Route Development > Bicycle Route 66

Skeptical about Bike Route 66

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I've enjoyed riding historic trails, including the Oregon Trail, Santa Fe, and Chislom trails, using paved and unpave roads that adjacent to the original routes.  Now I'm picking up feasible parts of Route 66 to experience the allure of the "Mother Road."   In Arizona, the old road exists and makes for a great riding between Kingman and Flagstaff, except for a 30-mile stretch between Williams and Ash Fork where riding the I-40 shoulder is needed.  In Oklahoma, various "editions" of Route 66 are present and good riding across the entire state, as is the short Kansas portion. 

Next month, I'll be riding Route 66 Illinois, using the Illinois Route 66 Trail Users Guide, produced by the League of Illinois Bicyclists.  The guide highlights both original Route 66 roads and lower-traffic alternatives.

Most of the original Route 66 roads I've ridden are relatively near the interstate highways that replaced them (from service roads to a few miles away), so only local traffic uses the old roads.  Route 66 passes through small towns every few miles in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and Illinois, providing bikers many options for services while discouraging drivers from using the road.

I just finished riding Route 66 in Illinois from the Chain of Rocks bridge across the Mississippi near St. Louis to Joliet.  I skipped the northernmost 50 miles or so into Chicago and rode Highway 4 around Springfield to avoid the urban traffic.  Most of Route 66 provides an enjoyable ride; in a very few areas traffic can be a bit "intense." 

The Illinois Depart of Natural Resources has published a guide to the Route 66 Trail which was produced by the League of Illionois Bicyclists and the DNR.  The guide is available from the DNR and on-line.  The guide's "Main Route" deviates a lot from Route 66 onto nearby roads, requiring many turns and adding significantly to the riding distance.  Generally, I found riding on Route 66 in sections the guide notes as "Advanced Shortcuts" or doesn't list at all to be reasonabe riding.  Some of that was 4-lane or 2-lane roads with no shoulders, but traffic was generally light and drivers gave wide clearance.  The guide lists services available in many of the towns along the route.

The "Mother Road" is essentially intact and generally makes for fine riding.  Much of old Route 66 is now frontage roads to I-55; in other areas it about 1 to 3 miles from the interstate (either way, the interstate carries almost all the traffic).  The pavement is generally good, with a few areas with rough surfaces.  Off-the-route trails from the Chain of Rocks bridge to Staunton, into and through Blooming/Normal, and at a few other places provide pleasant traffic-free breaks.   There are small towns at about 5 to 10 mile intervals, so services are readily available.  The towns are all viable, a switch from the ghost towns and abandoned buildings along Route 66 in the western states.  Pontiac has an interesting Route 66 Museum which is a worthwhile stop.

I combined the Katy Trail in Missouri and Illinois Route 66 into one tour.  A nice benefit of the entire route (in my view) is the lack of hills the entire tour.  Crossing bridges were the biggest climbs of the trip.

I love Route 66! I did most of it when I ran from Huntington Beach, CA to New York in 2010. I have switched it up and gotten into bicycle touring and on my second long ride this year I decided to ride from Boston back home to Huntington Beach and riding all of Route 66 since I didn't do the California or Illinois sections on my run. I was 21 days and 1,200 miles in when on October 25th  about 60 miles south of Chicago (right past Wiimington) on I53, I was struck from behind by a pickup truck. SOmeone mentioned that there isn't a shoulder a that road and that is correct. No shoulder and the guy said he didn't see me, he was going about 60. I ended up with a broken ankle, broken rib and 9 broken vertebra. I was fortunate there was no spinal damage and no internal injuries.

Route 66 is so cool and I am going to go back out and finish the ride, but I would say that there are sections where I will be willing to go off the original path to ride safer roads. Most of the rest of 66 seemed much safer. Of course I was running it and always going against traffic. It is a different beast on a bike and now, a bit more sketchy when I hear someone coming up from behind.

Bicycle Rider:
What's the sense of having a "Route 66" route that doesn't even follow Route 66? I can't speak for the road east of Shamrock Texas, but westbound from there is fine. Yes, there are many sections that have been covered in interstate, but I would rather ride in an eight foot wide shoulder completely separated from 65MPH traffic than amongst 55 mph traffic on some road with a shoulder of only 2-3 feet wide (assuming there is a shoulder at all!) ESPECIALLY west of Texas were drivers start getting rude.

And I would seriously recommend taking that double dogleg through Santa Fe and Albuquerque. After all it too is, or was a part of 66, is very scenic and certainly more pleasant than a freeway.

I took this route, and with a couple of exceptions had no problems. And Route 66 has many more accommodations BECAUSE of the freeway. Nome backwater road that no oe other than local residences use will be guaranteed desolate.

I bet the Rt 66 route is more targeted to Europeans, who have a much higher fascination with the route than most Americans. In Germany it's almost a mystical draw for many.


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