Bad Chip Seal on an Iconic Route

January 10, 2013

Cyclists face a lot of nemeses on the road, from rumble strips to distracted drivers. Another one is bad chip seal. As a periodic driver (and friend of quite a few road engineers), I know the value of this aggregate material and process for covering and preserving roadways -- but only when it's done right. And in California, we have a classic example of when it's done wrong. On a beautiful and important 25+ mile stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway(PCH), between Cambria and Ragged Point in San Luis Obispo County, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) resurfaced the roadway with big, chunky aggregate (including 3/8" to 1/2" pieces). This causes lots of problems for cyclists; it creates an unstable surface (especially for skinny-tire bikes), masks potholes and other hazards, and results in big piles of the aggregate taking over the shoulder, which forces cyclists into the travel lane. Already, one cyclist has been taken down by this poorly done chip seal, and has suffered a broken hip.


As someone who has ridden the entire Pacific Coast route with my family, and who knows how important the PCH is to locals and to riders worldwide (including as part of Adventure Cycling's most popular route, the Pacific Coast), I am disappointed by Caltrans' erroneous decision to use the larger aggregate. Caltrans can act today to fix this by re-doing the chip seal with smaller aggregate that is cycling-friendly. Along with our California friends, Adventure Cycling has protested to Caltrans, and you can too, through this petition. Even if you don't live in California, it's worth letting Caltrans know how important this route is to cyclists everywhere. Sign the petition today -- and thanks for your interest and help.

Photos: Imagine trying to ride your road bike on this huge chip seal aggregate! Photos by Mike Evans.


JIM SAYER is executive director of Adventure Cycling Association.



Anonymous February 14, 2013, 4:51 PM

What "Anonymous" on Feb. 5 at 9:54pm said ... as one who USED TO look forward to making the long, beautiful trek up Hwy 35 to Alice's Restaurant once monthly, I crossed the route off my list after riding on the offending chip seal for a total of 20 miles. It was bone-rattling, not to mention the rocks that richoceted off my helmet when cars passed. They didn't look too happy, either - many drove much slower than usual because the surface was so horribly rough. In the end, I had to haul my bike into the shop and have my entire drivetrain replaced. Just because the roads in some other state/country are worse, doesn't mean I have to put up with CalTrans making a bad, dangerous call on chip seal. It would be like someone in Texas griping about a house being sold for $400K, then having a Californian like me come along and telling the Texan to shut up because we pay upwards of $1.5M just to get an old house in a decent neighborhood that doesn't have a high crime rate or bad schools.

Anonymous February 6, 2013, 4:54 AM

I'm surprised at the mixture of indifferent and passive aggressive reactions to the idea of bringing a 25-mile segment of one of California's most iconic roads up to the standard of the majority of the route. For whatever reason, someone made a bad construction decision, and if your voice made a difference in undoing that decision, which would you rather ride on: smooth or crappy pavement? Comparisons to pavement in other states or countries are completely irrelevant. The point is you get exactly what you are willing to accept. There's nothing wrong with demanding better and taking action to get it. That goes for everything in life.

Anonymous February 5, 2013, 9:36 PM

Has anyone thought about the chipseal's feelings???? Being labeled "bad" or "large" can cause emotional distress. I fear the chipseal will sue the biking community and then ask for a comfort dog to accompany them on the highway.

Anonymous January 18, 2013, 12:18 AM

As wide as you're comfortable riding on mixed terrain. I like 700x32-35c personally.

Anonymous January 17, 2013, 6:32 PM

Perhapd they're saving the good stone for the high speed rail project.

Anonymous January 17, 2013, 4:26 PM

Looks better than many of our roads here in northeast Ohio. Besides humongous freeze / thaw cycles that destroy our roads, some counties use aggregate so large that we name it chunk and seal. I haven't measured, but I swear some chunks are 1" in size.

Anonymous January 17, 2013, 3:35 PM

I agree with the Kiwi, looks like a good road to me. Stop sniveling and just ride.

froze January 17, 2013, 12:58 AM

Right, petition California to fix those roads...with what money? I know, raise the gasoline tax another 50 cents a gallon; what the heck, California already has the highest price gasoline in the United states, what's another 50 cents to all those rich people?

Bikeonaguy January 16, 2013, 11:09 PM

So funny to see this as the first comment. That was gonna be my reply!

Anonymous January 16, 2013, 10:08 PM

How wide is that?

BikeBoy January 16, 2013, 9:06 PM

Portions of Skyline (hwy 35) above the Bay Area's silicon valley, which is a major route for the region's cyclists, was similarly resurfaced with this large-aggregate chip seal. It is already coming up loose in many portions, leaving dangerous holes and ruts, and the loose gravel is piling up on the roadside, reducing available space for bikes and forcing them further into the travel lane. We collectively need to get the word out to counties and the state that this is not acceptable.

Anonymous January 16, 2013, 7:05 PM

As someone (a Californian to boot) who rode through that area during the reconstruction of the road, I'd encourage cyclists to consider using wider, practical tires so they don't have to worry about a bit of gravel on the road. A bicycle that you can confidently ride on multiple surface types is ideal.

Kiwi Pete January 11, 2013, 10:28 AM

Well it looks like a Good road in New Zealand!

This is the way all roads in NZ are, so harding up and just go riding.

Do the odd bit's of aggregate come flying up of passing car's and hit you?

Have fun.


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