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Gravel or Highway - What's Safer?

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Gravel or Highway - What's Safer?

Old 07-14-18, 03:17 PM
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hadassah
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Gravel or Highway - What's Safer?

Since breaking my leg 6 weeks ago on a gravel type country road, I have considered biking on the road. It is a highway (US - 54, Weaubleau/Collins Missouri area) with a nice shoulder with miles in between small towns. We are at the edge or town so I'd be on it in a few minutes. Being that the highway the speed limit is 55 or so. I have never considered going on the pavement on such a road with cars going at that speed, but after my fall on the country road, I am highly considering it as maybe it would be safer... not something I would have thought a couple of months ago. I know I will get many different responses concerning safety on this topic... lots of different experiences and things to consider, but would you consider riding on a highway safer than a gravel road? What about a paved country road (55 MPH) without a shoulder with lots turns and such? There's a beautiful one about 3 miles down the highway.

Thanks for being nice about this, I am new to all of this, I appreciate anybody's feedback.
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Old 07-14-18, 03:35 PM
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Originally Posted by hadassah View Post
...the highway the speed limit is 55 or so.
That sounds scary to me.

If you broke your leg because the gravel road was bumpy or had bad traction - the thing is you get better at handling that, whereas you don't really get better at dodging dangerous drivers coming up behind you at high speed.

would you consider riding on a highway safer than a gravel road?
Generally speaking, gravel road sounds much safer than a 55 mph highway.
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Old 07-14-18, 03:39 PM
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Originally Posted by hadassah View Post
Since breaking my leg 6 weeks ago on a gravel type country road, I have considered biking on the road. It is a highway (US - 54, Weaubleau/Collins Missouri area) with a nice shoulder with miles in between small towns. We are at the edge or town so I'd be on it in a few minutes. Being that the highway the speed limit is 55 or so. I have never considered going on the pavement on such a road with cars going at that speed, but after my fall on the country road, I am highly considering it as maybe it would be safer... not something I would have thought a couple of months ago. I know I will get many different responses concerning safety on this topic... lots of different experiences and things to consider, but would you consider riding on a highway safer than a gravel road? What about a paved country road (55 MPH) without a shoulder with lots turns and such? There's a beautiful one about 3 miles down the highway.

Thanks for being nice about this, I am new to all of this, I appreciate anybody's feedback.
Hello,

If the road has a decent shoulder (maybe 3 or 4 feet) I wouldn't worry too much about riding it. How are the drivers around cyclists in Missouri? I think that is the biggest factor. Here in northwest Georgia, drivers are fairly cautious for the most part (many won't pass you at all, they hang back to the rear unless you wave them on).. The bigger problem is dogs ironically. Many roads are fairly narrow with a minimal shoulder, but it isn't much of an issue as drivers seem to respect cyclists here.

Dave
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Old 07-14-18, 03:44 PM
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Country roads around here are typically 60-70 mph and are winding with narrow shoulders. It's nerve racking...

I've ridden them without incident so far but I can't shake the feeling that sudden death is sneaking up behind me in the form of some drunk G.O.B. in his pick-up who "aint got no time to move over fer some spandex wearin' pantywaiste on MAH got-dang road!".

Gravel roads have their own disadvantages even though they're seldom traveled. For instance sometimes they're poorly maintained or mapped and also isolated, also I hear people wreck and break pieces of themselves there as well... I'd probably stick to the pavement for physical comfort and efficiency since I ride road bikes, but a different kind of bike would make gravel roads more appealing.
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Old 07-14-18, 03:52 PM
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Was listening to Lance's podcast of The Tour (a day behind) and was surprised he said riding just Mt Bike now, to dangerous on roads nowadays.
I have to take what the life out on the road gives me. Sometimes paved, oil and chip, gravel or dirt. I sure can see why gravel and mountain bike much better but anything can have its dangerous situations.
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Old 07-14-18, 03:56 PM
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Originally Posted by hillyman View Post
Was listening to Lance's podcast of The Tour (a day behind) and was surprised he said riding just Mt Bike now, to dangerous on roads nowadays.
I have to take what the life out on the road gives me. Sometimes paved, oil and chip, gravel or dirt. I sure can see why gravel and mountain bike much better but anything can have its dangerous situations.
UGH! CHIP SEAL!!! I'd rather be hit by a car!

Not really, but still...
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Old 07-14-18, 04:10 PM
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For me the equation is not gravel vs pavement but rather traffic volume and shoulders.

If you ride a road with no shoulder, gravel or paved, you are in the same travel lane as the vehicles. You therefore are relying solely on the driver seeing you and taking adequate steps to avoid collision.

If you ride a road with a shoulder you are not in the travel lane the traffic is using and are only at risk of the odd vehicle that decides to drive down the shoulder for some reason. There is a risk of course, but the frequency of drivers traveling along the shoulder of a hwy, especially with rumble strips, is far less than those who may be distracted or pass too close in the traffic lane itself.

