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Long May You Ride

Many weekends (at least from April to October), I head out for a long bike ride. Generally 40-100 miles on roads. I’m not taking about long rides like the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) which is 400-550 miles in a week, though I’ve finished that week three times. Or even the Ride Across Indiana (RAIN) which is 160 miles in one day, that I have finished once (and ridden considerable distance two other times). Today I am focused on solo (or small group) long weekend warrior type rides. Here are some of the things that we encounter.

Getting out in the first place: It takes some planning to head out for a ride over two hours. What riding clothes do I need to be warm enough, but not too warm? How many bottles of water (or sports drink) do I need? What nutrition and electrolytes do I need for the weather? Am I planning a route or just riding? Do I need my lights? Is my watch charged?

Multi-use paths: A lot of people (especially drivers) think all bicycles should be on multi-use paths. Many runners think bikes should never be on multi-use paths. Some bike speedsters can’t accept that they probably shouldn’t be on a path. Generally multi-use paths should be used by people riding for transportation at a safe speed, children, those riding with children, and people who are uncomfortable riding in traffic. Cyclists should call “on your left” when passing people and generally are supposed to yield to slower moving users until it is safe to pass. Many paths have a speed limit. Side paths along streets are best left to people who aren’t going far. They can end abruptly with no good connection back to the street, difficult to navigate in bike shoes for sure. Paths can be an important part of a longer ride for even a seasoned cyclist though. If I want to get north across the interstate and not get killed by a car my best option is often a multi-use path called the Monon trail between 75th (the east-west near my house that is safe(ish) to ride and 106th. Then there are better options on road.

Low volume streets: Your local (neighborhood) street is generally wide enough for cars and bikes (depending on the on-street parking situation) and can be a good place to learn to be comfortable riding on street. They don’t often really do anywhere though and are rarely part of a longer ride except the beginning/end to get to/from the house if you are starting at home. Watch for the storm drains. The covers should run perpendicular to the travel direction. Parallel ones are a good way to get a tire stuck in a grate and stop abruptly, likely getting hurt.

Urban/suburban arterial streets: Especially on the weekend (early is best) four lane streets can be great to ride. The traffic volume is low and you can take the right lane and cars have no excuse not to use the left lane to pass safely. Stopping for traffic signals is a pain, but necessary. When there is curb and gutter watch for the storm grates and debris on the edge of pavement. There’s often things that could puncture a bike tire or cause handling issues.

Four-way stops: Generally uncool if you are clipped into pedals, but important for safety. While many states don’t have a rolling stop law (Idaho), many cyclists practice this. Approaching an intersection at a slower speed if you can see in all directions that traffic is clear you roll through the intersection. I primarily do this is rural areas. Here’s the thing…if corn is planted and it is after early July you can’t see around it enough to know if there is a car. Stop.

Roundabouts: The county north of me (Hamilton) is the US capitol of roundabouts. There are more than 100 of them. They’re great because there is generally a continuous flow of traffic in the travel lanes. But you need to pay attention if there’s traffic because car (mostly SUV) drivers get pretty squirrly about bikes in the roundabout. If there is a side path you are riding and are using the crossing infrastructure in a roundabout be very aware of the construction geometry. There’s a good chance it wasn’t designed for anything faster than a toddler on training wheels. Too sharp of turns and the pavement ends with grass, mud, or a lot of space that can make handling a challenge. The road travel lanes are generally safer.

Two-lane roads: Once I get out past the suburbs, into the exurbs and rural areas, most of the roads are two-lane farm-to-market roads. Some are newly paved, some are older but less traveled and are good to ride, and some are chip and seal which is a bit rough. Here’s the other thing….sometimes these roads end and you have to make a choice. Hopefully that choice doesn’t involve gravel if you are on a road bike with skinny slick tires (like I am). Gravel is not your friend. On these roads you need to watch driveways and intersections too because gravel from drives and other streets gets dragged out onto the road when cars turn and gravel is scary. The other thing that happens is your road ends at a highway.

Highways: Bikes have the same rights to most highways as cars. This is not true for interstates. Some highways have awesome wide shoulders and rumble strips between the travel lanes and the shoulder. This is a good place to ride as long as there isn’t a bunch of debris, gravel, or dead animals. But sometimes the shoulder is narrow (or non-existent or gravel) and there aren’t rumbles. The travel lane is fine but make sure you are visible and know that the cars (and trucks) come in clumps and at high speed. Fortunately most will give you at least the 3′ safe passing. I generally only use highways for 1/2 to 1 mile to get to the next road. Also…there’s precious little shade on most highways so you are exposed to whatever sun, wind, etc. might be going on.

Interstate overpasses: I live in the Crossroads of America so basically crossing interstates is unavoidable if you want to go anywhere. In the urban core there are generally underpasses for the roads and paths. I also rarely ride in the urban core on these long rides. Once you are farther out the roads go over the interstate. So they are little hills. But hills with vehicles getting on and off the interstate, multiple signals, lots of debris on the shoulder if you are lucky enough to have a shoulder. They are generally not fun and unless you are fairly confident of a rider they’re downright scary at some locations. I semi-frequently use one that involves a major truck stop on one side and new suburban commercial development on the other. There is a lot going on. But it gets me where I want to go. Semi tractor trailer drivers are not a fan.

Nutrition stops: Generally I will stop to take nutrition if I am not racing/on at least a semi-closed course. Making sure you stop in a safe location is important. What is safe to you depends a lot on the area, your race and gender, and what is happening in the world. I try not to stop at rural residential driveways. You never know what the property owner thinks of people.

Grass: Weekends are also when people love to cut their grass. I am allergic to grass, so this is generally my least favorite thing out riding. But beyond my sniffles, grass makes roads very slick. Not everyone is good about cleaning up what gets blown into the road and while they’re actively cutting they can’t help it. Also watch for riding lawnmowers (and farm mowers) that come into the street to turn as the riders are often not paying a lot of attention.

Dead animals and worms: If you ride much you’re going to see a dead animal. They’re gross, they smell bad, they have bugs or other animals picking at them. Deal with it. If it has rained recently you are likely to run over at least a million worms and they will be in your cables and brakes. You really should clean that out when you’re done. Ewww…

Wanna go ride long?

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