"legal" definition of bicycle in CA

I think this has been discussed in the past, but I just wanted to bring up once again and ask the forum members’ opinion on the following actual vehicle code which specifically defines a bicycle. This is mostly out of curiousity.

If I read it correctly, an standard unicycle does not fit the legal description of a bicycle. It seems pretty black and white with no gray area, but just have a look at the code below, and tell me if you think a judge could rule that a unicycle, (in CA) would be subject to the same laws as a bike. I assume he would have to follow the letter of the law as it is stated. (The first paragraph below is someone’s opinion)

<< California

In California a bicycle can have one wheel, but it must also have gears, a
belt, or a chain, which means that a standard unicycle is not a bicycle.

From the “Words and Phrases Defined” division of the California Vehicle Code: (the following was read to me by a police officer over the phone, word for word as it appears below)

  1. A bicycle is a device upon which any person may ride,
    propelled exclusively by human power through a belt, chain, or gears,
    and having one or more wheels.
    Persons riding bicycles are subject
    to the provisions of this code specified in Sections 21200 and 21200.5.

This definition does include giraffe unicycles, however, which is
unfortunate because elsewhere the law requires that bicycles be able to
leave skid marks when braking. Whether multi-wheel unicycles (in which only
one wheel touches the ground, but the wheels turn against each other to
propel the bottom wheel) are bicycles is an open issue.

A rider on a standard unicycle appears to be a pedestrian. Here is the definition of a pedestrian in California, again from the California Vehicle Code:

  1. (a) A “pedestrian” is any person who is afoot or who is using
    a means of conveyance propelled by human power other than a bicycle.

(b) “Pedestrian” includes any person who is operating a
self-propelled wheelchair, invalid tricycle, or motorized quadricycle
and, by reason of physical disability, is otherwise unable to move
about as a pedestrian, as specified in subdivision (a).>>

Why do you want to know? Are you trying to break the law? :stuck_out_tongue:

It is my understanding that a (non-chain driven) unicycle is not a bicycle under California law, and we unicyclists fall into the pedestrian category. Unicycling is so pedestrian?

This whole definition thing is always so “iffy.” There’s the letter of the law and the spirit of the law and some judges seem to switch back and forth between the two and their whim. According to 467(a) it seems that someone on a skateboard would be a pedestrian but we all know that there are specific exclusions for skateboards. Fortunately, unicycles will likely never be mainstream enough for anybody to bother with writing specific bits of law regarding them, which in turn will always give us at least a little wiggle room within the law.

Don’t we encourage illiteracey when we encourage “legal definitions” that are illogical?

By definition, a bicycle must have exactly two wheels. If they want to make laws that include all human powered cycles, they should use a term other than “bicycle”

…preaching to the choir…I know.

Either that or he’s got a ticket that he’s trying to fight.

A LEO isn’t going to listen to legalese… that’s the judge’s job.

I guess, according to this definition, geared uni’s would also be bicycles. Which would bring up a mess… A guy on a coker is not on a bike, but the person next to him on a geared 29er is…

Which is why the letter of the law would probably fall apart in court… Or, if it didn’t… any case that got any publicity at all would change the law.

I’ve been tempted to do things that are not strictly prohibited… Ride on a goverment campus in town? Hrmmm… no bikes, no roller blades, no skateboards… nothing about unicycles… I’m fine! But I don’t, cuz I know some government official will get his underwear in a bind, and I will have caused problems for every unicyclist in the area…

Right now we can go either way… I could ride a 20" uni down a sidewalk and no one would say anything… I could ride a 36" uni down the side of the road and no one will say anything. Forcing the unicycle to be defined will limit the freedom of one of those groups…

My 2 cents anyway…


That doesn’t work everywhere. I had a cop tell me to not ride my 20" freestyle on one of the main streets in downtown Monterey, CA. I wasn’t doing any tricks. I was just passing through to find somewhere I could.

I don’t know about California law, but I agree with Keldridge - I usually ride a 26x3" or a coker, and behave (and like to be treated) as if I’m riding a bike, albeit relatively slowly. I wouldn’t want unicyclists to be strictly classed as pedestrians, or I couldn’t ride half my journey to work or any other trip involving roads. But on the other hand if I’m just riding my 20" (which I very rarely do, but that’s not the point), it’s way too slow to feel safe on the road, and is much more suited to riding on the pavement (sidewalk).

I think pushing the point that a unicycle is not a bike (to get out of a fine for riding a big wheel in a pedestrian area or inside a shop for example, to stay on topic) is risking getting us banned from riding on the road.


Try taking a Giraffe on an airplane…
There it is a bicycle and subject to the extra fee.

Now I take it apart and hide the peices…now it is “not-a-bike”

A unicycle does not qualify as a pedestrian by your definition in 467. In “a” it says “other than a bicycle” but in “b” there is a clarification it says “and, by reason of physical disability, is otherwise unable to move about as a pedestrian”; I don’t know how you could argue the physical disability required to use a unicycle rather than travel on foot. I don’t think a unicycle is a bicycle or pedestrian by those definitions. The is probably another part of the code that covers rollerblades, heelys, skateboards etc.

Whenever I ride past the Police HQ here, on the road or pavement…I just get cheers. It’s only when I’m in the really busy dense parts of town the “community support” guys get shirty.

Actually, pedestrian would cover unicycles (non-geared) in these sections because section (b) defines that “pedestrian” includes all those that it mentions. Under law, this just means that a pedestrian can be considered any of these things that we didn’t mention in section (a). The assumption is that “includes” means “includes but is not limited to” rather than “only includes”.

If it comes down to it, I think most reasonable interpretations of the law would include a standard unicycle as being driven by gears; there is no plausible reason why the term would apply to a giraffe but not to a standard unicycle, and if they didn’t intend it to apply to a standard unicycle, why would they have specified “one or more wheels”?

There might be enough wiggle room to get yourself out of a ticket, but I think the intention of the law is fairly clear.

that part mentions a motorized vehicle and that a person in a motorized quadcycle (?) is only a pedestrian if disabled and unable to move about without the motorized item.

does that mean u can just ride freely into a store or library if they have no rule against unicycling there?

Does that mean you can just take a dump in the produce aisle if they have no rule against doing that there?

good point…

The way “motorized quadricycle” is used would indicate an electric wheelchair.

I agree with several people above. My opinion is we should keep 36ers off of sidewalks and even keep 20-inchers off of busy sidewalks. I don’t think we, members of the unicycling community, would be served by having unicycle defined in laws. We have too many variations on a unicycle to fit one definition. Fitting into the grey area is to our benefit so long as we don’t get pushy and start getting in the way of other people. That way, people will continue to smile, shake their heads and inquire about the absense of our other wheel as we ride along minding our own business.

there were many post on an analog subject in France
and here are my conclusions:
article R431/9 of french law states that, unless explicitly forbidden by local regulations, it is legal for a cycle to ride
on the pavement as long as :

  • it does not go faster than 6km/h (brisk pedestrian pace)
  • it does not behave dangerously or so as to scare other predestrians

(BTW it appears that some cops here do not know about that “rule”)

for sure if I ride with my 20" unicycle I am not going to make a nuisance of myself on the road and I’ll try to behave as a “special” pedestrian on the pavement.

again forget the fine prints of the law and go for common sense (there may be judges that lack that but I’m an optimist -for sure do not cite french law with them : they hate that :stuck_out_tongue: -).

edit: ah yes I forgot: I have medical proof that my unicycle is a special “vehicle for people with a disability”

Unicycle Definitions.

After FLUCK I unicycled around Copenhagen quite a bit. I was stopped by the police there three times. One time they told me not to ride on the sidewalk because a unicycle is a bike. One time they told me not to ride on the bike path because the unicycle is not a bike and on the last time they told me that the unicycle is considered a toy and not allowed on the road bike path or sidewalk! They never gave me a fine but I think that they were just curious and stopped me in order to look at the unicycle and to relieve boredom.