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Riding on numbered state highways (non-divided, 55-60mph speed limit)

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Riding on numbered state highways (non-divided, 55-60mph speed limit)

Old 01-11-15, 03:31 PM
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RomansFiveEight
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Riding on numbered state highways (non-divided, 55-60mph speed limit)

Hey all!

So I'm still learning, brand new to cycling, and scouting out places I might ride. I actually live in kind of a great place for riding. Rural, small-town. Lots of winding roads and a mix of rolling hills and steep climbs. I'm also 2 miles from a 35mph (in town) section of a state highway, which turns to 55mph after about 4 more miles and is just beautiful. Low traffic, mostly flat with a couple of decent hills, and another 10 miles is a gas station and a small diner; great places to stop on a ride and refuel. Actually that's somewhere I REALLY want to ride.

The problem though; is twofold.

1) There are no cyclists out here. In the years I've lived here I've almost never seen cyclists, outside of kids of course. And the occasional guy in blue jeans riding around. Once in a blue moon I've seen more hardcore cyclists out there doing some long-distance riding. It's very rare. Though strava says there are two or three! But there are no 'segments' established on this particular road.

2) It's a 55mph speed limit. Driving 70mph isn't uncommon (mostly flat, mostly straight, lots of visibility, not a lot of police. Rural). There's a big wide shoulder (almost as wide as the lanes) but it isn't regularly cleaned, so it's covered in debris, glass, etc. So riding the shoulder doesn't seem reasonable. Unless I pack a backpack full of tubes.

So; would you or wouldn't you? Especially being an inexperience rider? Should I just stick to town? What are some strategies for remaining safe when cars are coming up being you at 4 or 5 times the speed you're going? I HAVE seen cyclists on this road (near the white line but not on the shoulder). But it's rare and that has me concerned (i.e., drivers aren't used to it)
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Old 01-11-15, 04:41 PM
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Originally Posted by RomansFiveEight View Post
Hey all!

So I'm still learning, brand new to cycling, and scouting out places I might ride. I actually live in kind of a great place for riding. Rural, small-town. Lots of winding roads and a mix of rolling hills and steep climbs. I'm also 2 miles from a 35mph (in town) section of a state highway, which turns to 55mph after about 4 more miles and is just beautiful. Low traffic, mostly flat with a couple of decent hills, and another 10 miles is a gas station and a small diner; great places to stop on a ride and refuel. Actually that's somewhere I REALLY want to ride.

The problem though; is twofold.

1) There are no cyclists out here. In the years I've lived here I've almost never seen cyclists, outside of kids of course. And the occasional guy in blue jeans riding around. Once in a blue moon I've seen more hardcore cyclists out there doing some long-distance riding. It's very rare. Though strava says there are two or three! But there are no 'segments' established on this particular road.

2) It's a 55mph speed limit. Driving 70mph isn't uncommon (mostly flat, mostly straight, lots of visibility, not a lot of police. Rural). There's a big wide shoulder (almost as wide as the lanes) but it isn't regularly cleaned, so it's covered in debris, glass, etc. So riding the shoulder doesn't seem reasonable. Unless I pack a backpack full of tubes.

So; would you or wouldn't you? Especially being an inexperience rider? Should I just stick to town? What are some strategies for remaining safe when cars are coming up being you at 4 or 5 times the speed you're going? I HAVE seen cyclists on this road (near the white line but not on the shoulder). But it's rare and that has me concerned (i.e., drivers aren't used to it)

Four lane highways

That road sounds just like US-52 E from Cincinnati to New Richmond, OH. Flat and straight, divided, two lanes each direction. But I dislike the shoulder, due to sharp metal and glass trash. It is possible to ride there, but I have to carefully watch the shoulder, and I still won't see the really small stuff that can get embedded in my tire.

I have a Cygolite Hotshot 2W tail light. When aimed horizontally, it's bright enough to show up in sunny mid-day rides. A bright blinking tail light gives the cars a mile or so to notice you and slide over to the next lane. I find that most cars move over even if I'm on the shoulder.

A cheap white blinky front light is a good idea, too. Oncoming cars need a heads up that you are there. And a hi-viz jersey is useful.

I have a glasses mounted rear view mirror. I ride in the right tire track, so there's nothing to cut my tires, and check the traffic periodically. I can see if there's no cars in sight, and take it easy for a while. Then if cars are way back, I can see if they move over well in advance. If not, or if there's more than 2 cars approaching, I'll move off to the shoulder until they pass.

