By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Feb 18, 2009 at 8:32 AM

In Wisconsin, driving a motorized vehicle with a blood / breath alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or greater could land you with a driving under the influence (DUI) citation, fines, license revocation and, depending on your record, imprisonment and possible seizure of your vehicle.

But what about operating a bicycle while intoxicated? Well, that all depends on if a bike is legally considered a vehicle, and that distinction varies from state to state.

In California bicycles are not considered vehicles and therefore are not covered by the state's drunk-driving laws. The California Vehicle Code has a separate provision, however, covering bicycles that states that it is unlawful to ride a bicycle on a highway while intoxicated. And in this context, "highway" includes public streets, though not driveways or private roads.

A cyclist convicted for cycling under the influence (CUI) in California faces a fine of $250.

In Wisconsin, things are different. Based on current state statutes 340.05(5), 346.02(4)(a) and 346.80(2)(a), "The bicycle is defined as a vehicle. The operator of a vehicle is granted the same rights and subject to the same duties of the driver of any other vehicle."

But Anthony Wiener, a law student at Marquette University, says that unless your vehicle has a motor, such a moped or a motorcycle, a rider over the legal limit is likely to be only cited for public intoxication, if anything at all.

"There's a possibility you could get reckless endangerment if you're riding down the street punching people in the face," he adds. "But our state statues for this kind of thing fall under public intoxication."

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation agrees, and states that while a citation for operating a motorcycle under the influence would affect a person's driving record, a cycling citation would not.

Tim Krause, avid Milwaukee cyclist, says he was stopped once by a police officer on a late-night ride through Downtown. The streets were clear and he failed to stop at a red light.

"I was leaving the bar and I was drunk. (The officer) asked me where I was coming from and where I was headed. He was pretty nice about it and told me I was too drunk to be riding my bike and I should walk it the rest of the way."

With two to three miles left on his ride home, he was inconvenienced -- a consequence he said he'll accept any day over a DUI.

Krause doesn't think the same law should apply to motor vehicles and bicycles.

"You're not going to kill anyone if you get into an accident on your bike," he says. "There's a point at which you know you shouldn't be riding, but, with everything, it depends on your experience. I don't cut off cars, I ride responsibly."

Responsible riding can go a long way, says Milwaukee attorney Daniel E. Goldberg, a USCF Category 3 licensed cyclist. His Web site advises all riders to obey the rules of the road and lists Wisconsin's bike laws for safety.

Goldberg has represented cyclists who've been struck by drivers (and other cyclists), cyclists whose bike malfunctioned and whose equipment was damaged in accidents. But he says he's never come across a CUI case.

"I don't know that there is a need for the law. A drunken cyclist is probably more likely to cause injury to himself than to anyone else an I'd agree that the consequence would be too severe for what you did. The problem with drink driving is that you can kill someone because you're combing alcohol with something really big, heavy and dangerous. Isn't (an intoxicated cyclist) much more like an intoxicated pedestrian than an intoxicated driver?"

Bill Rouleau has organized the yearly Tour de Farce and Biketoberfest rides for the last eight years. These local pub crawls can sometimes attract up to 250 riders, but he says he's had no real legal issues to date.

"We've had minimal police contact, but for the most part, they have bigger fish to fry. We've had the occasional complaint from neighbors that someone's bike is on their lawn, but other than that, there have been no real problems."

He announces the start of each ride with the same parameters: obey the rules of the road, don't antagonize automobiles, follow the route as prescribed and tip your bartenders.

Generally, he says, his riders comply.

"One of my fears is that people are going to start thinking it's critical mass and do something stupid. But everyone is always really cool."

Milwaukeeans gather twice a year for a leisurely evening ride through Cudahy, Bay View or Walker's Point making several predetermined stops at neighborhood bars. Rouleau says the bars have almost always welcomed the crew back.

"For me it's more of a social event with drinks, not a drinking event on bikes," he says. "You don't have to get wasted, that's not the point of it."

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”