Share which roads?

"Peace be with you." "And also with you."

Once again we take our sermon from the Book of Comments, chapter 36, verse 49, “Yea, though we ride through the Valley of Death, etc., et al., and so on and so forth.”

The discussion about Reed Bates and his two-wheeled run-in with Texas law enforcement touches on a topic that affects me since I caught the bug of bicycle touring.

My recent reconnaissance of south-central Colorado highways gave me a bad case of The Fear — getting to some of the places I’d like to visit via bicycle would require me to share long stretches of skinny highway with wide vehicles, many of them traveling well above the posted speed limit of (usually) 65 mph.

I can ride these roads — I’m just not certain it’s smart. And while I’m trying to find suitable workarounds, they’re few and far between, our roads having been designed and constructed with infernal combustion in mind.

As a teen-ager I could and did cycle on Academy Boulevard here in Bibleburg. Today, better you should stay at home and shoot yourself in the head; it’s a cleaner, less agonizing death. And there are other roads I once cycled but now avoid because the auto traffic is too heavy, or there’s no shoulder, or what shoulder there is looks like Fort Cartoon has been using it for artillery practice.

This kind of self-segregation irks me, but I want to enjoy my rides, and finish them upright instead of in the back of an ambulance (or a hearse).

“What is to be done?” asked Lenin. I don’t care to battle The Man for my two-wheeled share of Academy, Marksheffel, Union, Circle, Powers or any of the other major thoroughfares in Bibleburg. But I would like a nice, wide slice of westbound Highways 24 and 50, both of which are gateways to some pretty attractive country.

Seems to me, then, that in the absence of an endless supply of ammo, we need sharpshooters who pick their targets carefully and nail them with the first round.


18 Responses to “Share which roads?”

  1. khal spencer Says:

    There is a segment of the League Cycling Instructor community that says we should be taking the lane, even on these 65 mph roads, because we are more visible to overtaking traffic and have the right to do so. They better be right, 100% of the time. I know what roadkill looks like on 70 mph roads.

    Reed Bates? Seems to me we have a lot of patriots volunteering for this mission, none of whom may have ever handled a musket. I’d want Magas and Mionske working for me on this one, not Howard, Fine, and Howard, LLC.

    Patrick, do you suppose we can get that sign of yours into the MUTCD to replace W11-1/W16-1?

  2. Patrick O'Grady Says:

    K, I hear you on the taking-the-lane deal. I don’t mind doing it on a city street for short stretches when necessary, especially if I’m zipping along at a speed close to that of motorized traffic.

    But on a 65-mph highway? Um, not so sure about that. All it takes is an instant’s inattention — motorist changes CDs, answers phone, drops cig’ in lap, or cyclist wobbles while reaching for water bottle, snack or iPod — and boom, off you go to The Other Side.

    I don’t get much mail from that quarter, which tells me it may not be so hotsy-totsy. Thus I’m in no hurry to get there.

    As to the sign, now, I (ahem) liberated it. Everything’s free on the Innertubes, right?

  3. Ben S. Says:

    “we need sharpshooters who pick their targets carefully and nail them with the first round.” Sounds like you are dealing with a zombie invasion, which I guess we are.

    Around here is the big old over build, hog butchering, capital of the Midwest we have lots or roads and usually a work around for the places traffic volume has driven sane cyclist away. Bit the workarounds get further and further apart every year as the un-civil engineers widen the roads for traffic without a thought or budget for peds or cyclist.

    I take the lane when needed and when there are lots of witnesses and the nearest firehouse or ambulance shed is no more than 5 minutes away. Local government doesn’t allow peds, horses, farm implements or bikes on the interstates even though they uniformly have shoulders wide enough for a triple paceline and a team car.

    You may need to be SAG’d to a more suitable start point than home. Wouldn’t herself do it?

  4. Patrick O'Grady Says:

    Ben, you got it right — Invasion of the Zombie Throttle Jockeys.