Two lane roads
I can't monitor the rear view continuously, I have to move my head a little when I'm using the mirror. On two lane country roads, there often isn't any traffic. Due to wind noise, I only hear cars approaching maybe half the time.

I ride in the right tire track. Cars can't squeeze by in the same lane, and there's a lot less debris there--the car tires kick it out to the side of the road.

If I see a car coming toward me in the other lane, I'll check the mirror to see make sure there won't be a car coming up behind at the same time. That requires the car behind me to use good judgement on braking or passing. 95% of the cars will slow appropriately, but there's always a few that pass anyway, causing the oncoming cars to haul on their brakes and get half off the road.

If there's a sharp curve coming up, with bad sight lines, and I see cars in my rear view, I'll take the lane, riding in the middle of the lane, to discourage them from passing on the curve.

The bright tail light is good for two lane roads that go in and out of forest. The light shows up when you are in the shaded section.

I try to avoid the really twisty, hilly roads. It's hard for cars to see me, and I usually can't even pull off the road to let them by.

Last edited by rm -rf; 01-11-15 at 05:22 PM.
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Old 01-11-15, 04:56 PM
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Finding good rural routes

I like to explore the Strava Global Heatmap. Here's the area SW of St Louis. (The URL changes as you drag the map or zoom, so you can favorite/bookmark your area.) Less traveled roads get colored in as you zoom in.

The most ridden roads are dark red, less usage is blue. But some roads are just the most convenient way to get out of town, or are the only possible route, and aren't necessarily the best riding. Anyway, it's interesting to see where other riders go. Strava historically was mostly racer types, but now there's a wider range of riders uploading their rides.

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Old 01-11-15, 04:57 PM
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It's hard to say without actually being there. There are some numbered state highways that we ride on, others that I wouldn't, in my area. But that doesn't mean your roads are good or bad.
One problem with a trashy shoulder is that drivers won't realize it sucks to ride on it, so they'll think you're being unreasonable to ride in the lane when you have that big shoulder over there.
Some roads are great to ride on a Saturday morning, and terrible at rushhour on a weekday, too.
Here in Texas, the best riding is rural FM roads. Near larger cities, FM roads will be too trafficky, out away from towns, they are great.
County roads tend to meander without having a through route, tend to be less well maintained or even gravel, etc. If we find FM roads that go where we want and in reasonable condition, they're great.
I just finished reading Dex Tooke's "Unfinished Business", about riding RAAM. It seemed that Missouri was one of the low points for him, due to rude drivers, busy roads, no shoulder, etc. Of course, that was based on just a single west-east crossing of the state.
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Old 01-11-15, 05:55 PM
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Learn to walk before you run.

Get some puncture resistant tires such as the Schwalbe marathon plus so you can ride the shoulders without undue concern. Adjust what you do as you build confidence, and get a better feel for the dynamics of how your areas drivers behave.
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Old 01-11-15, 06:13 PM
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Originally Posted by kickstart View Post
Learn to walk before you run....
....Adjust what you do as you build confidence, and get a better feel for the dynamics of how your areas drivers behave.
+1

I have a bright blinky red light clipped to my saddle bag at all times. I don't often use it but I feel it is helpful in certain places/situations. Contact your local state-regional highway department (or the local/county) sheriffs office. Politely inquire about share the road (bicycle) signs on that stretch of road. Don't expect immediate results... but it might be helpful.

Learn to glance behind you. Do that frequently... it will improve your peripheral vision... and help keep you from getting run-over. If you're old (like me) and have difficulty bending and turning.... use a mirror.
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Old 01-11-15, 10:06 PM
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Thanks for the tips guys! I appreciate it!
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Old 01-12-15, 02:52 AM
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Originally Posted by RomansFiveEight View Post

2) It's a 55mph speed limit. Driving 70mph isn't uncommon (mostly flat, mostly straight, lots of visibility, not a lot of police. Rural). There's a big wide shoulder (almost as wide as the lanes) but it isn't regularly cleaned, so it's covered in debris, glass, etc. So riding the shoulder doesn't seem reasonable. Unless I pack a backpack full of tubes.

So; would you or wouldn't you? Especially being an inexperience rider?
South Carolina here where most of our state highways are two laned and no shoulders. I've gotten hardened I guess because I ride on them... What I do is on roads I don't know but are state highways is to check AADT (Average Annual Daily Traffic).. anything above 5,000 is bad, anything below 2,000 is good, anything below 500 is a blessing.

