Six Road Hazards to Heed

October 19, 2017 - Jennifer Milyko is Adventure Cycling's Routes & Mapping Assistant Director and Laurie Chipps is the Membership Marketing Coordinator.

Traveling cyclists must consider many things when preparing for a stint on the road, and we tend to focus our attention on things related to food, shelter, and routes. However, as loaded touring cyclists, we may need to pay more attention to another item: road hazards.

On unloaded, go-fast bikes, it’s easier to stop or maneuver quickly around hazards. But on our gear-laden, traveling steeds, we could all use advice and warnings about negotiating the following six potential pitfalls. I’ve teamed up with Laurie Chipps, seasoned bicycle traveler and Adventure Cycling’s Membership Marketing Coordinator to bring you the following ...

1. Cattle guards

Photos courtesy of Will Uher.

These grids of metal slats found across the rural West keep cattle and other livestock from crossing and can be a threat to cyclists if not approached with caution. A heartbreaking example occurred just this summer when cyclist Frank Uher, traveling from Missoula to Denver with his brother and friends, approached the Split Rock National Historic Site. Frank’s front wheel was caught in a gap in a cattle guard, causing him to lose control and be thrown from his bike. He landed head first on the pavement and passed away at the scene.

The design of the four panel cattle guards present on these roads makes them particularly hazardous, so the Bureau of Land Management is working with the state of Wyoming to create a safer design and place hazard signs at the cattle guards.

When approaching any cattle guard, cyclists should be aware that the spacing between slats can vary, and there may be other gaps associated with the guard. It’s best to cross slowly, as perpendicular as possible, and when in doubt, walk your bike.

2. Dogs

Though Kentucky often gets a bad “rep” for dogs, loose Fidos can be encountered anywhere. While chasing moving objects is an innate behavior for dogs, most canines aren’t out to viciously attack. Patrick Tuttle of Joplin, Missouri penned a guest post for us, Stopping a Charging Dog, on how to deal with them.

3. Railroad crossings

Photo by Richard Masoner

Most traveling cyclists will encounter railroad crossings on tour, and will often go out of our way to avoid the worst of them on our commutes and recreational rides. Jan Heine, editor of Bicycle Quarterly, has written a summary of considerations and techniques for handling these common crossings in his post, Crossing Tracks Safely.

4. Thick gravel and chip seal

Gravel and chip seal can cause instability and difficulties while pedaling down the road. On my recent long-distance trip, I unwittingly routed myself onto a number of Wisconsin “rustic roads” and endured some of the scariest, most difficult riding of my 2000 miles. I frequently felt as though I was about to fall over. Holding a steady line proved nearly impossible. I quickly routed myself over to the parallel highway and breathed a sigh of relief.

Laurie had her own experience with loose chip seal — gravel spread over fresh tar — while on her 4,500-mile TransAmerica Trail journey. While in eastern Oregon, and with only 550 miles to her final destination in Astoria, she inadvertently maneuvered too far right in the shoulder, not realizing how deep the loose chip seal had accumulated. Let’s just say that after a quick tumble and a trip to the ER for four stitches across her ankle, she’s more cautious in the shoulders of chip sealed roads and any road shoulder with accumulated debris. And yes, she did make it to Astoria in the end!

5. Menacing metal

Photo by portland_mike

Manhole covers, sewer grates, open grated bridges — all of these have three words in common: slippery when wet. Not only could your wheels slide out from underneath you, metal can be loose or uneven, causing pinch flats, or have gaps, causing your wheels to become trapped. Check out How to Bike Across Metal Road Obstacles written by Bicycling Magazine associate editor and former Adventure Cycling tour leader, Caitlin Giddings, on how to deal with these hazards.

6. Cracks, filled and unfilled

Roads settle and heave, and sometimes the resulting cracks can eat your wheel. It’s best to avoid them if you can and cross them as perpendicularly as possible when you can’t. The flip side of these cracks is when they’ve been repaired and filled with tar: on particularly hot days the tar reheats and turns squishy and slippery. This is a hazard, not only on roads, but paved, multi-use paths.

These are our take on six road hazards and some tips on how to address them. Is there something in your neck of the woods travelers should know about? And how do you deal with them? Leave us a comment with your experiences either here in the comments below or on the Adventure Cycling Facebook page.

Top photo Salim Virji | Photo 2 courtesy of Will Uher | Photo 3 Richard Masoner | Photo 4 from portland_mike


GEOPOINTS BULLETIN is written by Jennifer ‘Jenn’ Hamelman, Routes & Mapping Assistant Director, and appears once a month, highlighting curious facts, figures, and persons from the Adventure Cycling Route Network with tips and hints for personal route creation thrown in for good measure. She also wants to remind you that map corrections and comments are always welcome via the online Map Correction Form.



John Schaffers October 19, 2017, 9:31 AM

Avoid if the sign says motorcycles beware, often construction steel across the road or a section of it. Also rumble strips can be a big issue.

Brian Raines October 23, 2017, 6:08 PM

Bridge expansion joints can be very dangerous. They are designed to allow the movement of bridge sections and are therefore continually changing.

Greg Forrester October 25, 2017, 6:19 AM

Other hazards to watch for include narrow anti-car barriers occasionally found at road crossings on bike paths, traffic channeling bubbles sometimes found at intersections but I also have seen them used to separate protected bike lanes from traffic lanes and green lights that don't last long enough for you to cycle across an intersection. I'm increasing finding intersections where the green light lasts as little as 5 seconds.

Marty Bernstein October 25, 2017, 3:41 PM

I've seen what I would call, "faux" cattle guards. The guards are painted on the pavement, good enough to fool the cattle, and at first glance good enough to fool me.

As to crossing them, I've taken the route to crossing them at a right angle, making sure I've got enough speed to clear the guards. What I never want to do is have to stop on the guard, and at my age walking across posses it's hazard.

Phil December 20, 2017, 6:46 PM

I once encountered a series of short fresh road repairs. On one it was so fresh the tar was still sticky. After crossing it and immediately picking up gravel and grit on the shoulder I had chip and seal tires for the next few miles, it was like riding on loose gravel till the tar wore off.

For loose dogs I miss my old frame pump. After a good wack on the nose from it that dog will never chase bikes again.

Bob Peltzer January 16, 2018, 8:40 PM

When riding on the C&O Canal (the CO part of GAPCO) be mindful of the stone aquaduct and canal locks you must cross, especially when they are wet. I learned this through the school of hard knocks and the tutition was a set of cracked ribs with 150 miles left to ride!

Bryce Jenkins January 23, 2018, 1:36 PM

One that I encounter on a paved multi-use path and would be a concern for rail-to-trail systems as well is tree roots upheaving the pavement. Even potentially small bumps have caused me issues, especially when something isn't as secured as I thought it was...

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