Ask Laz: Why aren’t bicyclists entitled to free air at gas stations?

Jonathan says the police consider his bike a vehicle on the roads, meaning he can be ticketed for violating a traffic law.

So why is it, he asks, that his vehicle isn’t entitled to free air at gas stations?

In my experience, it’s not a huge problem. Every time I’ve taken my bike to a gas station with a coin-operated air machine, I’ve had no problem asking the cashier to turn it on. No one’s ever refused.

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But Jonathan says he’s been turned down in the past. And in any case, he raises a good point: If we, as a society, want to encourage fitness and alternative modes of transit, why wouldn’t we make it as easy as possible for people to use bicycles?


Since 1999, California law has required “every service station in this state to provide, during operating hours, water, compressed air and a gauge for measuring air pressure to the public for use in servicing any passenger or commercial vehicle.”

The law requires “that these air and water services be made available at no cost to customers who purchase motor vehicle fuel.”

If you’re a driver, don’t be shy about asserting your rights. If you buy gas at the pump, they have to turn on the air machine for free.

Bike riders enjoy no such rights, and thus can end up paying as much as $1.50 if they don’t have a hand pump and need the use of a gas station’s air.

This looks like a job for state lawmakers. While it’s reasonable that drivers who purchase gas also get free air or water, bike riders — who, after all, are operating vehicles — should enjoy the privilege of free air as well.

There’s undoubtedly a modest cost involved for station owners, and perhaps that could be accommodated in the form of a small tax break or some other incentive.

The more important aspect of this is that it’s a relatively cheap and meaningful way of encouraging bike riding. Along with the creation of more bike lanes, access to free air for tires seems like a significant way to help get people out of cars.

And in a place like Los Angeles, anything that reduces traffic — even just a little bit — is a good thing.

If you have a consumer question, email me at or contact me via Twitter @Davidlaz.