I have learned that my ears are my most valuable safety tool on busier roads, almost a knack for knowing when a bad situation is coming up and to pull off the road. I don't use a mirror as I found out I often spook myself more that way.
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Old 01-12-15, 04:18 AM
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I don't like riding on the busier roads, but I'll do it as necessary. Most of the busy roads have wider shoulders which is nice.

Personally I prefer to ride as far right as safe and possible. Now that I don't have sewups anymore, I seem to be hitting more gravel and even a bit of glass. But, I'd rather be on the shoulder than in the middle of the road.
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Old 01-12-15, 08:32 AM
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Originally Posted by CliffordK View Post
I don't like riding on the busier roads, but I'll do it as necessary. Most of the busy roads have wider shoulders which is nice.

Personally I prefer to ride as far right as safe and possible. Now that I don't have sewups anymore, I seem to be hitting more gravel and even a bit of glass. But, I'd rather be on the shoulder than in the middle of the road.
This road isn't very busy. Pretty rural, not a lot of traffic as I mentioned in the OP. My concern was the speed at which those cars would be approaching me from behind is.

Originally Posted by StephenH View Post
It's hard to say without actually being there. There are some numbered state highways that we ride on, others that I wouldn't, in my area. But that doesn't mean your roads are good or bad.
One problem with a trashy shoulder is that drivers won't realize it sucks to ride on it, so they'll think you're being unreasonable to ride in the lane when you have that big shoulder over there.
Some roads are great to ride on a Saturday morning, and terrible at rushhour on a weekday, too.
Here in Texas, the best riding is rural FM roads. Near larger cities, FM roads will be too trafficky, out away from towns, they are great.
County roads tend to meander without having a through route, tend to be less well maintained or even gravel, etc. If we find FM roads that go where we want and in reasonable condition, they're great.
I just finished reading Dex Tooke's "Unfinished Business", about riding RAAM. It seemed that Missouri was one of the low points for him, due to rude drivers, busy roads, no shoulder, etc. Of course, that was based on just a single west-east crossing of the state.
Actually, I had a guy stay with me who was traveling across the country on his bicycle to raise money for parkinsons (he himself had parkinsons). He told me Missouri was one of the hardest states (and this was his third time riding across the US).

Originally Posted by gpsblake View Post
South Carolina here where most of our state highways are two laned and no shoulders. I've gotten hardened I guess because I ride on them... What I do is on roads I don't know but are state highways is to check AADT (Average Annual Daily Traffic).. anything above 5,000 is bad, anything below 2,000 is good, anything below 500 is a blessing.


I have learned that my ears are my most valuable safety tool on busier roads, almost a knack for knowing when a bad situation is coming up and to pull off the road. I don't use a mirror as I found out I often spook myself more that way.
So I looked it up. This road goes through several towns, and it connects my town and the next town, with about 35 miles in between. The data points close to both downs is about 5500. The data point in the middle space between the two towns is about 1800. Not sure what to make of that!
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Old 01-12-15, 09:11 AM
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Around here local arterial roads are similar to your state highways... 50-60 MPH, 2-3 lanes either way... but often with a bike lane... It's so much fun sharing those roads.
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Old 01-12-15, 09:22 AM
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Originally Posted by genec View Post
Around here local arterial roads are similar to your state highways... 50-60 MPH, 2-3 lanes either way... but often with a bike lane... It's so much fun sharing those roads.
This is just one lane in each direction. Not divided. Our divided multi-lane highways generally have a 70mph speed limit unless you're in urban areas. And I have no intention of riding there!
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Old 01-12-15, 12:16 PM
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Did you mention where you are in Missouri?

There is the Katy Trail cuts across the middle of the state, more or less following the Missouri River, as well as some good trails that follow the Mississippi, at least around St. Louis.

You have to share the road. And, a relatively low traffic rural road sounds ideal. The more you get out, the more the locals will start seeing you on the road, even if you are the only one. Some of them may even slow down and pull over to pass you.

Just keep in midn visibility. Some people like high visibility vests. I have a yellow cycling jacket for the winter. Use lots of lights after dark. And, you should be ok.
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Old 01-12-15, 12:31 PM
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Originally Posted by RomansFiveEight View Post
This road isn't very busy. Pretty rural, not a lot of traffic as I mentioned in the OP. My concern was the speed at which those cars would be approaching me from behind is.
Learn to listen. If traffic is very light yuo should be able to hear any car coming in plenty of time to react. If cars are really rare then heading for the shoulder when one does come is a possible option.

