Tour de France has inspired many people to take out their bicycles and hit the road. As such, many beginning cyclists may wonder whether cyclists have the right to operate their bicycles on roads used by motor vehicles.
The quick answer is – they do, as most states define a bicycle as either 1) a vehicle or 2) a slow-moving vehicle, also 3) the bicycle operator is given all the rights and duties of any operator of a motor vehicle.
Where there is a bike-path available, cyclists may be required or prefer to ride there. Same goes for the road shoulder. While most cyclists keep as close to the right side as practical and safe, some drivers seem to suggest that a cyclist must stay as close to the curb or gutter as possible. However, some roads do not have any shoulders or existing shoulders may be too narrow for road cycling, and if there are wide road shoulders they may be littered and poorly maintained. Riding there then is nearly impossible and often dangerous. That is why when the bike-path or road shoulders are in poor condition, cyclists will not use them. Besides, there is a reason why those bicycles are called “road bikes” – just look at the tires. Those bicycles cannot handle riding on rough terrain, and as such must ride on the smooth paved road.
As to the sidewalks – some cyclists like them, some despise them. First of all, sidewalks may be filled with much slower cyclists (people riding cruising bicycles), pedestrians, dogs, and kids with BMX bikes or training wheels. Second, most sidewalks and bikeways tend to be criss-crossed by residential streets, and frequently stop signs are positioned in such a way that motorists overdrive them before stopping, making it dangerous to ride bikeways or sidewalks unless cyclists want to go very slowly and stop every block.
Both motorists and cyclists need to respect road rules. Motorists need to be aware that they have to share roads with slower moving cyclists. Drivers – do not try to squeeze through next to a bike-rider in the same lane at high speed. Even a minor adjustment by the cyclist to miss a pothole or road-kill, or a sudden gust of wind which can cause for bicycle to swerve – can lead to a serious accident. Please use your side mirrors, wait for a safe passing lane, and cross the center-line. Try not to get within five feet of the cyclist. As for the cyclists, ride carefully and pay attention to your surroundings. Do not ride in a reckless manner, as no matter how fast you are, a car will be faster. Also, some roads are just not suitable or safe for bicycle riding.
Note that while cyclists may seem to be going very slowly as compared to the car, if they travel faster than 20 mph they will not be able to slow down quickly and safely like a car. Also, it is much easier for motorists than cyclists to fully stop. Remember that you are expected to share the road, so ride accordingly.