    So Iowa won’t let you ride on the interstates? Here we can ride the interstates unless there’s a sign saying otherwise — mostly stretches through downtown Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo — and frankly the Big I offers some of the safest riding to be had in Colorado, if you can get used to 18-wheelers whipping past at 85 per.

    As to getting Herself to pilot a sag wagon for me, alas, the stretch that worries me the most — and sadly is one of the most scenic — lies between Texas Creek and Salida on Highway 50. If she’s gonna drive me all the way to Salida I won’t get any saddle time in at all.

    I just have to put some more skull sweat into picking a route, and maybe draft a will.

  5. John Says:

    “Local government doesn’t allow peds, horses, farm implements or bikes on the interstates even though they uniformly have shoulders wide enough for a triple paceline and a team car.”

    Odd. As Patrick mentioned above, we can ride on the interstates in Colorado if there is no adjacent frontage road available for bicyclists. In fact, to my knowledge in Colorado local government has no say on what can and can’t go on the interstate highway, it’s a state highway and the state makes rules.

    Patrick’s description of some of the more pucker inducing stretches of highway reminds me of a stretch of Hwy 550 that my infinitely better half and I toured on a couple years back. When we tell folks that we took loaded touring bikes from Grand Junction to Durango the first response typically involves questions about Red Mountain Pass. In fact, Red Mountain Pass was no big deal, as far as traffic was concerned (it was a big deal as far as gravity was concerned, though). Instead, the real nightmare was a nondescript stretch between Montrose and Ridgway, right around Colona (now there’s an appropriate name). Here, the shoulder goes to zero, the white line is painted on broken asphalt and gravel, and the road does some winding thus reducing sight distance to about as long as it takes to say “Oh Shit!”.

    Moral to the story: it’s those parts of the highway that seem so common that the typical driver doesn’t remember them that we’ve found to be the worst. An interesting chunk of roadway, such as Red Mountain Pass, is memorable precisely because it was so uncommon that these drivers paid attention to their driving, which actually made it safer. Or so it seemed to us.

  6. Patrick O'Grady Says:

    John, well said. Highways 115, 24 and 50 have their share of gee-whiz tourist traffic, but it’s the commuters and truckers who pose the real hazard on a high-speed highway all kinked up like a buzzworm with Montezuma’s Revenge. Drive a route all the time and you turn a lot of it over to your internal autopilot, which is not programmed for the fat bastard on the touring bike in that broken-backed, 35-mph corner you’re jake-braking into at 60 mph.

    Red Mountain Pass is a beaut’, isn’t it? I bet I haven’t been over that rascal since Herself and I honeymooned in Durango more than 20 years ago. I took her to a stage race in Glenwood Springs … and yes, I was racing, which should tell you all you need to know about my thought processes (or lack thereof) back in the bad old days.

  7. james Says:

    Cali has the same basic rule – you can ride on stretches of interstate unless posted otherwise – but there are not a ton of those to be had. Especially where you might find them conducive to actually getting between points A & B. Like the Bay Bridge for example – can’t ride on it but there are plans to open up a pathway to span the eastern portion of the bridge, but no feasible plans yet to connect it to San Fran. What irks me more is the silly idea of the “3 feet rule” stating that cars, buses, trucks, motorcycles, yada yada yada must give cyclists a minimum of 3 feet of clearance when passing. Nice idea but how are you going to enforce it? With yard sticks stuck out from a bike or motor vehicle? Guessing? “Well Officer Donut, I was going 80 and I saw the bycycler and I was giving him three feet of clearance, and then Molly Hatchet came on the radio and I love them so I reached over to turn it up to 12, and the bycycler done gone and hit my car!”
    Enforcing the law as it stands is better than making a special case for slow moving traffic. I mean even Dave Stoller could go 70 behind a semi in the little chainring, old guys with panniers and triples should be able to do the same.