Do remember that a wide open road with little traffic is where drivers do things like checking a map or even texting these days. So in some ways light traffic has increased risks.
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Old 01-12-15, 12:33 PM
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Originally Posted by CliffordK View Post
Did you mention where you are in Missouri?

There is the Katy Trail cuts across the middle of the state, more or less following the Missouri River, as well as some good trails that follow the Mississippi, at least around St. Louis.

You have to share the road. And, a relatively low traffic rural road sounds ideal. The more you get out, the more the locals will start seeing you on the road, even if you are the only one. Some of them may even slow down and pull over to pass you.

Just keep in midn visibility. Some people like high visibility vests. I have a yellow cycling jacket for the winter. Use lots of lights after dark. And, you should be ok.
I live in St. Clair; which is about an hour west/southwest of St. Louis. Katy Trail isn't far.

I bought a high-vis jersey. So I've at least got that covered.

St. Clair has plenty of good places to ride. Steep hills, flat rides, etc. But I don't want to do all my riding in town; hence the question. I'd love to do some longer rides eventually down Hwy 30.
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Old 01-12-15, 01:05 PM
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I'm trying to remember what that area was like. I don't think I rode much south of St. Louis, but I did go boating and hiking down in that area a few times. Lots of rolling hills, maybe a bit brushy (which could obscure visibility somewhat).

It looks from the map like there are a lot of smaller roads, but the more main roads often have better routes, especially if you're actually heading somewhere.

I'd just get out and ride. It isn't fun to just ride around town, and may be safer riding along country roads than on city streets.

I think there are relatively few rear-end collisions. Just make sure you don't run into anybody (which may actually be a higher risk as cars have been known to pull out in front of cyclists).

Illinois was a lot flatter, but may be too long of a drive to get there.
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Old 01-12-15, 01:07 PM
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Originally Posted by CliffordK View Post
I'm trying to remember what that area was like. I don't think I rode much south of St. Louis, but I did go boating and hiking down in that area a few times. Lots of rolling hills, maybe a bit brushy (which could obscure visibility somewhat).

It looks from the map like there are a lot of smaller roads, but the more main roads often have better routes, especially if you're actually heading somewhere.

I'd just get out and ride. It isn't fun to just ride around town, and may be safer riding along country roads than on city streets.

I think there are relatively few rear-end collisions. Just make sure you don't run into anybody (which may actually be a higher risk as cars have been known to pull out in front of cyclists).

Thanks!

Pulling out is a big concern, it is on my motorcycle. Heck, happens a lot even in my car. Especially on the smaller rural roads outside of town where people are used to just pulling right on out of their driveway without looking.
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Old 01-12-15, 03:11 PM
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Originally Posted by RomansFiveEight View Post
This is just one lane in each direction. Not divided. Our divided multi-lane highways generally have a 70mph speed limit unless you're in urban areas. And I have no intention of riding there!
The local arterial roads may or may not be divided... somewhat depends on the age of the road.

As far as not having intention of riding on certain roads... well around here that keeps you pretty much at home. There is often no alternative to the high speed arterial road... it is the ONLY road.
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Old 01-12-15, 03:49 PM
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Originally Posted by StephenH View Post
It's hard to say without actually being there. There are some numbered state highways that we ride on, others that I wouldn't, in my area. But that doesn't mean your roads are good or bad.
One problem with a trashy shoulder is that drivers won't realize it sucks to ride on it, so they'll think you're being unreasonable to ride in the lane when you have that big shoulder over there.
Some roads are great to ride on a Saturday morning, and terrible at rushhour on a weekday, too.
Here in Texas, the best riding is rural FM roads. Near larger cities, FM roads will be too trafficky, out away from towns, they are great.
County roads tend to meander without having a through route, tend to be less well maintained or even gravel, etc. If we find FM roads that go where we want and in reasonable condition, they're great.
I just finished reading Dex Tooke's "Unfinished Business", about riding RAAM. It seemed that Missouri was one of the low points for him, due to rude drivers, busy roads, no shoulder, etc. Of course, that was based on just a single west-east crossing of the state.
Ditto here for Missouri. I've done RAAM a few times and every time the most inhospitable state by far was Missouri. Intolerant, rude, wreckless rednecks. And night time was downright scary due to all of the above with a lot of alcohol added in.
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Old 01-12-15, 03:59 PM
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Originally Posted by jprides View Post
Ditto here for Missouri. I've done RAAM a few times and every time the most inhospitable state by far was Missouri. Intolerant, rude, wreckless rednecks. And night time was downright scary due to all of the above with a lot of alcohol added in.
I wish I could defend my home state. Wish I could stand up and wag my finger and say "You must just be a jerk."

