Do You Know the Rules of Road?

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Bike Shops Are Selling Out of Bicycles Quickly

According to an article on, bicycle shops in Brooklyn are selling twice as many bikes as usual. A chain of shops in Phoenix is selling three times the number of bikes that it typically does. A retailer in Washington, D.C., sold all its entry-level bikes by the end of April and has fielded more preorders than ever in its 50-year history. Local bike shop, Dirty Harry’s bicycles, announced on its Facebook page that “the past few weeks have proven to be crazy in the bicycle industry. We’ve seen record sales in entry level bicycles which means a lot of people are getting into riding!”

As the coronavirus pandemic limits and discourages the use of buses and subways, many are seeking out one of the most basic forms of transportation and exercise: the bicycle. But as people flock to the trails and streets, do they know the rules of the road that apply to cyclists?

The following is a primer that will help to keep everyone a little safer.

Pa Bike Laws – Know the Rules of the Road

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Image courtesy of Pgh Bike Lawyer

I. Bicycles are “Vehicles.”

Under the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code, Title 75, vehicles propelled solely by human-powered pedals are “pedacycles.” Pedacycles are “vehicles” for purposes of the Motor Vehicle Code, but they are not “motor vehicles.” One important distinction between a “vehicle” and “motor vehicle” is that cyclists are not required to purchase or maintain insurance. While – currently – there is no requirement for cyclists to purchase collision, liability, medical, or wage loss coverage, having an insurance policy in place while riding is a very good idea. If you have any questions about what coverage is available, give me a call.

What about E-bikes? In 2014, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a law, known as Act 154, permitting “pedacycles with electric assist” to be operated upon Pennsylvania roadways. “E-bikes” are defined under the motor vehicle code as pedacycles so long as they:

  1. do not weigh more than 100 pounds;
  2. have two or three wheels more than 11 inches in diameter;.
  3. have a motor rated at no more than 750 watts;
  4. are equipped with operable pedals; and
  5. cannot go over 20 mph on a level surface when powered by the motor, only.
E-Bike Bike Pedelec - Free vector graphic on Pixabay

As long as your E-bike qualifies as a pedacycle, it is not a motorcycle and there is no requirement for insurance.

II. Stay to the Right, Most of the Time.

When riding a bicycle on the roadways, it is lawful – and always best, unless otherwise impractical or unsafe – to ride on the right-hand side of the road or upon the shoulder. If you’re moving at speeds slower than prevailing traffic, this is required. Motorists expect cyclists to keep to the right (unless the cyclist is passing another vehicle or attempting to make a left turn) and, therefore, this is the safest location to ride.

When approaching an intersection, I recommend taking the middle of the lane in order to avoid being hit by the “right hook.” The right hook is what happens when a car passes on your left and immediately swings right in front of you to make a right-hand turn onto a side street. You can avoid the right hook by taking the middle of the lane at an intersection. This forces cars behind to wait until you pass the intersection. For more information on avoiding the right hook,” see here.       

Cyclists do not always have to travel in the right-hand lane or along the right-hand curb or edge of the road. Rather, you may use more of the roadway if unsafe conditions exist (for example, avoiding the “right hook”) or if the road is no wider than one lane of traffic in each direction. Another example of when it is acceptable to use more of the roadway is when trying to avoid “getting doored” by staying out of the “door zone.”

Avoid getting doored by riding 4-5 feet from parked cars.

For cyclists riding on the right-hand side of the road, caution must be exercised when riding near parked vehicles so that the rider may avoid suddenly and unexpectedly encountering an open car door – i.e., getting doored. The Motor Vehicle Code prohibits motorists from opening car doors unless it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic. Further, the Code prohibits motorists from leaving car doors on the side of a vehicle available to moving traffic from being left open for any period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers. Courts have even held that although motorists and passengers in motor vehicles have the right to step out of their vehicles and onto the roadway, they have a duty to look for approaching traffic, including bicycles, and must continue to look when exiting a vehicle and exercise reasonable care under the circumstances. 

Despite the law, getting doored is one of the most common types of bike crashes. For more information on this type of crash, click here. The best way to avoid getting doored is to stay out of the “door zone” by always riding at least 4-5 feet from parked vehicles.

