Q&A for Bike Commuters

rules of the road, bikers

It’s good to know your rights as a cyclist. Mostly to win arguments in casual encounters with friends or not-so-friendly neighbors on the road. And that might be the most rewarding kind of knowledge exercise anyway.

In all seriousness, knowing how bike laws are structured for your safety helps you feel confident in sharing the road. Following the rules keeps everyone safer and sets the right example for potential new bikers on the road.

Do I have to ride in the road?

A thousand times, yes. Bicycle riders, except small children, are prohibited from riding on sidewalks in Columbus. It might seem like a safer place to bike, but with the mix of pedestrians, pets and other commuters by wheels, traffic is nowhere near as predictable on the sidewalk as it is on the road.

Am I fast enough for riding in the road? Won’t I be impeding traffic?

You ride at your own speed. The law for reasonable speed is applied for an appropriate pace for your vehicle. Just like other vehicles (horse drawn, for example) have different ‘reasonable’ speeds, you’re only expected to go as fast as a biker should, not with the flow of car traffic. When you’re on a bike in the road, you are traffic, and thus not impeding traffic for going slower than a motor vehicle’s speed.

Where in the road should I be positioned?

The law states that bikers shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable. Practicable, not possible.

– i.e. you do NOT have to hug the line.

  • Maybe there’s debris, or a pothole, or you just want to be more visible. Giving yourself a few feet of room is A-okay.
  • The new 3 foot law requires drivers to allow space between you when passing. Commercial drivers need to allow 5 feet of passing space.

What equipment do I need to stay legal?

The law states that every bicycle when in use shall be equipped with the following:

(1)  A front white light

(2)  A red reflector on the rear

(3)  A red rear light in addition to the red reflector

  • If the red lamp performs as a reflector in that it is visible as specified in division (A)(2) of this section, the red lamp may serve as the reflector and a separate reflector is not required.
  • Additional lamps and reflectors may be used in addition to those required, except that red lamps and red reflectors shall not be used on the front of the bicycle and white lamps and white reflectors shall not be used on the rear of the bicycle.

(4)  Every bicycle shall be equipped with an adequate brake when used on a street or highway.

Other laws you should know:

Riding side-by-side is legal (law says no more than two abreast), of course it’s a good idea to be courteous and ride single file when in traffic.

You should signal for turns and stops, even sudden slowing just as a car would, if you can. It is not always required. For example, when you need both hands for braking or otherwise controlling the bike, signaling is not mandatory.

And for the lady bikers out there, a silly/ingenious cycle hack video, Penny in Yo Pants:

Penny In Yo Pants from Johanna Holtan on Vimeo.


All of this I learned at the annual Women’s Bike Summit from a local bike attorney. He blogs on current cases and translates legalese with his own notes on how the laws are applied in practice, at ohiobikelawyer.com.