Spreading Holiday Cheer, Bicycle Advocacy Style

For cyclists in Wisconsin, there were exciting modifications to some bicycling-specific state laws as Governor Scott Walker signed AB265 last week. The new set of regulations, nicknamed the “Bicycle Tune-Up Bill,” was introduced by Representative Keith Ripp (R) and drew bi-partisan support.

New hand signals
Image: www.bfw.org

The Bicycle Tune-Up Bill addressed several antiquated laws, including regulations regarding hand signaling and rear reflectors.

Previously in Wisconsin and in many other areas, cyclists were required to use the same hand signals as motorists, signaling only with the left arm. While these various left-sided gestures may have been logical when more automobile operators relied on manual signals, the reality of riding on the road today is that many drivers are not familiar with these good ol’ fashioned signals. To avoid the risk of confusing motorists, pedestrians and other cyclists, riders may now use the appropriate arm to indicate right and left turns in Wisconsin.

Cyclists in Wisconsin can also now ditch the red rear reflector if they choose to add a flashing or steady red rear light. Reflectors used to be required on bicycles regardless of the addition of a more visible rear light, but the new regulations allow cyclists to remove the reflector as long as there is a red light added in its place.

There are a few other interesting updates included in the Bicycle Tune-Up Bill, including changes to passing regulations and the usage of studded bike tires (previously illegal, studded tires are now permitted on bicycles). Learn more about AB265 and the bi-partisan group that worked to pass the bill from the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, and let us know what you think about these changes.

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13 thoughts on “Spreading Holiday Cheer, Bicycle Advocacy Style”

  1. Dr. M says:

    Based on what I’ve read, these updates look long overdue. So they are trying to recall Gov. Walker why? Oh yes, the unions are in charge of WI’s democratic process now. Sorry!

  2. Scott says:

    “is that many drivers are not familiar with these good ol’ fashioned signals”

    Then maybe they shouldn’t be allowed to drive on the roads.

  3. BluesCat says:

    I’m with you, Scott. I always use the left arm for signals, leaving my right hand on the handlebars, for a few reasons: I’m right handed; most of my shifting involves the rear cogs, which are handled by the right brifter, so I’m ready to make a quick shift just before I turn; I’m much more stable using the rear brake if I have only one hand on the bars and the right brifter controls the rear brake.

    Dr. M – Gee, I don’t know what this change in the traffic law has to do with the recall of Governor Scott “The Fuhrer” Walker (the Nazis were also against trade unions), but … heck … I’ll play along:

    “Du bist korrekt, Herr Doktor! Ve must make sure ze Recht … er … RIGHT hand is free to SALUTE! SIEG HEIL!”

  4. Joel says:

    NJ has passed similar laws and I tend to use the right hand straight arm turn even though I was formally trained many years ago to only use the left hand. The simpler and more straight forward I can make the movement, the better.

    I have been riding three months on the bicycle to the bus station. At this time of the year, I leave in the dark and I get home in the dark. There are many articles on this site concerning lights, reflectors, and visibility.

    Redundant lights and reflectors (both tape and physical reflectors) ensure the best chance of being seen and seeing. After reading those articles, I gave much thought to my current scheme. I have decided that one blinking white headlight and fast blinking rear red light will be used during the day. At night, two headlights on at all times, one near flood beam and one distant focused beam. I am careful that my distant beam is not too much like a high beam which actually disturbs an oncoming driver’s focus and night vision. I want to get their attention but I do not want to irritate or distract them. The near flood beam is about me and allowing me to not hit the curb or other immediate obstructions when I am blinded by high beams or poorly aimed headlights of on-coming traffic. One five LED fast blinking light combined with a solid red tail lamp covers my rear. In any case, should a light fail or get weak, I have some fallback. I also carry at least enough batteries on the ride to replace one front and rear light.

    So much preparation seems like a waste of time but my life is very dependent on the lights working. When all else fails, the reflectors take over.

    I love riding the bike. I have to try and reduce my chance of injury as much as possible. BluesCat has already flaunted his impressive set of lights on this site. It is nice that everyone is sharing ideas.

    Yes, tomorrow morning, I will see my breathe in 33 Degree F air outside of my garage light, head off with my Polar-Tek jacket, light windbreaker shell, earmuffs, and gloves on my ride. Everyday brings a few less degrees of heat. Everyday brings a few more looks of astonishment as I lock my bike up at the bus station. Now, not only are they saying the man is certifiable, they are saying the man should be committed. I walk proudly past them knowing that I am committed, just not legally.

    Did I tell you that I just like to bike?

  5. Clay says:

    Joel, why not use flashing in front? Are you in a rural or suburban area without much light pollution? I’ve commuted in big cities and smaller, but always in and around a lot of light pollution, and even very bright lights get lost in the light pollution. This is more noticeable as a car driver observing riders than as a bike rider.

    I only use a steady beam if I’m on rough pavement or out of the light pollution.

  6. Chrehn says:

    Blues Cat, I like it.

  7. Ginger says:

    Joel — I bike to work in NJ too — this morning wasn’t a big problem — short sleeves and shorts — nice for November.

    I got some new lights on the bike about 2 weeks ago and went on a ride and got lost out a little late so the lights came in very handy. I keep multiples on the bike too — 2 on the back — one blinking one steady and 2 headlights — blinking if still light outside or solid bright if it’s dark.

    Never too many lights!

  8. Joel says:

    Dear Clay,

    At least 3 miles of my 6 mile commute is on very dark bike trails. The rest is split evenly between poorly lighted or not lighted roads.