When Cyclists Get Doored
Artwork by Bikeyface

III. Riding on the Left-Hand Side of the Road.

Although bicycles should typically be ridden on the right-hand side of the road, or in right lane, there are times when bicycles may lawfully be operated on the left-hand side of the road. If you are riding on a one-way street that has two or more marked traffic lanes (in the same direction of travel) you may ride as near the left-hand curb or edge of the roadway as practicable, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction. Also, if you are overtaking another vehicle (e.g., a car or another bicycle), you must pass to the left of the other vehicle at a safe distance and stay to the left of the other vehicle until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle.

Note: Pennsylvania law requires an operator of a motor vehicle who is overtaking a cyclist to pass to the left of the cyclist at a distance not less than four feet at a careful and prudent reduced speed.

IV. Riding Side-By-Side on the Roads.

When riding on highways, unless you are in Philadelphia, cyclists are permitted to ride two abreast, i.e., side-by-side. Not only is it legal, but I recommend riding two abreast in any group. You are more visible and, when being passed by a car, it takes less time for the motorist to pass when riders are side-by-side versus single file.

Image may contain: bicycle and outdoor
Image courtesy of Ride In Ride Out

Note: In Philadelphia, cyclists must ride single file upon all roadways. The Philadelphia Code, Title 12, § 12-804.

The restriction for single-file riding in Philadelphia – and two-abreast for the rest of the Commonwealth – does not apply for cyclists riding on paths or parts of the road set aside for the exclusive use of pedacylces, e.g., a rail trail, bike path, or bike lane.  

V. Riding on Sidewalks. 

Unless permitted by “official traffic-control devices,” bicycles typically may not be ridden upon sidewalks in business districts. If there is a usable pedacycle-only lane adjacent to a sidewalk, bicycles must be ridden in the bike lane and not upon the sidewalk. If you are properly riding on a sidewalk, or any other path that is also used by pedestrians, you must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians and give an audible signal before overtaking or passing any pedestrian.

Note: In Philadelphia, if you are 12 years of age or older, you are not allowed to ride on any sidewalk in any district.

VI. Riding Without a Helmet.

Generally, it is only unlawful for a person under 12 years of age to ride a bicycle without a helmet. Violation of this law may result in a fine to the parents or guardians of the youth of no more than $25.00.

Although it is unlawful for a child under 12 to ride without a helmet, the fact that a cyclist was not wearing a helmet may not be used as evidence against the cyclist in any civil lawsuit for any reason.

Even though its not admissible, you should ALWAYS wear a helmet while riding.

VII. Lamps, Reflectors, and Other Equipment.

Image courtesy of PghBikeLawyer

If you are riding between sunset and sunrise, you must have a headlamp that emits a beam of white light intended to illuminate your path and be visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the front. You must also have a red reflector facing to the rear which is visible at least 500 feet, and an amber reflector on each side of the bicycle.

Cyclists can supplement the required front and rear lamps/reflectors, but the front lamp must emit a white beam or light, and the rear lamp must emit a red beam or light. Any supplemental lamps or reflectors worn by the rider should be capable of being seen from at least 500 feet to the front and 500 feet to the rear of the bicycle.   

VIII. You Have a Duty To Ride Safely.

With only a few minor exceptions, every person operating a bicycle upon a highway must obey the applicable rules of the road as contained in the Motor Vehicle Code.  That means that a bicycle rider has the same duty as any other vehicle operator to keep the vehicle under such control that he can stop or turn it to avoid collisions. A cyclist cannot “willy-nilly” run his bike into a standing vehicle and then recover damages for his resulting injury.

NoteIn Philadelphia, the use of headphones while operating a bicycle is prohibited.


With more and more cyclists taking to the roads, its important to know the rules. An understanding of the motor vehicle code will help keep cyclists safer and increase everyone’s enjoyment. If you have any questions about the rules, please give me a call.

For some more cycling tips, check out this vintage cycling clip from 1936!

Thanks for reading. Be safe out there.

Matthew F. Dolfi, Esquire
Dolfi Law PC
1100 Washington Road, Suite 206
Carnegie, Pennsylvania 15106

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Important notice:
The information provided in this blog article is not legal advice.  The information and opinions provided herein are solely for the general interest of the visitors to this website.  The information contained herein is only applicable to general principles of law in Pennsylvania and may not reflect current legal developments or statutory changes in various other jurisdictions.  Therefore, the information and opinions contained in this blog should not be relied upon or interpreted as legal advice.  No aspect of this blog article should be interpreted as establishing an attorney-client relationship between the reader and its author.  Anyone reviewing this article should not act upon any information contained herein without first seeking the advice of legal counsel.  

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