If a gravel road, or country road, has very little traffic you can mitigate the risk by simply pulling over to the side if you see a vehicle approaching in your mirror. I do this on logging roads because trucks have a hard time passing safely, especially on corners, if they want to also avoid being in the way of any unseen oncoming traffic. With low frequency traffic it's not a burden to me. The worse case scenario is moderate traffic both ways on a narrow road with no shoulder. That is a recipe for cars buzzing too close while passing so I avoid those roads if possible.
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Old 07-14-18, 04:15 PM
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Originally Posted by DanBraden View Post
UGH! CHIP SEAL!!! I'd rather be hit by a car!

Not really, but still...
great traction on a summer day especially where they've put a nice layer of tar on top. About park your bike on the road straight up without a kickstand or anything to lean against.
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Old 07-14-18, 04:21 PM
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Can't you find something in between?

How are the shoulders on the 55 MPH road? If there are good shoulders then there should not be a real issue.

Gravel roads do have one safety problem that 55MPH roads do not have. They are usually remote. If you get hurt and can't get yourself back it might be a very long time before you get help. From your avatar, I will assume you are a woman. Traveling back roads alone is something you also need to consider.
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Old 07-14-18, 04:23 PM
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Everything depends on the roads.

Each road is different, and there is no one answer that fits them all. I've ridden my whole life on country roads, and am very used to them, from "highways" (which can still be nerve rattling if busy) to shoulderless roads with the occasional passing car.

There is one section of road that is kind of fun to ride to complete a "loop" around town. But, I avoid it from about 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM. Too much traffic. If I have to ride during that time, it is back to my normal route. Evenings around 8:00 or 9:00 are pleasant (with adequate lights).

Not all gravel roads are the same. I have a pea gravel canal access road which is nice. I take my road bike on it with skinny tires, and hit it at moderate speed. Only issue are a couple of steep access trails to it.

There is about a 20 mile stretch of loose gravel that I've hit. It bypasses a very busy rural highway. To me, there is not much choice but to take that gravel road if I go that way, but it has loose gravel that I found to be unnerving. Perhaps larger tires would help.

A third gravel road I periodically hit has large stones. Generally well packed. Again, bypassing 5 or 10 miles of rural highway. Bigger tires would certainly help,but I haven't quite figured what I think about that road.

Anyway, in your case, if it is a short hop on a rural highway with clean wide shoulders, I wouldn't hesitate to hop onto it for a short distance, but perhaps wouldn't be real happy with it if it had very heavy traffic. Look for off hours riding?
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Old 07-14-18, 04:54 PM
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If there's not heavy traffic on the paved road with a good shoulder then that should be fine. Personally I would choose gravel roads over paved. Normay gravel roads have very little traffic and it's typically slow moving traffic at that
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Old 07-14-18, 06:21 PM
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I recall your first post about skidding out and breaking your leg -
You were questioning the tire pressure you were using.
Maybe the tires themselves aren't right for the gravel roads you're riding ?
I'd take a quiet rural road, gravel or not, over a 55mph highway, any day ........
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Old 07-14-18, 06:34 PM
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I ride shoulders on 55 mph roads,
not much choice here.
3 or more shoulders are nice to have.
I dress in high vis & have a blinking red light
on the back
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Old 07-14-18, 07:22 PM
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There's two ghost bike memorials on a local 10 mile long, 4 lane road with very wide shoulders. Both riders were killed on a straight road, with clear sight lines. At least one driver was impaired, and texting distractions is a big problem. So shoulders aren't a complete solution.

I now run a very bright blinky during the day. A Cygolite 150 lumen at it's one bright flash per second setting. I want drivers to notice me far ahead, giving them time to decide how to pass, and to interrupt their distractions, too.

I ride the local two lane / no shoulder country roads. Traffic is very light. My eyeglass mirror helps a lot. But I can see cars coming from the back, in my lane, and a lot of the drivers wait until they are only about 2 seconds away from me to move over. It's a little disconcerting. So, when I'm driving, I move over way early for cyclists. 98% of these country drivers are careful around cyclists, and the other 2% just want to make a statement as they pass, revving or blasting black smoke -- but still safe. (By far, my biggest concern is dogs running out on the road, not the drivers.)

On twisting climbs, I ride way out toward the center line, and keep track with my mirror and ears for overtaking cars. Then move to the right when they see me.

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Old 07-14-18, 07:26 PM
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Originally Posted by spinnaker View Post
Can't you find something in between?

How are the shoulders on the 55 MPH road? If there are good shoulders then there should not be a real issue.

Gravel roads do have one safety problem that 55MPH roads do not have. They are usually remote. If you get hurt and can't get yourself back it might be a very long time before you get help. From your avatar, I will assume you are a woman. Traveling back roads alone is something you also need to consider.
Yea Great Plains....rural roads come in 3 flavors:

A) High-traffic main state highways where people speed and buzz you (these have shoulders)
B) Low-traffic state highways where people speed and buzz you (no shoulders)
C) unpaved country roads with minimal traffic...and generally drivers slow down and give you lots of room.


Missourri IIRC leads the entire USA in most miles of minimum maintenance road in the USA...in fact IIRC in MO it is legal (and normal) for state highways to not even have painted lines on them (AKA divider or fog lines). Personally...in MO...I'd take gravel roads rather than paved.

