to ride without wearing a helmet, nor is it illegal to ride while using a cellphone. We wouldn’t recommend it, but no one is getting into trouble for doing it, or not doing it, as the case may be.
When riding at night, (defined as a half an hour after sunset or half an hour before sunrise and all the time between that), a rider must use lights. At minimum, the bike must have a white light visible from five hundred feet at the front and a red reflector visible from all distances from one hundred to six hundred feet. You can also use a lamp that emits a red light on the rear (visible from five hundred feet). There’s nothing about reflectors on the side.
Brakes are pretty basic: a bike has to have brakes that let the rider skid on dry, level, and clean pavement when used.
Finally, bikes cannot be ridden while attached to a vehicle on the road, cyclists can’t carry a package that prevents him/her from keeping both hands on the handlebars, and while cyclists can ride on may streets, it is illegal to ride on limited access highways.
Parking a Bike
Michigan law dedicates a bit of space to proper parking of the bicycle. Bikes can be parked on a sidewalk (unless prohibited by traffic control devices), but not in a way that would block pedestrians. Bikes can also be parked on the highway or a street in any place where cars can be parked. They can also be parked at an angle, at the edge of the highways, and beside another bike. Again though, a bike cannot be parked in such a way that it blocks traffic (or it might get run over, if nothing else!) And like many other things, local law can override these regulations.
Upcoming Changes to Bike Laws in Michigan
You may have noticed some… holes… when it comes to bike laws in Michigan, namely in things like safe distance and how drivers treat cyclists. In 2017, almost 2000 cyclists were injured on the road, and 38 people were killed when riding with drivers. There is a lot of concern that drivers simply do not know how to drive safely around cyclists and as a result, there is a growing push for more legislation around how drivers and cyclists interact.
In 2018, lawmakers proposed to introduce laws such as forcing drivers to wait until they have five feet of clearance before passing a cyclist (more than 30 states have a similar law, but in their case, they require three feet of clearance before passing). There is also a greater push to educate drivers on the importance of watching for cyclists in places like left turns areas, parking spaces, bike lanes, and intersections. Drivers are also being reminded that cyclists have the same responsibilities and rights as drivers, which includes safely sharing the road.
Electric Bikes in Michigan
In 2017, Michigan changed some of the laws around electric bikes. Michigan is quite clear on its treatment of electric bikes. There are three classes of electric bikes, based on whether or not they have the motor only assisting the pedaling (Class 1 and III yes; Class II, no), Maximum speed (20mp/h for Class I and II; 28mp/h for Class III), minimum operator age (Class III), helmet requirements (Class III), whether they are allowed on trails or not (Class I, yes, but can be regulated; Class II and III, no); and whether they are allowed on non-motorized trails (no, but can be authorized for all three). Electric bikes also do not need to have insurance anymore and they do not need to be licensed.
Michigan may not be a cyclist haven when it comes to the laws (yet), but with so much open road, great hills, and amazing cycling clubs to join, it’s hard not to envision a time when cycling will be widely accepted. Michigan may be the automobile state in the minds of many, but bikes are catching up and that means ensuring that you understand the bike laws in Michigan so that you can ride safely and enjoy yourself!