Just Ask Jack — High-Speed Roads?

Shante sent in the following question:

“How do you share the road when the speed limit is 55 mph, there is a low shoulder and cars are going about 70 mph? I live off of a two lane highway.”

I had a quick answer for Shante…in short, there’s not a good answer for that question….while most of us know that bikes are entitled an equal share of the road, some roads are just too unsafe (speed,
narrowness) to exercise that right.

No shoulder
Photo by Robert Raburn of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition

My suggestion was to look for an alternate route — even if it takes you out of your way.
That’s probably not what Shante wanted to hear, but in my experience, roads like she described are just too sketchy for reasonably safe bicycle travel.

I feel that this is an incomplete answer, at best. I’d sure like to hear from other readers what their tactics are for such roads. The gut feeling is that most of us avoid such roads, but I’d particularly like to hear from anyone who is a League Cycling Instructor (Dominic, are you out there?) or anyone else who deals with such poorly-designed and bicycle-unfriendly roadways. Just leave your comments below.

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.


  1. Lazy Bike Commuter May 18, 2008 7:54 pm 

    I used to live off of just such a road, and would have to put in a couple miles on it before I could get to anything better when I was riding to work.

    The thing that worked the best for me was to take the lane more when there was oncoming traffic. Usually if there wasn’t a car coming, I would get a couple feet of clearance by the car passing me.

    If I was on the white line and there was oncoming traffic, they would think nothing of passing me within inches.

  2. Peter May 18, 2008 11:03 pm 

    I say, give us an approximate address so we can pull it up on google maps!

    Other than that, my best answer is to get a cyclocross-type tire – flat on top for low rolling resistance on nice roads, but knobby on the sides so it can still handle the off-road stuff for that first stretch of highway commute – assuming the low shoulder is commutable.

    Oh, and make sure to join your local bicycle coalition/group and then let them know about your concern, and then let the city/public works know about your concern – tell them you want a full bike/ped lane along that stretch – if that’s what you want. Once joined with the local advocacy group, get advice from them.

  3. Henry May 19, 2008 1:35 am 

    Joining a local coalition is always a good thing. It looks like the picture was submitted from a bike coalition, so that’s taken care of. For the time being, another (sad) method is to ferry your bike past this section, park, then ride.

    Here is the excerpt wording from the official LCI manual (page 8-19, section Multi-Lane and High-Speed Arterials): Lanes less than 12 feet wide are too narrow for safe sharing. The cyclist must claim the lane. All traffic must then travel at the cyclist’s speed, which during rush hours may annoy some motorists. In many states it is illegal to delay more than 5 motor vehicles; the cyclist must pull over at a safe place. If this is the law in your state, plan your route accordingly with pull-off areas, or find an alternate route where the cyclist will not slow the flow of motor vehicles.

  4. 2whls3spds May 19, 2008 2:05 am 

    Looks like about 75% of the roads around here…but at least you have a shoulder of sorts to bail out on…ours head straight for a bramble filled drainage ditch.


  5. thePig May 19, 2008 2:41 am 

    For me it is more about the speed differential. It is only when cars are going significantly faster than you that it creates a problem. If you are on a downhill stretch on a busy road it is normally ok as the cars aren’t going a huge amount faster.

    I would definitely try hard to avoid a road like this but if I am forced to I do something similar to LazyBikeCommuter. I take up enough of the lane so the cars have to properly pass me rather than squeezing by.

    Visibility is also much more important in these situations as cars will be approaching you at greater speed and have less time to notice you.

  6. Ghost Rider May 19, 2008 3:21 am 

    Good stuff — keep the suggestions coming!

  7. Marrock May 19, 2008 4:56 am 

    Where I live most of the roads are like this and the only thing I can do for it is to take the lane for my own safety.

  8. Iron Man May 19, 2008 6:26 am 

    Missouri has a lot of these in the farm country. I don’t mind them since the traffic is so light. Farm-land drivers around here are more accustomed to sharing the road with Amish buggies, farm tractors, etc. In fact they are generally super friendly and polite. But once I get closer to the “big city” I stay off roads with those speed limits. City drivers do not like sharing fast roads. If that photo shows an accurate portrayal of the traffic I wouldn’t mind being on it for a while. Just be visible and ride no closer than three feet from the white line.

  9. Ghost Rider May 19, 2008 6:38 am 

    I should mention that this is an “example” photo illustrating a high-speed road with no navigable shoulder. This isn’t the road that Shante is asking about.

  10. Shante May 19, 2008 8:28 am 
  11. Mike C May 19, 2008 8:58 am 

    Be as visible as possible. Have and use a rear-view mirror on your bike, helmet, or glasses.

    We have one high speed road that I use. It has a wide shoulder/breakdown lane and long sight-views. Posted 45mph, but people usually do 55-60. The alternate is a posted 40mph rd where people usually do about 45 that has no shoulder at all and is much narrower. I find the wider, faster road safer, but only because I’m riding the shoulder. If I had to take the lane because the road was as pictured above and the speed differential was that much greater, I’d opt for the other route.

    On my fast road, the only thing that gets scary is when someone is turning across the other lane–drivers are accustomed to not slowing at all and veering into the shoulder to get around. There, I keep to the left of the shoulder to take the shoulder as a lane and it does worry me that some day a driver won’t “see me” and wipe me out in that particular situation, when they are passing a turning car on the left, where I ride.

  12. Ghost Rider May 19, 2008 9:05 am 

    Mike C, you’ve described the “Alabama Passing Lane”…a curious phenomenon on even shoulder-less roads.

    Ragged Claws might be able to tell you a thing or two about his bike commute — folks in Alabama will get all the way onto the right-hand grass in order to pass someone turning left, and that is FRIGHTENING when you’re on a bicycle!

  13. Ghost Rider May 19, 2008 9:08 am 

    Shante, based on the map you provided (thanks!), there’s not a whole lot of route alternatives for you…bummer!

  14. Dominic Dougherty May 19, 2008 12:51 pm 

    On narrow roads, ride generally just inside the traffic lane, allowing room for a car to pass you by going partly over the far lane line.

    Being hit from behind is one of the least common cycling accidents, usually caused by motorists that are already impaired by being drunk, sleepy or are already going too fast for the given conditions. In any case, there is nothing you can do about it other than making yourself as visible as possible and ride predictably!

  15. Randy May 20, 2008 5:41 am 

    If people are regularly speeding, and passing you unsafely, ask for some enforcement from your local police. Long shot, I know …

  16. Shante May 20, 2008 8:25 am 

    I really appreciate all of the suggestions. I only ride between 10 am and 4pm . That way people can see me. I plan on getting a review before I ride that road again. I just really hate having to load up my bike to drive somewhere to ride it. Hopefully when I move it will be some place a lot easier to ride around town.

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