Biking long distances in bad weather should be easier

SunsetLast week my wife and I went to the coast. It’s not a very long trip, around 140 miles (225 km) one way.

There’s bus and train service that covers part of the trip and the sections without train or bus service are all marked with bicycle signs. One stretch of highway en route is even a state-designated bike route. Combining the train or bus with our bikes would have gotten us to our destination in a manageable amount of time.

Despite all of that we decided to drive our car. Why? Because riding our bikes would have been too complicated.

We talked it over before hand: there’s a bus leaving around dinner, it arrives near our destination in the late evening, and from there it’s only a 15 mile ride on a designated bike route.

Sounds easy, right?

Unfortunately the bus arrives after dark which means reduced visibility for us and other people on the road. Also, the “designated bike route” is the shoulder of a freeway, full of gravel and trash, without any separation from speeding motor vehicles. In one spot the freeway crosses over a river and the bridge is long, narrow, and unsafe for bicycle traffic.

We sent messages to friends and family asking if anyone had ridden along that specific stretch of highway. How big was the shoulder? Is there enough room on the side of the road to safely stop your bike? Are people in the area agressive drivers or do they give bicycles plenty of room? How’s the road at night? Are there street lights? Will people be able to see our bikes as we ride on the shoulder of the highway?

Eventually we decided to give in and drive to the coast, do some reconnaissance, and think about taking the bus and our bikes on a future trip.

On top of complicated planning, the weather wasn’t supposed to be all that great for our journey. Forecasts called for rain, hail, snow, and lots of wind.

Weather on the coast was cold and wet, but not all that unusual for the area. On the way back, however, we ran into snow going over the pass. There were a few inches of snow packed on the road and we had to drive slowly. We never needed chains but we were driving so slow we could have stopped to put them on without loosing much time.

Snow on the Road

My initial thought was “I’m sure glad we didn’t try to ride our bikes in the snow!” Then I thought about it a bit more and remembered that riding in the snow is no big deal. In fact, it’s been a lot safer, in my experience, than driving in the snow.

Batavus in the SnowDon’t just take my word for it though: Plenty of people bike in the snow, and some even think bikes in the snow are pretty.

The only time I’ve had trouble riding in the snow is when cars pack snow into a slippery sheet of ice. Cars tend to slip around on the ice sheets they create, adding another layer of danger for anyone near by when they slide out of control.

If there had been a safe route, clear of motor vehicles, we could have biked over the snowy pass in nearly the same time as we drove.

Some people might think that building a separated path for bicycles over the pass is asking for “special treatment” but they’d be wrong. Asking to safely and legally use a road that my tax dollars pay for is simply asking for equal treatment.

Snowy Bike Sign

There are a few signs altering people to the possible presence of bicycles, but is that really the best we can do? Do people really think this is a reasonable facility for bicycle traffic?

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