Tour de France wanna be? Using the whole lane while descending a curvy Colorado canyon road

If you have ever watched the Tour de France, which is in its last two stages this week, you might be inspired to ride as fast as you can as you as you descend our local mountain and canyon roads, like the Rist Canyon Road bike route. As an avid cyclist, I agree that there is a certain joie de vivre to doing this! But do keep in mind that there are some rules of the road for Colorado cyclists that should be observed so that you are not only safe, but also legal in your virtual quest for the yellow jersey.

Many cyclists assume that they can take up the entire lane while descending because it is safer for them as they negotiate the curves at high speeds. While this is typically true, there are some exceptions to Colorado’s bicycling laws (specifically Colo. Rev. Stat. [C.R.S.] § 42-4-1412. Operation of bicycles and other human-powered vehicles) of which cyclists should be aware.

Laws That Affect Cyclists

First of all, it is important to remind cyclists (and other vehicle operators) that cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as the drivers of other vehicles ((C.R.S. 42-4-1412(1)). This includes obeying traffic signs and speed limits—yes, speed limits. The speed limit on most of Rist Canyon Road is 25 mph, while the descent can have a cyclist reaching speeds in the neighborhood of 50 mph (or so I’ve been told!).

CYCLISTS must ride reasonably close to the right curb. If riding below the posted speed limit, a cyclist is required to ride as close as practicable to the right hand curb or edge of the road. (C.R.S. 42-4-1412(5)). However, as noted onPEDAL, Loveland’s Cycling Club’s webpage, “The federal model traffic code includes two more exceptions to the ride-to-the-right rules. 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 [emphasis added] provided in the Colorado law.”

5 Exceptions to the Right Shoulder Rule

Bicycles can also ride on the paved right shoulder when it is available. However, this statute recognizes five (5) exceptions or situations where a cyclist need not ride as close to the right hand curb or edge of the road as practicable:

  1. When passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction
  2. When preparing to turn left
  3. When conditions make the right hand edge of the roadway unsafe or unreasonably unsafe for bicycle users (see details in the following section)
  4. When operating a bicycle in a lane in which traffic is turning right, but the cyclist intends to proceed straight through the intersection; and
  5. When riding on a one-way highway or street that has two (2) or more lanes. In this situation, the cyclist may also ride as close to the left curb or edge of the roadway as practicable.

And while you may want to celebrate your victory as you cross the ribbon with your hands in the air into the Avenue des Champs-Élysées of your imagination, keep in mind that, in Colorado, cyclists are required to have at least one hand on the handlebars at all times.

More About Exception #3

As I mentioned above, one of the exceptions to the right shoulder rule accounts for conditions that make the right hand edge of the roadway unsafe or unreasonably unsafe for bicycle users. Such conditions include but aren't limited to:

  • Surface hazards (e.g., ruts in the pavement or potholes);
  • An uneven roadway surface
  • Drain openings
  • Debris
  • Parked or moving vehicles or bicycles
  • Pedestrians
  • Other obstacles; or
  • The lane is too narrow to permit a vehicle to safely overtake and pass a bicycle.

The final condition listed may be the best explanation as to why cyclists have the right to use the whole lane while descending a curvy road or a narrow passage because, according to C.R.S. 42-4-1003, when another motor vehicle passes a bicycle, the vehicle must give the cyclist three (3) feet of separation between the right side of the vehicle, and this includes mirrors and trailers.

Also, when a motor vehicle passes a bicycle, it must not go back to the right until it is safely clear of the bicycle.

Though our Colorado state statutes were amended in order to allow the driver of a motor vehicle passing a bicyclist to briefly cross a double yellow line when doing so, it must be done safely and without interfering with, impeding, or endangering other traffic lawfully using the roadway—permitted by C.R.S. § 42-4-1005(4)(d). Many times, it is unsafe for motor vehicles to do this so it is arguably safer for the cyclist to continue their path until the other motor vehicle(s) can pass.

NEED A PERSONAL INJURY ATTORNEY IN COLORADO WHO UNDERSTANDS CYCLING?

Whether you have been injured in a cycling accident or any other type of accident, contact Mac Hester Law for a free consultation today. Mac is not only an experienced cyclist, but he is also an attorney who knows Colorado’s bicycling laws–plus, he has over 30 years of experience in representing all types of accident victims, including cyclists. Mac and his team are based in Fort Collins and Mac is a personal injury attorney who knows the bicycling laws, and who has successfully litigated bicycle accident claims in the past.


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