  8. Larry T. Says:

    I’m continually amazed at where some folks will ride a bicycle, sometimes even when safer alternatives exist. For REALLY going somewhere on a bike, like with the touring setup, it must be very tough in the US. Some guys from what used to be Bikecentennial (Adventure Cycling Association?)were in our town last year I think, working on finding a revised best way to get through Sioux City on an east-west route. Don’t know what route they came up with but they talked with the local bike shop guys for awhile about it. Maybe they can help with your project?

  9. Jon Paulos Says:


    You’re how old, and just figuring this out? I know I was pretty spoiled by growing up in Iowa and living for a long time in Wisconsin, both of which offer myriad good roads as alternatives to the busy ones. That’s one of the reasons that RAGBRAI has a different route every year. So few years, so many roads. I got my eyes opened during college when I led spring break cycling tours in the Southwest. Half the battle was figuring out where we could go and not get run over.

    Colorado? Like most western states, the suitable roads are not very common. You don’t choose your destination first, and pick the route after. You pick the route and see where you can get.

    Is that a bad thing? Well, sure. As a cyclist I want to ride where I want to ride. Those Effective Cycling people have the principle right. But the reality? If you want to live to snark again, pick your route carefully. And think of the typical tour. You have x number of days, and you’re doing it for the journey, not necessarily the destination. So why get worked up about it? Pick a good route and go.

    Another reason why you should be going on RAGBRAI. Not just for the entertainment, not just to recharge your Tour-depleted batteries, but to see how roads should be.

  10. Patrick O'Grady Says:

    Gents, one of the reasons I’m spending so much time trying to find an interesting route — say, one that goes through Colorado’s banana belt (Salida), visits a few hot springs (Dakota, Valley View, Joyful Journey) and rests at a few brewpubs (Amicás) — is so that I can sell a story about The Noob’s Progress to Adventure Cyclist, the mag put out by the outfit Larry mentioned — the Adventure Cycling Association, formerly Bikecentennial.

    I can always load up the panniers and ride somewhere. The hardest part isn’t the riding, it’s the selling of a story without any holy-shit to it. The 18-wheelers, the blind corners, the dirt roads, the soiled chamois.

    A soupçon of terror adds spice to a story. I’m just trying to make sure the piece doesn’t turn into an obit.

  11. John Says:

    Patrick, have you ever considered fiction writing? Might deliver all the excitement to the reader without any of the same excitement to the writer (that would be you).

    Alternatively, you could just plagiarize someone else’s hard won scary bicycle touring story. Shouldn’t be that hard to find one. I hear that using “cntrl-c, cntrl-v” is an easy way to make a quick 300 G’s, just don’t run for governor afterward and no one will ever be the wiser.

  12. james Says:

    Isn’t the “oh shit!” factor part of your story? part of being a Noob to touring? So why the hell are you going to sugar coat it and make it an easy jaunt down the local bikeway. Half the fun of doing something ‘scary’ is overcoming that fear, and by writing about the fears of Noob touring you will be doing that.

    Seriously I think the “story” has already begun to write itself. You just need to flush out the details and put pen to paper…uh, I mean fingers to keyboard. Or ass to chamois as the case might be.

    I would read Adventure Cycling if it had more “real world” stories. If I want to read ‘fiction” I’ll read that Rodale crap or even VeloSnooze.

  13. Larry T. Says:

    We’re in Italy every summer so never experienced the RAGBRAI. I guess the roads east of us are much more varied and interesting than those in and around Sioux City? Lots of the roads around these parts are dirt and the majority of them, paved or otherwise (unlike in our beloved Italy) are just straight, boring routes through cornfields. I think it’s a matter of what you get used to — Iowa might be great compared to other places in the US and the motorists here are generally OK with bicycles. I get some knothead bothering me here only about once each year (though we’re not here in May, June or July) where in Santa Barbara we can count on one or two just during the 2-3 weeks we spend there. We lived in Charlottesville VA for awhile, the roads there were great, lots of winding stuff over hill and dale with rarely a bozo motorist to bother us. Perhaps OG will have to fly himself and his bike somewhere else? Italy’s nice in the fall, I wish we had enough interest in tours during that period to make it worth adding a second-half to our season.

