Colorado Bike Law
Note the changes in the 2009 revisions to the Bike Law which are not included below.
"Ignorance of the law is no excuse," but everyone knows the rules of the road. Sadly, what everyone knows is often wrong when it comes to bicycles.
What follows is an attempt by PEDAL to clear up misconceptions about the bicycle law. The Colorado statutes concerning bicycles were revised in House Bill No. 1246, passed in 1988. This article focuses on those revisions, which largely restructured the state statutes pertaining to bicycles.
The State of Colorado publishes the Colorado Bicycle Manual, which we think is incoherent when describing the law. This is curious, since the summary was written by the same people who drafted the law. In any case, you can't tell what's the law and what's their opinion. Still, you should obtain a copy and read it. It does contain nuggets of the law that we didn't bother to summarize here. Its other advice is also good. Remember, however, that it has not yet been revised to reflect the 2009 revisions.
We aren't lawyers, so we can't give you legal advice, but we can read English and we can separate our opinions from what we read. Our paraphrased version of the law appears in the following numbered paragraphs. Phrases in quotes come directly from the 1988 Colorado bicycle law. Our opinions and comments appear in italics. Some discussion appears in paragraphs that are not numbered.
1. When operated on a roadway, a bicycle is a vehicle. A bicycle rider must obey the same rules as a car - he must signal turns, obey all traffic signs and even stop for emergency vehicles. An automobile driver must treat the bicycle just as he would treat another car. Many motorists appear to have a problem with this concept.
2. A bicycle must travel in the same direction as all other traffic. It is illegal in all 50 states to ride a bicycle against traffic. The most likely way for a cyclists to be killed or seriously injured is to ride against traffic. You don't gain the right to travel against traffic because you're in a bicycle lane, either. We don't care what your father told you or how your grandfather rode his bike when he was a kid. It is dangerous, illegal, and stupid to ride a bicycle on the left side of the road against traffic. Is that clear?
3. (a) A bicyclist is supposed to ride on the right:
i. If there is a paved shoulder "suitable" for bicycle riding, then a cyclist must use it.
ii. Otherwise, the cyclist must ride in the "right-hand lane." He must ride as far to the right as "practicable" in that lane if he is being overtaken by another vehicle.
(b) A cyclist is not required to ride on the shoulder, in the right-hand lane, or to the right side of a lane if any of the following are true:
i. If the cyclists is "overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle."
ii. If the cyclist is preparing to make a left turn.
iii. If it is "reasonably necessary to avoid hazardous conditions, including but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, pedestrians, animals, or surface hazards."
The Federal model traffic code includes two more exceptions to the ride-to-the-right rules (3(a), above). Bicycles are not required to ride to the right if they are traveling the same speed as other traffic or if the lane is not wide enough to include the bicycle, another vehicle, and a safe distance between them. These exclusions are not provided in the Colorado law. Perhaps you should point out this oversight to your state legislators.
Here are some questions that might come to mind:
What is the "right-hand lane?" Does this mean a bicycle must ride in the "right-turn-only" lane at intersections? We think not. "Right-turn-only" means just what it says. If you aren't turning, you shouldn't be in it. Sometimes, though, where the right-turn lane replaces the paved shoulder on highways, the safest action may be to ride in the middle or to the left side of that lane until the shoulder returns.
What about intersections? Staying to the far right puts a cyclist in the path of traffic that may be turning right.
The City of Boulder tells cyclists to ride in the center of the lane when passing through intersections. We like this idea. It makes you more visible to traffic and discourages cars from turning in front of you.
Boulder has another wise law: Boulder regulations specify that if a line of cars is stopped at an intersection, a cyclist may pass them on the right up to the rear wheel of the first vehicle in line. We strongly recommend you use this tactic or just move into the lane and take your place in the waiting line of traffic. That first car in line isn't expecting anybody to pull to its right; it isn't going to see you, and it is likely to turn right on top of you. Ask former Loveland city councilman Gene Packer about his experience with the 18-wheeler at the intersection of Taft and Eisenhower.
How about one-way streets? Can I ride to the extreme left side of a one-way street? Some states have laws specifically allowing this practice. Colorado does not. US Highway 287, which runs through Loveland is split into a one-way street north (Lincoln Ave.) and a one-way street south (Cleveland Ave.), so we occasionally find ourselves riding on a 3-lane wide one-way street. We think its safer to travel 3 or 4 blocks on the left side than it is to cross 3 lanes of traffic twice. In downtown Loveland the traffic is not fast and seems to understand.