On a recent ride near Dripping Springs, I was leading our peloton of about six or seven riders, when I had to call out a warning.
“Cattle guard!” I yelled. “Two of ‘em!”
We had reached a spot where a small ranch straddles the rural road. To keep his cattle from getting out into the surrounding countryside, the rancher had embedded two cattle guards in the road surface, perhaps 20 yards apart. And these weren’t flush with the pavement, either. They sent a bone-rattling vibration from the wheels up through the bike, right into your teeth.
About 300 yards down the road, we all stop at an intersection. But we have to be careful there, too. As we’re braking for the stop sign, we have to cross yet another cattle guard.
For those city folk who aren’t sure what we’re talking about here, cattle guards consist of several rows of steel pipe, laid into the road over a shallow trench. The pipes are spaced just wide enough that a hoof can pass through it, so a steer’s leg would wind up trapped in the guard. The cattle sense this, and keep away.
Cars don’t worry about them much, but the skinnier your bike tires are (and the more pumped up), they can really feel the jarring the guards cause.
Some stretches of road are more likely to have cattle guards than others. The section I mention above is about four miles long, but has at least a half dozen. Other parts of the same ride have none over even longer distances. A section of the LBJ 100 bike route is known for all the guards in a relatively short stretch, but the guards themselves are some of the smoothest I’ve ridden over, and it’s not a big deal.
The style of guard varies. Some are made of pipe with a fairly wide diameter, others with skinny pipe. Some are laid nicely flush with the pavement, but others protrude just a bit. Those are the ones you don’t want to cross too often.
To minimize the effect of the guards, a bike rider can take a simple remedy. When approaching the guard, put your pedals at 9 and 3 o’clock, and stand. Unweight the bike as it reaches the front edge of the guard. You’ll still feel the jar, but it won’t be as traumatizing as it would be if you stayed seated.
Overheard on a ride: “We keep crossing all these cattle guards, but I don’t see any cattle.”
Response: “They’re doing good job, aren’t they?”
No one I know likes to ride over cattle guards. But most folks I know like to ride out in the country. And in Texas, as well as much of the American West, you’ll encounter cattle guards. It’s a tradeoff that we just accept.