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.
4.  Cyclists on the "roadway" must usually ride single file. If you can see clearly and there is no traffic approaching from the rear, then you may ride two abreast. Any number of cyclists may ride side-by-side if they all stay on the shoulder, because the law doesn't consider the shoulder to be part of the "roadway."
The following two provisions of the law seem to us to be designed for children:
5.  When is a bicycle not a vehicle? When it's a pedestrian! So when is a bicycle a pedestrian? When it's ridden on a sidewalk or through a crosswalk. Colorado law allows a person to ride a bicycle on a sidewalk unless local law specifically states otherwise.
What are you supposed to do if you are riding your bicycle on the sidewalk and you come to a crosswalk? Here's the law as written in the Colorado Revised Statutes, 42-4-106.5:(10):
(c) A person riding or walking a bicycle upon and along a sidewalk or across a roadway upon and along a crosswalk shall have all the rights and duties applicable to a pedestrian under the same circumstances.
(d) A person riding a bicycle upon and along a sidewalk shall dismount before entering any roadway and, when crossing any such roadway, shall observe all the rules and regulations applicable to pedestrians.
Can you legally ride your bicycle through a crosswalk? 42-4-106.5(10)(c) seems to say you can, while the very next paragraph seems to say you can't. You tell us. We wouldn't bother you with this if we didn't know someone who thought she was obeying the law (even stopped and dismounted before entering the crosswalk, but then hopped back on her bike to ride through the crosswalk), was hit by a car turning right on red, and was given a ticket for crossing the road improperly.
6.  The Colorado law gives a detailed description of how a bicycle may make a left turn. Essentially, it involves following the same path through two crosswalks that a pedestrian would take to cross to the diagonally opposite corner. This is a good idea for children who have not mastered the skills needed to negotiate a busy intersection. The cyclist is not required to make a left turn in this manner, however. A competent adult cyclist should negotiate a left turn just as a car does.
These next two are equipment rules.
7.  A bicycle must have brakes in good working order and must be equipped with a red rear reflector (even during daylight hours).
8.  Bicycles ridden at night must also have a headlight and side reflectors. The white reflector that comes on the front of your Huffy bicycle is not sufficient (or legal) for night riding. You may have lights and reflectors other than the required ones. We recommend using the red Vistalite or its equivalent on the rear of your bicycle.
File these under "Miscellaneous".
9.  A bicycle is allowed on any road unless there are signs specifically prohibiting bicycles. You are not required to use a nearby bike path merely because it exists.
10.  You are not required to have any kind of license to operate a bicycle, but it might be a good idea to carry identification. If the police stop you for an offense, they have the authority to detain you until they can satisfactorily identify you. No points may be assessed against your driver's license for an offense you committed while riding your bicycle.
The Colorado bicycle law also offers specific provisions concerning how you ride your bicycle, what you can carry on it, how and when you make hand signals, how many persons can ride, and so on. We haven't covered these regulations, because we think they're mostly common sense, and they're the sort of advice you see in every bicycle safety brochure. The rest of the law sets fines for offenses, restructures provisions concerning mopeds, and describes parking regulations for bicycles.
11.  We have been asked several times on our web site about Colorado’s regulations concerning bicycles on the Interstate highways. We don’t have chapter and verse in front of us here, as these rules were not part of the 1988 bicycle law bill. We generally understand that these are the provisions: Colorado law allows bicycles on the Interstate when there is no suitable alternate route. ‘Suitable alternate route’ was later defined to mean no paved alternate route within one mile. I-25 from Wellington north to Cheyenne permits bicycles as well as a short section nearer Fort Collins.  The Interstate is clearly marked where bicycles are permitted, and they are essentially permitted where you need to use them. Don’t expect to pedal through the Eisenhower tunnel on I-70, though.
PEDAL believes that all cyclists benefit from obeying the law. If all cyclists obey the law, then motorists will find cyclists' actions predictable and will feel more comfortable with cyclists on the road. Thank you for your interest in the cycling rules; may you have many safe miles ahead.