But, alas, I'm not surprised by your experience. Rural Missouri is not fitness-friendly. Rural Missouri is not concerned about the environment. Rural Missouri is not concerned about health, or really even safety. So for many rural Missourians, where I live, the only reasons to own a Bicycle are 1) You are a 10 year old. Or 2) You've gotten too many DWI's and you've finally gotten your license revoked.

I have to drive 30 minutes to find a grocery store with a decent selection of fresh meat and produce. I'm not exaggerating when I say the local grocery store has 4 frozen food aisles, and 3 aisles of processed boxed-food (think Hamburger helper), and in one little corner is a small selection of "fresh" fruit (often moldy), the 'vegetable' selection is usually pre-bagged lettuce and maybe some tomatoes or something, and there is no butcher/meat counter. Just some packaged processed meat. Eating healthy and getting fit are not priorities out here.

They talk about being good ol' friendly country folks. And I've seen that side. But I've also seen one heck of a snobby side.

My Doctor, here in town, is an avid cyclist. And even he doesn't ride much around here! He lives in a large gated community where he does a lot of riding, otherwise it goes onto a bike rack and he heads towards St. Louis. I guess that should be a hint for me! HA!
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Old 01-12-15, 08:36 PM
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Originally Posted by moochems View Post
Sounds like the OP is pretty much obligated to ride in the shoulder. It sounds to me like you would be relentlessly harassed if you disregarded the such a broad shoulder and traveled in the roadway.

Marathon plus tires will get you there! Carry tools to repair a flat just in case, but marathon plus tires are tops.

Thanks! I looked into those a bit. They look pretty hardcore! That's on my list!

The shoulders are not cleaned. As in ever. The roads themselves aren't cleaned either. So unless it rains, they are filthy (And even then). In spots the shoulders look like they are practically made of gravel because there's so much debris (dirt, rocks, broken glass, etc.) I'll be putting those tires to the test! But to know I reasonably can do that is good; and alleviates concerns about riding in the lane.
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Old 01-12-15, 09:04 PM
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You're describing the roads where I ride 90% of the time. Remember that cars really don't wNt to hit you and if you make yourself as visible as possible, they'll give you room 99% of the time. Personally, I ride Gatorskins for training rides, and if there's a 10 foot shoulder I'll ride it. In the last 7500 mile's I've had a grand total of 1 flat attributable to glass and 2 attributable to other debris - all of those curried in STL. The only flats I have at home on the farm have been from goatheads.
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Old 01-12-15, 09:09 PM
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Originally Posted by jprides View Post
Ditto here for Missouri. I've done RAAM a few times and every time the most inhospitable state by far was Missouri. Intolerant, rude, wreckless rednecks. And night time was downright scary due to all of the above with a lot of alcohol added in.
Sounds like you had bad luck. I have few if any problems riding I rural Missouri and/or in STL.
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Old 01-13-15, 08:28 AM
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Originally Posted by bbbean View Post
Sounds like you had bad luck. I have few if any problems riding I rural Missouri and/or in STL.
Yah, I must have been unlucky all 3 times...
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Old 01-13-15, 09:39 AM
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Stay Visible
Strobe headlight and red blinking tail during the daytime, high vis jersey or jacket.
Head and tail lights near dusk and dawn and if at night, reflective tape, sidewalls and clothing
"Slow moving vehicle" triangular reflective sign?
Additional speed reduces number of passing vehicles and allows them more time to notice you, also reduces severity of any rear impact See - Bicycle Safety - The Math of Speed

En-armor
Kevlar belted tires (essential) ... "Slime" filled tubes? (not as important for typical road hazards, but can't hurt)

Aid Law Enforcement!
Town meetings? Recommend that speeders etc. be assigned community service of cleaning sides of roads and offer to monitor and report on thoroughness of cleaning and willingness to report additional hazards.

Mention "Highway Adoption Program".
Sponsors, families, groups can offer to monitor-maintain sections of highways or roads, keeping them clean and safe in return for a sign. Can greatly enhance safety-cleanliness and promote awareness and encourage more cyclists to join you on the road?
Offer to sponsor a small road section and have a sign similar to "Maintained by Cyclists for a Safer Missouri" posted, should encourage additional cyclists and road sponsorships.

Carry cell phone with camera or camera to quickly report - document hazards or dangerous drivers

Lots of ways to be safer, promote safety and additional cycle traffic.
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