Bike Laws in Massachusetts

Massachusetts handles bikes a little differently than many other states do, so it’s important to understand the bike laws in Massachusetts to ensure that you are riding legally at all times!

While some things are ‘free-er’ than other places, other things are tighter, and they are not always what you may expect.

For example, bicycles aren’t considered vehicles, but riders have the right to use any public ways and are still subject to the same laws and regulations as vehicles, as well as other special regulations for bikes.

What else should you expect when riding in Massachusetts regarding the law?

Where are Bikes Allowed to Ride?

It’s important to know where you’re allowed and where you’re not allowed to ride! Here’s what you should know:

  • • In Massachusetts, it’s legal to ride on any public road, street or bikeway, unless specified otherwise or where this is limited access or in an express state highway.
  • • Sidewalk riding is allowed except in business districts or again, where prohibited by local law
  • • You can pass cars on the right and furthermore, there is absolutely nothing about ‘riding as far to the right as possible’ on the books (unlike most other states where this is explicitly spelled out)
  • • Massachusetts spells out the right to hold bike races if you get approval from the police department and are doing it with a recognized bicycle organization
  • • Cyclists in Massachusetts are subject to the same traffic laws and regulations as other drivers and the state does not recognize the “Idaho Stop” modification, meaning that cyclists cannot ride through a stale red light

Massachusetts also doesn’t have anything about forcing cyclists to use bike paths when they are available. Pedestrians also always have the right of way.

Basically, bikes can be ridden just about anywhere, unless local laws say otherwise. That’s a departure from other places that at least state bikes have to be ridden on the right-hand side of the road.

Safety Gear

Massachusetts is also a little weird about safety equipment. Massachusetts is one of the few states which specifies that riders must wear a helmet; in this case, it’s riders under the age of sixteen who must wear one.

However, if a helmet isn’t worn and there is an accident, not wearing one can’t be used as evidence to prove contributory negligence. If the rider is older than sixteen, then they don’t have to wear one at all.

Massachusetts also sets out rules regarding reflectors. There are the usual regulations that you can basically escape from any state. These are the following:

  • • The headlight must be able to emit a white light visible from at least five hundred feet. This can be a generator lamp that only lights up when the bike is in motion.
  • • The taillight must be red and visible from a distance of at least six hundred feet
  • • Reflectors must be visible in car low beams from six hundred feet from the back and sides.

These are the minimum requirements for reflectors and lights. Massachusetts also states that you can have as many lights and reflectors as you want. This again is a little different from other states that don’t usually bother to say that.

Cyclists also must ensure that they are riding on a seat that is properly fitted on the bike and bikes cannot carry more riders than there are properly equipped seats.

Massachusetts also specifies that bikes can only have carts or trailers attached that are meant to be attached to bikes. As you can see, the state can be quite specific when it comes to what bikes can have and not have attached or used! This even includes baskets; only baskets that are meant to be put on bikes are allowed and they cannot interfere with one’s ability to hold on to the handlebars. (Section 11B.6).

Massachusetts also spells out laws around passengers too. Passengers who weigh under forty pounds or who are between the ages of one and four cannot be transported by bike except in an attached baby seat and only if the child can sit upright. If the child is under the age of one, it cannot be in a passenger seat at all.

Finally, the brakes on the bike must be able to get the bike to stop from a speed of fifteen miles an hour within thirty feet of braking on a dry, clean, hard, level surface. This is typical of bike laws all over the United State.

Prohibited Modifications

Massachusetts has a small list of laws on the books regarding modifications on bikes which are prohibited. These include the following:

  • • It is illegal to extend the fork of the bike
  • • It is illegal to have your handlebars and your hands higher than your shoulders when riding your bike
  • • It is illegal to equip the bike with storage capabilities that are not explicitly meant for bikes
  • • It is illegal to use a siren or a whistle to warn pedestrians (but you can use a horn)

The siren or whistle is normal, but Massachusetts is one of the few places that makes it illegal to extend the bike fork, so that’s something to keep in mind.

Electric Bikes in Massachusetts

Massachusetts has most of the basics covered when it comes to electric bikes as well. Electric bikes are defined as a pedal bike with a helper motor or a non-pedal bike with a motor.

They also don’t need to be registered, so long as the electric motor is less than 750 watts and the bike can only go up to twenty miles per hour when powered by the motor alone.

Riders must wear a helmet and electric bikes can be ridden on all public ways and bike paths, though they are not allowed on express highways or off-street recreational bike paths.

As you can see, there are many bike laws in Massachusetts that are similar to other states, but there are some things that you will want to keep in mind because they are quite different.

It’s important to understand your rights and responsibilities as a cyclist so that you can ride safely, legally, and have fun on the road.