Cycling in Wisconsin is popular and growing more so with the Department of Transportation in the state running more workshops around safety and proper riding with traffic. It’s often a cheaper and to some extent quicker commute, it’s healthy, and it’s eco-friendly, all of which makes it popular. Cyclists in Wisconsin, as well as anywhere else in the country, face issues of safety, understanding the law, and understanding their rights while riding, which is why it’s important to stay on top of what has changed and hasn’t changed in the laws. What should you know about the bike laws in Wisconsin?
Bikes on the Road
Bikes are defined as vehicles under law in Wisconsin, which gives them the same rights as cars and the same duties as drivers. The laws around bikes, therefore, are largely concerned with ensuring that bikes and cars don’t interfere with each other as crashes between the two are far more dangerous for the cyclist than they are for a driver.
When riding on the road, cyclists are to ride to the right-hand side, going the same direction as other traffic. Cyclists stay as far to the right as is practical (and Wisconsin spells this out as just to the right of the traffic line, not right beside the curb), except in the following circumstances:
- When passing another vehicle going in the same direction
- When preparing to make a right turn
- If the right side of the road is too dangerous to ride on because of pedestrians, parked cars, or generally unsafe road conditions (Debris, construction, and the like)
- Cyclists can also travel on the far left-hand side of the road when on a one-way street with to ore more lanes
Riding on the shoulder of the road is allowed, as is riding two-by-two as long as traffic isn’t impeded. However, sidewalk riding in general is illegal unless a city or town law states otherwise. (Best to assume that unless you’re just learning how to ride a bike, are a kid, and are being supervised, it’s best to get off the sidewalk entirely). Wisconsin’s Department of Transportation also strongly recommends riding in the center of narrow lanes. This is done to maintain three feet of distance around the cyclist for both drivers and other road users. Wisconsin law does not mandate the use of separate bike lanes and roads; cyclists may ride on whichever they wish.
There is a version of the “Idaho Stop” law in Wisconsin. Cyclists do have to stop at a red light, but if they are stopped for more than forty-five seconds and the light hasn’t changed, the cyclists can proceed through the intersection as long as there are no vehicles present and the cyclists yields the right of way to anyone going through a green light at the intersection or crosswalk. Basically, if you’re alone or nearly alone and the light refuses to turn, you can go through a red light. This is mostly done to deal with the fact that cyclists will go through a stale red light at night when it’s all quiet anyway and to ensure that traffic moves along when there isn’t enough traffic to trip the lights.
Wisconsin law does not mandate the use of bike helmets while riding. It is legal for riders of any age to ride without wearing one. It’s probably not a good idea to go without one as head trauma is a leading cause of injury in cyclists, but the law will not punish you for going without one.
Cyclists do have to make sure that their bike is properly equipped while riding at night. The bike must have at least one white front headlight, a red rear reflector and/or a red rear light. The white lamp must emit a white light visible from at least five hundred feet and the red reflector must be visible from all distances from fifty to five hundred feet. If a red lamp is used, it must be visible from a distance of five hundred feet and can be used with a red reflector or instead of one.
Just like drivers of cars, cyclists also have a duty to report a crash with another person, vehicle or property.
Cycling under the influence of drugs or alcohol isn’t illegal in Wisconsin because the laws are written in such a way that it applies to vehicles. However, like riding without a helmet, it’s not a good idea to ride while under the influence since it increases the chances of an accident and injury.
Electric Bikes in Wisconsin
Wisconsin hasn’t done much which electric bike laws. While federally, electric bikes are allowed on trails and are not necessarily defined the same way as motor bicycles, Wisconsin law hasn’t been updated. Electric bikes are currently defined as motor bicycles and so users must have a valid driver’s license.
In 2017, the state changed up the laws slightly to allow the use of electric bikes on Department of Natural Resources trails. They can go no faster than fifteen miles per hour while on those trails and only bikes with electric motors are allowed. Electric bikes may also be allowed on mountain bike trails on DNR land, but only after the public has allowed it and so has property managers and the rails must be specifically posted to be allowed to be used in this way.
It’s likely that state laws around electric bikes will continue changing in the future, so if you’re looking at getting one, it’s a good idea to stay on top of things.
As you can see, the laws around cyclists in Wisconsin are common sense and there is nothing too strange to have to worry about. The main thing that will likely change in the near future is the laws around electric bikes as there hasn’t been much done yet, but the demand for their use is growing. Otherwise, as long as you are riding safely and keep three feet of distance between yourself and other cars, you will be able to enjoy riding safely and legally in the state of Wisconsin. Have fun!