Biking Basics: Scared to hit the road pedaling? Let’s give you the confidence to ride safely.

Sean Brandenburg, photos by Titus Williamson

Biking season is in full swing, and riding your bike for practical purposes like commuting to work and errand-running is a great way to go green. Of course, it’s tons of fun, too. Understanding how to navigate the streets of the Chippewa Valley while riding a bicycle can be a little confusing if you’re just getting started, but we’re here to help with a quick primer on where to ride and how use the road amongst the friendly motorists and other bikers. 

Since people riding bikes have the same responsibilities and people driving cars, it’s important to signal your moves.

Let’s start with the basics. Bike laws in Wisconsin define your bike as a vehicle, so you have the same rights and responsibilities as people driving cars. So go ahead and ride your bike on the right side of the road, in the same direction as auto traffic. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation recommends you give yourself a buffer of three feet from curbs and parked cars. If there is a marked bike lane, it’s a good idea to stay within it, but you are allowed to use the full lane if and when it’s necessary, such as when maneuvering around a parked car, road debris, or a slower moving bicyclist. Also, several of Eau Claire’s streets are marked with “Sharrows” that indicate to drivers that people riding bikes have access to the traffic lane.

One of the most common examples of when it’s necessary to take the lane when riding your bicycle is making left turns. As a person riding a bicycle making a left turn, you are allowed to move into the lane vehicle drivers use for turning left. And since people riding bikes have the same responsibilities and people driving cars, it’s important to signal your moves. For a left-hand turn, simply raise your arm to the side so it’s parallel to the road and point to the left. Just like a motorist should do, signal before making your move and give other road users time to take notice. For a right turn you can do the same with your right arm. You can also use your left arm, bending 90 degrees at the elbow so your hand is point up.

Lastly, if you’re slowing or stopping in traffic, you can signal that as well. Do this by lowering your left hand to your side with your palm facing the traffic behind you. Remember, bicycles generally don’t have turn signals or brake lights, but you can still let other road users know your intentions. Keep this signals in mind, stay to the right, and you’ll be on your way to living a greener, healthier, and more fun lifestyle.