Bicycling and booze go hand in hand

In Wisconsin, like Minnesota, it’s legal to ride a bicycle while drunk. Should it be?

The Capital Times in Madison asks today whether that’s such a great idea and, somewhat surprisingly, finds plenty of people who think it is.

Wisconsin is one of 29 states that have no law against mixing booze and biking.

“It’s really only yourself that you’re putting into jeopardy, and even that is pretty minimal if you’re not acting like an idiot, wearing a helmet and using lights and that sort of thing,” said Manny Wagnitz, a 27-year-old bartender who forays out to the bars on his bike two or three nights a week. “I think the chances of hurting yourself are pretty minimal, and the chances of hurting anything else are pretty much nil.”

Another patron surveyed at an area bar said if it becomes illegal in Wisconsin to bike drunk, people will just drive their cars instead.

This is becoming a cultural issue, Capital Times says, because the craft beer culture and the bike culture are pretty much the same people.

The increasing popularity of bar hopping by bike is a natural extension of the biking boom that is sweeping America. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, bicycle commuting has grown by nearly 62 percent between 2000 and 2013. In Madison, more than 4.8 percent of commuter trips are by bike, according to the League of American Bicyclists.

And as more people embrace biking culture, some of those same people are dedicated fans of the growing craft brew scene. That scene is particularly strong on the city’s east side where bicycle parking near bars and at street festivals can be hard to find.

“In this neighborhood in particular a lot of people are into that culture,” said Peter Gentry, owner of One Barrel Brewing, 2001 Atwood Ave., where bringing in a bike helmet on Thursdays gets you a draft brew for $1.

Gentry stresses that the beers available for a dollar aren’t the pub’s high-octane specialty ales.

“We certainly don’t want anybody doing anything dangerous,” he said. “I encourage people to enjoy their beers responsibly. With that said, if you do make a bad decision, you’re a lot less likely to put other people in danger.”

The Walker administration is considered anti-cycling, but there’s no move afoot to make drunk biking a crime.

“That will never happen in Wisconsin,” Dave Schlabowske, of the Bike Federation of Wisconsin, says. “I don’t know if you’ve had any legislator run down the top lobbying groups in terms of strength and influence in Madison. I can tell you the Tavern League is in the top three.”

At the level of being legally drunk, the chance of a bicyclist being seriously hurt increases 2,000 percent, according to a study by Johns Hopkins University. And just one drink makes it six times more likely a bicyclist will be killed.