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In general, cyclists are not allowed to bike on freeways in California. According to Caltrans, bicyclists can only legally ride on the shoulder of about 1,000 miles of California’s freeways. All of these freeways are far away from urban centers and are only legal because there’s no other way for bicyclists to efficiently get around town.
The major freeways cyclists can travel on are mostly located in Southern California’s desert region. These include I-8, I-10, I-15, and I-40. You can find helpful maps highlighting exactly where cycling is legal on this webpage put together by the California Association of Bicycling Organizations (CABO).
While on these freeways, bicyclists might see a sign that says “Bicycles Must Exit.” Once they see this sign, bicyclists need to ride off the nearest exit ramp. If bicyclists keep going, they will see a sign that clearly states “Bicycles Prohibited” and could face legal repercussions if caught.
The law governing bicycles on freeways can be found in California Vehicle Code § 21960. This law gives both Caltrans and local governments throughout California the right to restrict bicyclists from riding on freeways.
So, while most rural & desert freeways are legal per California state law, they could be illegal under local laws. This is why it’s important for bicyclists to check the laws of regional governments before riding through different areas.
Since most of the freeways that are legal to cyclists are in the desert, it’s highly advised you pack plenty of water, a few snacks, and safety gear before getting on the road. Please carry a cell phone and inform your family and friends about your whereabouts before pedaling through the brutal Southern California deserts.
By the way, people in Southern California traveling on freeways into neighboring Arizona should know that the Grand Canyon State has more relaxed laws for bicyclists on freeways. Arizona’s DOT only restricts access for bicyclists on freeways in heavily urbanized areas such as Phoenix and Tucson. To read more about Arizona’s laws, please check out this link to AZDOT’s website.