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I am a freshman in high school who is planning to build his own recumbent tricycle. However, I would be very disappointed if my creation was illegal to ride on bike paths and sidewalks. I have already perused the Wisconsin State Statutes, and there is nothing that would apply to even a store-bought tricycle. Is anybody aware of laws from other states covering tricycles, so that I may be aware of them before I start building?

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Ask local Dept of Transportation and/or your city constabulary. –  JohnP Sep 12 '12 at 18:08
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I don't know about Wisconsin, but it's illegal to ride any bicycle on the sidewalk where I live. It's worth noting that riding on the sidewalk is one of the leading causes of collisions. –  user973810 Sep 12 '12 at 18:30
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If you call the police and ask about tricycle law, they'd probably think it was a prank call. lol –  dotjoe Sep 12 '12 at 20:31
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I'm relatively sure that the law in most states considers a "bicycle" to be any vehicle that is human-propelled and within certain size/weight limits, regardless of wheel count. But the Wisconsin laws should be online, and it's a good exercise to learn how to look up the rules for yourself. –  Daniel R Hicks Sep 12 '12 at 22:16
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You might send a query to the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, or peruse their site. –  Daniel R Hicks Sep 14 '12 at 23:14
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2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

These are the Wisconsin State Bicycling Laws:

http://www.dot.wisconsin.gov/safety/vehicle/bicycle/docs/bikelaws.pdf

340.01(5) defines a bicycle thusly: "Bicycle" means every vehicle propelled by the feet acting upon pedals and having wheels any 2 of which are not less than 14 inches in diameter.

As it makes no mention of where or how the machine was manufactured, it sounds like your tricycle (and its rider) will be held to the same legal standard as any other bicycle. The wheel size requirement means that if two wheels are larger than 14 inches, it's a bicycle. My guess is that this is intended to rule out kids' "Big Wheels" and the types of tricycles that a 5 year old might ride.

That said, it's worth reading the entire document. I didn't bother because I don't live in Wisconsin.

It's also worth noting that local municipalities can pass further laws defining or restricting bicycles as long as they don't conflict with the state laws. So you'll want to check those as well. Those are sometimes hard to locate on the internet. If you have can't find them online, check out your public library. They usually try to archive local information like that.

Finally, as others have mentioned, the sidewalks are often illegal and even more often dangerous places to ride. If you do so, do so with great caution.

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Alright, I will make it a priority to read this :) Thank you!! +1 –  fr00ty_l00ps Sep 21 '12 at 13:35
    
I find the size of the wheel interesting and amusing. How is a human pedal powered device with 12" wheels no longer considered a bicycle? –  Matt Adams Sep 21 '12 at 19:55
    
As I mentioned, I think it was meant to rule out children's "toys" that are intended to be pre-cursors to bicycles and not bicycles in themselves. A further consideration is the mechanical advantage offered by a bicycle. At some point (14 inches may or not be an arbitrary number, the specific math/physics are over my head) the mechanical advantage of a bicycle is lost with smaller wheels. Check here for more info: school-for-champions.com/science/machines_advantage.htm specifically, the section on "Distance Mechanical Advantage." –  jimirings Sep 22 '12 at 5:27
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In California a tricycle is a 'bicycle'. For day time operations the only real requirement is that one wheel can skid.

39000. "Bicycle," for the purposes of this division, means any
device upon which a person may ride, which is propelled by human
power through a system of belts, chains, or gears having either
two or three wheels (one of which is at least 20 inches in
diameter) or having a frame size of at least 14 inches, or having
four or more wheels.

Equipment Requirements

21201. (a) No person shall operate a bicycle on a roadway unless it
is equipped with a brake which will enable the operator to make one
braked wheel skid on dry, level, clean pavement.

(b) No person shall operate on the highway a bicycle equipped with
    handlebars so raised that the operator must elevate his hands
    above the level of his shoulders in order to grasp the normal
    steering grip area.

(c) No person shall operate upon a highway a bicycle that is of a
    size that prevents the operator from safely stopping the
    bicycle, supporting it in an upright position with at least one
    foot on the ground, and restarting it in a safe manner.

(d) A bicycle operated during darkness upon a highway, a sidewalk
    where bicycle operation is not prohibited by the local
    jurisdiction, or a bikeway, as defined in Section 890.4 of the
    Streets and Highways Code, shall be equipped with all of the
    following:

(1) A lamp emitting a white light that, while the bicycle is in
    motion, illuminates the highway, sidewalk, or bikeway in front
    of the bicyclist and is visible from a distance of 300 feet in
    front and from the sides of the bicycle.

(2) A red reflector on the rear that shall be visible from a
    distance of 500 feet to the rear when directly in front of
    lawful upper beams of headlamps on a motor vehicle.

(3) A white or yellow reflector on each pedal, shoe, or ankle
    visible from the front and rear of the bicycle from a distance
    of 200 feet.

(4) A white or yellow reflector on each side forward of the center
    of the bicycle, and a white or red reflector on each side to the
    rear of the center of the bicycle, except that bicycles that are
    equipped with reflectorized tires on the front and the rear need
    not be equipped with these side reflectors.

(e) A lamp or lamp combination, emitting a white light, attached to
    the operator and visible from a distance of 300 feet in front
    and from the sides of the bicycle, may be used in lieu of the
    lamp required by paragraph (1) of subdivision (d).

In New York State you have to have a bell or similar device on your bike.

I would think the real question to ask yourself is "will a Police Officer think it is legal?". If they think your tricycle is unsafe they will stop you whether it is legal or not, as they, most likely, should.

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