    NJ law is not exactly clear on placing the “White light” on steady or strobe. I have a few law officer friends and they advise me to keep it on solid. I am riding on the right hand side of the road (per the law) and my main objective is to keep someone from opposing traffic who is making a left turn from striking me and someone who is pulling out from a stop to my right from striking me. In both cases, I feel the blinking light affects their depth perception and makes it harder for them to judge my speed. In either case, I am prepared to stop because I will be far worse for the wear and tear even if I am right according to the law.

    I have looked into my front lights when they are put on strobe and I believe if they strike a driver just right at night, it could be a serious distraction to their vision and make matters worse. It is kind of like putting on my high beams in response to an inconsiderate driver who will not turn off their high beams. Now we are both blinded as we approach each other.

    Many good arguments could be made to use a night white light on strobe. I just feel that in my particular case, this is the best option for my specific commute.

  9. BluesCat says:

    I always make sure my blinking front light AND my bright, steady front light are pointed down to the pavement about thirty feet in front of me. That way, (1) I’m sure I’m not blinding any oncoming driver OR bicyclist, and (2) I’m able to see and avoid any obstacles in the road.

  10. Paul S. says:

    I use the blinking front light at night in urban areas to make sure I get the drivers’ attention as they decide when to make that right turn into my bike lane or when to open their car door. It’s invaluable. From a distance, a steady white light is difficult to distinguish from a distant car or motorcycle headlight. Making sure they not only know I’m there, but that I’m a bike, I figure is the best thing I can do for my safety.

    That said, I tend to use a steady light as soon as I hit the suburbs or the bike trail. First off, I need the extra light to see in these areas, but more importantly, the amount of traffic and the way it operates are less likely to cause problems in these places. It’s easier to spot a car about to turn or someone who just parked.

    BluesCat, I respectfully disagree with pointing of the light at the ground 30 feet in front of you unless you have a light over 1000 lumens. If cars don’t do it, and your light is less bright than a car, why are you worried about annoying them? I don’t know about you, but I often travel at speeds that make seeing farther out than 30 feet a real necessity.

  11. Joel says:

    Dear Paul S.,

    This is the sticky point in the argument: when does the escalation of light lumens reach its peak? Vehicles have unlimited energy to blind us. How much is enough to share the road in a reasonable manner?

    In New Jersey, with all of its laws and regulations, bicycles have complete rights to the roadways as motor vehicles. I weight 215 lbs (ten pounds lighter than I used to three months ago), my bike weighs about forty-four pounds (cheap commuter bike which I can afford to be stolen), and a back pack of about thirty-five lbs (every time I try to lighten it, I cannot resolve myself to part with any of its current belongings).

    I might have the legal right to have a car yield to me but I am reminded of a very old adage that my father taught me when I was starting to drive over thirty years ago. It is called the law of tonnage and payments. When faced with a decision of risking an accident, the drivers will take into consideration two factors: tonnage and payments. Does my vehicle have a significant weight difference over your vehicle? If yes, you will yield the right-of-way in order to survive the accident caused by the collision. Does your vehicle cost much more than my vehicle? If yes, than you will yield the right-of-way to my cheapo vehicle since you have a much higher monetary risk then me.

    Fast forward to us users of human-powered bicycles (I almost said man-powered bicycles but caught myself). We almost always lose in all cases of weight differential. Only your estate will care if you win the law of payments as they execute your final will.

    I do worry about annoying “them” in those four thousand pound pounding motor machines. They have tonnage, we do not.

    It is a harsh reality check. I do not fear motor vehicles but I MUST respect them. They are far more likely to hurt/kill me than I them. Here, let me try and blind you with my pitiful headlight while they think, let me turn on my high beams and show you that a two ton vehicle owns the road over three hundred pounds of two-legged powered fury.

    Let the road-rash begin!

    I feel your indignation but then that last gene of self-survival starts to kick in. I respect your point and argument but most motorists will not.

    Thanks for the lively conversation.

  12. Paul S. says:

    Well, perhaps “why are you worried about annoying them?” was not the best choice of words to convey my point in this case. I hope this is more precise.

    If cars shoot their headlights way farther than 30 feet, and if their headlights are way brighter than your bike headlight, why should they find your headlight annoying at all? Is there some reason why a single bike light should be perceived as more annoying than all of the motorized traffic surrounding them?

    Yes, I understand that if you have a particularly powerful bike light, this may not apply. Night Rider has one that does 3000 lumens, and there is no way a reasonable person should aim that right in the eyes of another human being. But for something 500 Lumens or lower, should we really be concerned about annoying motorists? Is it brighter than a car light? More concentrated? What exactly are we protecting them from?

    Now, since you mentioned it, regarding purposefully annoying the cars, I must admit that I don’t mind doing just that with my flashing front lights in urban areas. I want to be noticed, and I don’t really care if they think “hey, there’s a nice cyclists next to me” or “That @&*^# behind me with his blinking lights is driving me up the wall.” My life depends on them knowing I’m there, and as any advertiser who’s every written an annoying jingle will tell you, if they hate you, at least they know you exist. No, I don’t want to blind them, and I certainly won’t be able to do that with my relatively mild 250 lumen light, but since I started using flashing mode in the city, the number of close calls on the road has gone down. Way down. And I’m quite comfortable with the tradeoff that and increasing number of drivers have to adjust their mirrors when I pull up behind them.

  13. Mike Myers says:

    Traditional hand signals are useless. I actually POINT where I’m going. If I’m going straight across an intersection, I make eye contact with the opposing driver and point at the lane ahead of me. I point left for left turns, and point right with my right hand for right turns. I don’t signal when I’m stopping. I guess I should do that…

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