March 12, 2012

Know Your Rights, Though, They Won’t Save Your Life

I encourage you to familiarize yourself with the Wisconsin Bicycle Laws at the Department of Transportation site, but don’t let your guard down because you think the law has your back. A state law allowing a cyclist to be on any particular road doesn’t make it safe for them to be there. When riding, it’s tempting to insist on defending cyclists’ turf on the street by not allowing a motorist to encroach on it. However, there is such a thing as being dead right, and what a cost to prove a point!  

Cyclists should react to what’s happening in a car-bike conflict zone, such as a right-turning car cutting you off – not what should happen according to the law. Some words on a sign or some painted lines on the road can serve as a false sense of security, whether they be for pedestrians in a crosswalk or cyclists in a bike lane. Personal experience has shown me that you can’t rely on motorists’ behavior to be predictable, even when the rules of the road are. 

As cyclists, we can feel more confident and in control by knowing our rights and responsibilities on the road and how to exercise them. An example of this is knowing where we may take the lane and when this is a good idea. I have often been intimidated by taking the lane, but it can be the safest way to ride on some roads. And on occasion it is simply less stress just to pull over, dismount, and become a pedestrian pushing a bike in order to get through an intersection or past a nasty stretch of busy road - no shame in it. 

Ride defensively and keep on riding. The more of us out there on bikes, the safer it is to bike.  

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