Bikeable Roads

For the past few days, we have been on the road (in the car) to attend a reunion of sorts in Illinois. Maybe because I have not been on the bike, I’ve been noticing roads in the areas we’ve passed through, with an eye to their bikeability. And I’ve gotta say, there are some areas out there where bikers have it rough.

The thing that makes for rough biking is a lack of shoulders on roads. ┬áMost of the roads we took were two lane, heavily trafficked, with no shoulder. I wouldn’t take a bike on them on a bet. The roads were hilly and curvy, which would have made for great riding in other circumstances. But on these roads, ┬ácars and trucks moved at more than 55 mph, leaving little chance to react if they should suddenly come upon a bicycle.

As if to add support for this notion of unbikability, I saw only two cyclists in five days. They were a bike touring couple, loaded with panniers, slogging up a hill on a U.S. highway that did have a generous shoulder.

The areas I paid most attention to are in northwestern Arkansas and southern Illinois. Maybe there are cycling groups there, and I hope if that’s they case, they check in with some good routes in those locales.

How about where you are? Is there an overabundance of roads that are designed for motor traffic only, with no consideration of cyclists? I’ve got a few gripes about my home, Austin, Texas, but on the whole, I’ve got plenty of alternatives for riding. The places I’ve been on during this short vacation — not so much.


  1. Steven King says

    This is a bit of a hobby of mine as well, especially when driving along motorways here in the UK (only as a passenger though).

    In the more undulating parts of the country there tend to be plenty of good quality, traffic-free roads passing underneath the motorway, often with rather painful looking gradients. Living in such areas must be a climbers dream.

  2. Richard says

    I just spent the weekend in Central IL where I grew up. Biked 20 miles on country roads. covered in tar, some roads were gravel (large chunks of rock is more like it). Rolling hills with sharp curves too. Fortunately I saw few cars. Also saw few places to stop and get out of the sun.

    More heavily traveled roads and city streets not at all bike friendly. Saw no adults on bikes – only kids in neighborhoods.

    I think the less metro you get, the less bike-friendly in the midwest.

  3. Tim says

    Always amazing the variability in road design standards from state to state. Bicycles are often forgotten. Which is ironic considering that the support for paving roads was one of the reasons that the League of American Wheelmen was created.

    I also have many complaints about Austin streets and roads. I have to remind myself that it could be worse.

  4. Ken says

    The DC metro area has some good riding, so I consider myself lucky. There is an abundance of paved trails within DC and the immediate surrounding areas. There are also plenty of roads with shoulder bike lanes in nearby Montgomery County, MD. Plenty of options, I love it.

  5. says

    You have to keep in mind that the roads that are good for getting around in a car usually aren’t the same ones that are good for cycling. I wonder if there were other roads parallel to the roads you were on which would make much better bicycle routes.

  6. says

    We’ve done two separate week-long organized rides in Illinois. Both were routed on secondary highways that while they had no shoulders were plenty safe for cycling due to low traffic volumes or county/farm roads.

    I think Apertome’s hit the nail on the head. What’s good for car travel is probably not the best for cycling.

  7. says

    I have a hunch that we in Northwest Georgia are pretty lucky. Due to the metropolitan Atlanta sprawl we have here, there are excellent rural roads not too far from the city congestion that are low traffic and have an excellent asphalt surface. Sadly, the only roads with extended shoulders for bikers are treacherously dangerous due to high density car traffic and inattentive / distracted drivers.

  8. David says

    Being from Southern Illinois (near Carbondale), I can attest to the fact that our DOT does not consider cyclists often. There are good country roads with lower traffic, and they are beautiful places to ride. But getting between larger towns is always a problem. One road that is designated a “bike route” was recently repaved and widened, only to have the “rumble strips” ground into the shoulder, making it impossible to use. Guess our DOT cares more about waking drowsy drivers than cycling safety on designated routes.

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