  14. khal spencer Says:

    If any of you followed Patrick over the years (Fuerte the Wonder Pooch, etc.) you know that O’G doesn’t need anyone giving him writing lessons. My wife, the former Professor of English with a far more critical eye than mine to prose, recommends him highly.

    Back to the discussion. Its not just the roads, but the expectations and attitudes. On NM 502 between BombTown and Pojoaque, cyclists stay on the shoulder, which ain’t too bad even with rumble strips. Its wide and fast at 55 mph and although kinda straght, is has fantastic scenery. A cyclist riding in the lane down there would be looked at askance. On NM-4, which is narrow and almost as fast (45-50 mph), the shoulders either don’t exist or are lip-paved many times over, resulting in ledges big enough to rival the Shawangunks for free climbing. Cyclists take the lane and motorists around here expect it. With one or two assholes per year to the contrary, there are no complaints. On my Tour de Death yesterday, I musta seen fifty riders on NM-4 between White Rock and BombTown. Peaceful coexistance generally rules the day.

    Texas? One of the reasons I turned down a perfectly good job offer at UT was because once you get out of Austin, you are in the rest of Texas, as Reed Bates has demonstrated. Mind you, legal or otherwise, I think he might have taken a bump on the head to insist on riding to the left of center of the lane in a 65-70 mph divided highway, but I read TX law and its legal. But legal or not, that just doesn’t rub me the right way, even with 32 serious years of roadways in my hind end and an LCI after my name. Apparently it doesn’t rub most of the folks in Ellis County the right way either. Do I want to live and pay taxes to a place that would probably amend the law to get me off the road should I win my day in court under the existing statutes? Fuckin’ A, NO.

    And changing the law is not an idle thought. Back in Paradise, often referred to as the People’s Republic due to its liberalism, the HI Supreme Court effectively legalized gay marriage in 1998. The liberal population promptly amended the HI State Constitution by a whopping 71% to 29%. Gays demanding equality ended up worse off than before. You want to push the envelope, sometimes it pushes back. Reality sucks.

  15. james Says:

    With all due respect, O’Grady has a tendency to bitch and moan about nearly everything that requires an ounce of actual work so offering the advice in regards to his writing (which is damn near the funniest sheit I have read since the good Dr. passed on) is more of a kick in the arse to get him doing it than a correction to his misbegotten wordplay. That and the fact that if you read back over the past year there is quite a bit of that bitchin’ and moanin’ coming from CO Springs area.
    Now he could re-up hisself to Hell City (aka Phoenix) for his semi-annual, only when he feels like it mountain/cross bike vacation and write about it, but none of us would pay $.10 to read it. So, taking the adage of most decent English Profs to heart, he should “Write about what he knows.”
    Therefore if he is scared shitless about touring on a two-lane highway then that is what he should write about.

  16. khal spencer Says:

    Not to mention, if he writes about being scared shitless in traffic, there could be plenty of competition to judge against.

  17. Opus the Poet Says:

    First of all I know Reed, and Reed is most definitely Not Stupid. He was using the only safe route to get to where he was going from where he was, “safe” of course being a relative term. Second, he was obeying the law to the letter, knowing the specific statute better than most LEO. Third, if a right can be negated because someone doesn’t like where you are using that right, is it still a right, or does it become a privilege? The question becomes, is riding a bicycle in the road a right as specified by TX VC 551.101, or is it a privilege to be determined by LEO on the scene at their whim?

  18. khal spencer Says:

    You are going to have to see what the courts decide on that question, Opus. I wouldn’t bet the farm on TX courts doing the right thing, either.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: