Assessing Roads for Biking

Assessing Roads for Biking
Everything in Alaska is very far apart. I live in a small town at the southern end of the Richardson Highway. The nearest community of any size is over 250 miles away. Distances like these lead to many miles of driving. To pass the time, and indulge in my favorite avocation, I find myself assessing every road I drive for “bikability.”

There are a number of considerations to take into account when determining how well-suited a road is for cycling: traffic, shoulders, terrain, distances between towns, campsites, and so on. Careful observations can help you evaluate the road you’re on for each, although some may only be truly appraised from your bike seat.

One of the easiest observations to make is on traffic. You’ll want to get an idea of how much traffic there is at different times of day, how fast the traffic is travelling, and whether or not the drivers are safe and considerate. A road may be very safe to ride during midday when traffic is light, but dangerous during morning and evening rush hours when more cars are driving faster. A narrow, windy road may be fun to ride on, but not if the local traffic drives like Mario Andretti on a race track.

Good shoulders can make or break a road for riding. Pay attention to how wide the shoulders are, how clean they are, and whether or not there are rumble strips. A nice, wide shoulder can be ruined by excessive gravel, broken glass or other debris. You’ll also want to note the number of intersecting side streets. Drivers often aren’t looking for someone travelling on the shoulder of a road. If there are lots of intersecting streets, riding in the lane may be safer.

One of the hardest things to assess in a car is the hilliness of the road. An unnoticeable rise in a care may be a hard grind on a bike, especially if you’re still conditioning your legs. You can almost never trust a non-cyclist to give a good assessment of a road’s hilliness. While you’re considering terrain, take note of the road’s surface. Is it paved, hard-packed dirt or loose gravel?

If you’re out for a long day’s ride or multiday tour, you may want to note how far it is between amenities (rest stops, grocery stores, etc.) as well as where good campsites may be. Depending on where you live, campsites might be in official campgrounds or they might just be flat spots out of sight of the road.

I find that the more often I drive a road, the more I notice about it. I also pay attention to what other people say about a drive and what statistics it generates. The Seward Highway heads south out of Anchorage, Alaska and accesses the Kenai Peninsula. It is a fabulously beautiful drive of up to 280 miles with reasonable climbs and generally nice shoulders. Unfortunately, more people are killed in traffic accidents on that highway than any other in Alaska. It’s a bike ride I really want to do, but I’d do my best to figure out when traffic would be lightest.

The above items are simply intended to prompt your thinking about riding on the roads you drive. The decision you make on whether or not to try riding on any given road will depend on your skills and confidence level and the type of riding you want to do.

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