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California Motorcycle Law

There’s a lot to love about California, especially the motorcycling. There may not be any finer place to ride in all of America. To get the most of your time in California on your bike, be sure to familiarize yourself with the unique laws that apply to motorcyclists in the state.

Lane splitting

Is lane splitting legal in California? Yes: in fact, it is the only state where it is legal. “Lane splitting” is the practice of driving your bike between the rows of stopped cars. In January of 2017, California made it legal for motorcyclists to do this on both divided and undivided streets.

It’s still a risky maneuver, however. To make lane splitting safe for motorcyclists and others, California has guidelines for lane splitting best practices:

Don’t split at high speeds: If traffic is moving at more than 30mph, you should avoid splitting lanes. At these speeds, accidents become more deadly and drivers are more likely to be switching lanes.

Keep it slow: The faster you go, the shorter your stopping time and the more likely you are to have an accident. When traffic is stopped and you’re splitting lanes, do so at no more than 10mph.

Pay attention: Other drivers are not always looking for motorcycles to come up suddenly along their side. Be sure to watch out for and expect sudden movement from other vehicles.

Helmet laws

Let’s face it: most people hate helmets unless they’re driving along in cold weather and enjoy the warmth. But helmets undoubtedly save lives, and California mandates that motorcycle drivers and passengers wear one.

Helmets must fit properly, they must be made in accordance with federal safety standards, and they must be strapped on.

Motorcycle emissions

Whether you’re talking about the particulate matter your bike’s engine puts out or the noise it generates, California wants you to think about others when you get on your motorcycle. Fortunately, most motorcycle manufacturers make their bikes to the strictest standards (and California’s standards are definitely strict).

Emissions: All motorcycles must be EPA Compliant or Euro III Compliant. These standards limit the amount of hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide gases a bike can emit. They also effectively eliminate any two-stroke motorcycles or those that do not use catalytic converters.

Noise: Many states are concerned about the amount of noise generated by motor vehicles and laws vary by state and city. Be aware that California’s laws apply both to original bikes and to any modifications you might make to your ride. 

  • Pre-1970: If your bike is from 1969 or before, it can be as loud as 92 decibels (measured 50 feet from the center of a lane).
  • 1969-1973: Bikes in this period can be as loud as 88 decibels.
  • 1974-1975: Bikes made in these two years can be as much as 86 decibels before they become illegal.
  • 1976-1986: Motorcycles manufactured during this decade are permitted to be as loud as 83 decibels.
  • After 1985: All modern bikes are restricted to 80 decibels at the max.


California has some strong opinions about aftermarket additions to your ride. California’s SB-435 law prohibits some aftermarket exhaust pipes if they do not have a label certifying them as approved by the EPA. The label must be “readily visible”.

The first time you are stopped with aftermarket equipment that does not comply, you will be given a small fine and told to fix it. After that, you will be looking at fines from $100 to $250, depending on how many times you have been pulled over.

If you wonder whether you’re in compliance with California law, or if you have been charged with any violation, don’t hesitate to contact a legal expert to get the help you need.