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Bike Laws in Boston

Most laws regarding bicycling are determined by State legislature. We’ve summarized some of them below. You can read the complete text of Mass. General Law Chapter 85, Section 11B.

RIDING ON THE STREETS AND PATHS

  • You are welcome to ride a bike on all public streets within the Commonwealth, except limited access highways. You’ll know you can’t bike there because signs are posted.
  • You are required to follow all traffic laws and regulations, including stopping at stop signs and following all traffic lights, unless signs are posted otherwise. You must bike in the same direction of traffic except on specially marked streets.
  • Always yield to pedestrians. When you pass a person walking, you need to ring a bell or give another polite, audible signal. You may not use a siren or whistle.
  • When you turn, you must use hand signals, unless you can’t operate the bike safely while signaling. You may use either hand to signal which direction you’re going.
  • You are allowed to ride side-by-side with another bicyclist, unless traffic isn’t able to pass you and your friend. When you’re both riding, keep to the right-most lane.
  • You are allowed to ride your bike on the sidewalk in Boston, but we encourage you to use the street. If you choose to ride on the sidewalk, you should ride slowly and carefully and always yield to pedestrians. You are not allowed to ride ebikes on the sidewalk anywhere in Massachusetts.
  • Keep at least one hand on your handlebars.

Electric Bikes

Not all ebikes are the same. State law defines two types of ebikes: Class 1 and Class 2. Class 1 ebikes use pedal-assist, and Class 2 ebikes have a throttle. 
  • A Class 1 ebike has a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, also called “pedal assist” or “e-assist.” The assistance for Class 1 ebikes shuts off when the ebike reaches 20 mph. Class 1 ebikes have an electric motor of 750 watts or less. Bluebikes ebikes are Class 1, and once riders reach 18 mph, the assistance shuts off. Learn more about Bluebikes ebikes. 
  • A Class 2 ebike has a throttle-actuated motor. The assistance for Class 2 ebikes shuts off when the ebike reaches 20 mph. Class 2 ebikes have an electric motor of 750 watts or less.

Class 1 and Class 2 ebike riders are afforded all the rights and privileges related to all bicycle riders, except: 

  • ebikes are not allowed to be ridden on sidewalks
  • ebikes are not allowed on "natural surface" trails unless specifically permitted.

LIGHTS AND REFLECTORS

  • You must use a white light on the front of your bike and a red light on the rear. Turn those lights on within 30 minutes of sunset! 
  • Your front light must be white and visible from a distance of at least 500 feet. A generator-powered lamp that shines only when the bike is moving is okay.
  • Your taillight must be red and visible from a distance of at least 600 feet. If you’re using reflectors, they must be visible from the back at a distance of at least 600 feet, and they must be visible from the sides too.
  • If your pedals don’t have reflectors, you need to wear reflectors on your ankles.
  • You’re welcome to use as many extra lights and reflectors you wish.

BIKING WITH KIDS

  • Make sure everyone under the age of 17 who is riding a bike or ride-along bike is wearing a helmet. Make sure the helmet fits and the chin strap is fastened. Children do not need to wear a helmet if they are inside an enclosed trailer that restrains them and protects their heads in a crash.
  • You are not allowed to carry a passenger anywhere on your bike except on a regular seat permanently attached to the bike, or to a trailer towed by the bike.
  • If you’re bringing along a child who’s between 12 months and 4 years old--or who weighs 40 pounds or less--they need to ride in an upright baby seat with a harness/seat belt or in a trailer. Be sure their hands and feet can’t reach the wheel spokes.
  • Babies under the age of 12 months may not be transported on a bike seat, but you can bring them along for the ride if they are in an enclosed trailer.

DRIVING ON STREETS WITH PEOPLE RIDING BIKES

(See Mass. General Law Chapter 89, Section 2 and Chapter 90, Section 14 for exact language.)

  • When passing bicyclists heading in the same direction as you, you must leave at least four (4) feet of space. Don’t return to the right until you’re safely clear of them. You can cross the center line to pass bicyclists if it is safe and necessary to do so. You can also wait until it is safe to pass them. Please note that this only applies to drivers overtaking bicyclists heading in the same direction. It does not apply if you're driving a car in the opposite direction of a cyclist.
  • Watch for bicyclists when you’re turning left or right. You must yield to oncoming bicyclists, just as you do for other vehicles, when turning left. Do not make abrupt right turns in front of bicyclists; check to your right and behind you to be sure there are no bicyclists. Gently merge into the bike lane to make a right turn.
  • Check for passing bicyclists before opening your door. Drivers and passengers can be ticketed and fined up to $100 for opening car or truck doors into the path of any other traffic, including people biking and people walking.
  • In the City of Boston, you are not allowed to stop or park in a bike lane and can get a parking ticket for doing so.
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