While many people bike year round most of us are still fair weather bikers, we bike for fun and maybe even exercise. If we're not out on the road regularly, it can be hard to know what the rules are and ways to stay safe.

UW Health's Sports Medicine Fitness Center staff offer some practical guidelines for sharing the road with other vehicles to keep you safe from injuries.

Bicycle safety

  • The most effective way to prevent head injuries is to wear a properly fitting bicycle helmet. A helmet worn correctly - just above the eyebrows - on every ride is the best defense against serious injury in a fall or crash.

    • Bicycle helmets can reduce the risk of a head injury by 85 percent and brain injury by 88 percent.

  • Be sure to have your bike properly tuned up before you begin to ride – especially the brakes.

  • Wear bright colors during the day and retro-reflective items at night along with headlight and taillight to increase your visibility to other road users.

Rules of the road

  • Most bicyclist crashes occur between 3 and 7 p.m. — the hours after school and the prime time adults commute from work.

  • More than half of all bicycle crashes are simple falls caused by operator error, bicycle condition, riding surface condition, or a distraction causing a sudden swerve.

  • Bicycles are defined as vehicles. The operator of a vehicle is granted the same rights AND subject to the same duties of the driver of any other vehicle.

  • The person riding the bike is required to follow all traffic laws. This means stopping for stop signs and red lights if traveling in the street and riding on the same side of the road as other traffic that is going in the same direction.

  • Know your signals:

    • Left turn=Straight out to the side

    • Right turn=Arm bent at your elbow at a 90 degree angle with fingers pointing up (right arm straight out to your side also acceptable.)

    • Stop=Left Arm bent at your elbow at a 90 degree angle with fingers pointing down.

  • Always ride on the right, in the same direction as other traffic. Ride as far to the right as practicable (not as far right as possible). Practicable generally means safe and reasonable.

  • Bicycles on a one-way street with two or more lanes of traffic may ride as near the left or right-handed edge of the roadway as practicable in the same direction as traffic.

  • When making your own left turn look over your left shoulder for traffic, signal your left turn and change lanes smoothly, so you are to the left side or center of the through lane by the time you reach the intersection. If a left turn lane is present, make a lane change to center of that lane. Do not move to left of that lane as left-turning motorists may cut you off.

  • Statute 346.37(1)(c)4 allows a bicyclist facing a red signal at an intersection, after stopping as required, for not less than 45 seconds to proceed cautiously through the intersection before the signal turns green if no other vehicles are present at the intersection to trigger the signal.

  • Bicycling at night requires at least a white front headlight and red rear reflector. These are required whether you're riding on a street, path, or sidewalk.

    • The front white light must be visible to others at least 500 feet away.

    • The red rear reflector must be visible to others at least 50 to 500 feet away. A red steady or flashing rear light may be used in addition to the required reflector. 

  • Be aware of changing road surfaces, new construction or unusual barriers on the roadway, distracters for both you and other vehicle operators.

  • When riding on bike paths or trails, stay on trails whether riding for transportation or recreation. Remember, smaller users such as pedestrians, skaters and animals should be yielded to.