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Old 07-14-18, 07:30 PM
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I ride on paved country roads, which have no shoulder, often no center line, and the speed limit is 55 mph. I don' t have problems. I don't see your question as an "either/or" issue, but rather as a technique issue. Learn to handle the conditions.
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Old 07-14-18, 07:38 PM
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I agree with Happy Feet

Originally Posted by Happy Feet View Post
For me the equation is not gravel vs pavement but rather traffic volume and shoulders.

If you ride a road with no shoulder, gravel or paved, you are in the same travel lane as the vehicles. You therefore are relying solely on the driver seeing you and taking adequate steps to avoid collision.

If you ride a road with a shoulder you are not in the travel lane the traffic is using and are only at risk of the odd vehicle that decides to drive down the shoulder for some reason. There is a risk of course, but the frequency of drivers traveling along the shoulder of a hwy, especially with rumble strips, is far less than those who may be distracted or pass too close in the traffic lane itself.

If a gravel road, or country road, has very little traffic you can mitigate the risk by simply pulling over to the side if you see a vehicle approaching in your mirror. I do this on logging roads because trucks have a hard time passing safely, especially on corners, if they want to also avoid being in the way of any unseen oncoming traffic. With low frequency traffic it's not a burden to me. The worse case scenario is moderate traffic both ways on a narrow road with no shoulder. That is a recipe for cars buzzing too close while passing so I avoid those roads if possible.
Yep, that's it.
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Old 07-14-18, 08:07 PM
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For safety Ill take a gravel/dirt road over a 55 mph highway. It is a no-brainer for me.
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Old 07-14-18, 08:27 PM
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Originally Posted by Happy Feet View Post
For me the equation is not gravel vs pavement but rather traffic volume and shoulders.
Yes!

My favourite roads are either:

a) Quiet country roads with hardly any traffic (might have some short gravel sections).

b) Main highways with smooth, wide shoulders.


My most favourite road is this one ... quiet with wide shoulders!




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Old 07-14-18, 08:30 PM
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Originally Posted by DanBraden View Post
UGH! CHIP SEAL!!! I'd rather be hit by a car!

Not really, but still...
Ha, fresh chip seal is an improved road around here. 😕
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Old 07-14-18, 09:35 PM
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I do a lot of my biking on a 55 mph road with wide shoulders. Outside of the occasional idiot yelling something, and issues with impolite drivers turning at the few stoplights, I definitely feel safer than on narrow shoulder roads with much less and slower traffic. Where I am those narrow roads tend to be curvy, so you often encounter cars coming around bends who aren't really looking for bikes.
There's some interesting wind effects on a 55 mph road. I don't Strava, but I get the impression that some people ride there to get ludicrously high mph.
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Old 07-14-18, 09:47 PM
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I grew up in Iowa, and I have to say the gravel roads there are not necessarily any safer than a highway. Most cars and trucks drive near the center of the road, and the gravel on the sides are often quite deep, depending on when they were graded last. This puts you riding closer to the middle of the road, where the tracks are.

The speeds are also not as slow as some of you seem to think, often close or equal to highway speeds in places. Shoot, last Summer I was riding my motorcycle at speeds up to 50MPH on Iowa's gravel roads.

If you happen to be going down a hill, and out of sight of those coming up the hill behind you behind you, they may not see you in time to avoid hitting you. Braking distances are longer on gravel. All this doesn't even mention the massive dust clouds as a truck goes by at 45-50MPH.

The OP will have to evaluate the roads in question and decide for themselves. It's a tough call depending on the condition of the roads.
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Old 07-14-18, 09:53 PM
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Originally Posted by hadassah View Post
would you consider riding on a highway safer than a gravel road? What about a paved country road (55 MPH) without a shoulder with lots turns and such? There's a beautiful one about 3 miles down the highway.
This describes most of the roads that I ride!

It might be worth investigating whether there is a nearby cycling club - not necessarily to ride with, but to check out their routes. When I was new to my area, I developed routes based on what other road cyclists were doing, on the assumption that if groups of people are riding a certain road it's probably okay.

Originally Posted by Happy Feet View Post
For me the equation is not gravel vs pavement but rather traffic volume and shoulders.
Agreed. All things equal, I'll take shoulders over no shoulders...and low traffic volume over high.

The 55MPH shoulderless paved roads that I ride tend to have rather low traffic volume. Drivers are pretty respectful of cyclists, and are also used to slow moving vehicles such as farm equipment and Amish buggies. Drivers are also used to us cyclists being out on the roads, which is important!

I also ride gravel, and I'm inclined to say that it's a bit safer in terms of traffic, but there are obviously other challenges.
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Old 07-14-18, 09:56 PM
  #24  
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Originally Posted by bobwysiwyg View Post
Ha, fresh chip seal is an improved road around here. 😕
Yeah - we're sometimes lucky just to get chip seal! They finally gave up on a bunch of the roads in SE MN and started dumping down gravel...
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Old 07-14-18, 11:37 PM
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Gravel = safety is dependent on your own riding skills
55mph paved highway = your safety is in the hands of total strangers piloting 5,000lb SUVs 2 feet to your left.
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