Life on Two Wheels
By Brandon Biggs
When the training wheels came off I never would have imagined where the journey that life on two wheels would take me. I have crossed our great country twice, logged tens of thousands of miles, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity, made lifelong friends, and met my fiancé - all while riding my bike. For me the bike is freedom; it is Zen; it is a platform to reach people; and it has given direction to my career. While my experience on the bike has positively changed my life, for others, cycling has tragically cut theirs short. As more and more people discover life on two wheels, whether for recreation or transportation, more cyclists are sharing the road with cars and the results are sometimes disastrous.
Cycling is dangerous. Ghost bikes smatter roadsides all over the world: white bicycles left in memoriam to cyclists killed on the road, serving as a constant reminder of the gravity of being a cyclist. I have been nearly struck several times by a car, watched friends get hit, and my fiancé was struck while waiting at a stoplight. The first time I had a friend killed while riding, I was on my second cross-country trip. The morning after I got the news Christina was dead I still had to get on the bike. I had a hundred miles to the next city. It was in these days I rode with real fear. Every time I go out riding there is always the question in the back of my mind . . . “Is this the day I do not make it home?”
Unlike Europe, in which cycling has been an integral part of culture for the last century, the United States has been, and continues to be, a car-dominated society. Sprawling stretches of drive-thrus and parking lots leave drivers forgetting anyone gets around in any other fashion. In spite of the implicit risk to recreational and commuter cyclists, more and more bikes share the road with cars every year. In the last decade the United States has seen a 30% rise in the number of cyclists on the road. It is important that cyclists and drivers alike understand the laws and responsibilities each share in order to safely coexist.
Michigan Bicycle Laws
Cyclists have an absolute right to use public roads, and to be fair, bicycles were on the road long before Mr. Ford rolled out his first model in Detroit. As more cyclists share the road with motorists, it is important that everyone understand the traffic laws as they apply to cyclist and motorist alike. In general, a cyclist riding on public roads must follow normal traffic rules, including following the direction of traffic, stopping at stop signs and traffic lights. I constantly shake my head when I witness cyclists blowing through stop signs or even worse, red lights. You are not only putting your lives in danger, you are furthering the animosity many drivers hold for cyclists.
Unlike most states, a bicycle is not a vehicle in Michigan. The Michigan Vehicle Code defines a bicycle as a device with two or three wheels in tandem or tricycle formation propelled by human power that a person can ride. While cyclists need to follow normal traffic rules and regulations, the Vehicle Code has a section dedicated to the regulation and use of bicycles to ensure that cyclist use reasonable caution and furthers safe riding practices. Here are a few of the more important regulations:
- When riding on public roads below the speed limit you must ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the road. There are exceptions such as preparing to turn left, or dangerous road conditions on the shoulder.
- When riding one-half hour after sunset, or one-half hour before sunrise you must use lights. I also recommend using a blinking taillight to increase your visibility during all hours of riding.
- Cyclist must signal their intentions when turning left or right by raising their respective arms horizontally and must signal stopping by extending their arm downward.
- When riding on the road cyclist must not ride more than two bicycles abreast.
- Cyclists shall not carry any package, bundle, or article which would prevent them from keeping both hands upon the handlebars.
There are currently no laws in Michigan requiring cyclists to wear helmets or prohibiting the hands-free use of cellphones while riding their bicycle. It is safe practice to always wear your helmet and avoid talking on the phone while riding your bicycle.
In addition to the Michigan Vehicle Code, there are local ordinances, which further regulate the operation of bicycles.
Bicycling and No-Fault
Michigan’s No-Fault system is designed to aid the recovery of those involved in auto accidents, however bicycles, like motorcycles, are not required to carry No-Fault insurance. Accordingly, cyclists who have fallen off their bike or are involved in a collision with another rider affords neither cyclist PIP coverage, and any injuries are handled through the rider’s individual health insurance. However, when a cyclist is involved in a collision with an automobile, no-fault benefits are extended to the cyclist following the same order of priority used in other No-Fault claims, including the application to Michigan Assigned Claims where no other insurer is responsible for the claim.
The E-Bike Question
As if Michigan’s treatment of bicycles was not already confounding, recently there has been a raise in the sale and use of electronic bikes or e-bikes as they are commonly known. E-bikes resemble normal bicycles however they contain a small battery and electric motor designed to assist the rider, the inclusion of which makes their designation unclear under the law. The questionable status of e-bikes has led to the issuance of many citations and in extreme cases confiscation of the bicycle. In New York City, e-bikes are currently illegal under the law and the New York City Police Department confiscated 247 e-bikes in a 24-hour period and issued hundreds of tickets. Under current Michigan law, an e-bike could be considered a mo-ped because of the electric motor. The designation of a e-bike as a mo-ped would require the e-bike operator to possess a valid driver’s license, register the e-bike and, depending on the rider’s age, wear a helmet.
There are a number of bills currently before the Michigan House of Representatives, which would clarify the status of e-bikes under Michigan law. House Bill No. 4782 seeks to define what an “electric bicycle” is. The bill includes various classifications of e-bikes depending on how the electronic motor assists the rider as well as the speed the e-bike could potentially achieve. House Bill No. 4781 establishes which public trails that e-bikes may operate on depending on their classification. House Bill No. 4783 would exempt e-bikes from Michigan’s no-fault insurance requirement.
Share the Road
As more and more people take up cycling whether for recreation or an alternative means of transportation, it is important that we all share the road and be mindful of one another. Although Michigan does not require a 3-foot passing area around cyclists as many other states do, Michigan law requires motorist to pass cyclists at a safe distance. The cyclist you see on the road is someone’s son or daughter, mother or father, wife or husband. The cyclist could be me. When operating your car please be careful and put the phone down. In this digital age, we are constantly bombarded by emails and text messages, it only takes one second of inattentiveness to destroy someone’s life.