Author Topic: It Ain't The Prettiest, But . . .  (Read 4904 times)

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Offline sjs

It Ain't The Prettiest, But . . .
« on: January 06, 2020, 09:25:14 am »
Its not the prettiest but its the safest.

Forget about all the many things that make a route great, such as scenery, culture, people, challenge, weather, etc., etc.  Which of the AC routes, or significant portions thereof (e.g., over 250 miles or even 100) are the safest.

Not safe from bears, or beer can throwing bike haters, or criminals, or severe weather.  Just the one factor of safe road conditions like light traffic, slow traffic and/or good shoulders.

Not the absolute safest, as there may not be many who have toured all AC routes.  The safest you have ridden.

Offline John Nettles

Re: It Ain't The Prettiest, But . . .
« Reply #1 on: January 06, 2020, 09:41:29 am »
This a highly subjective question but I think you know that.  As far as "road safety" do you include rail trails?  If so, then the Katy Trail in the 1st Section of the Lewis & Clark route would be my choice.    If rail trails don't count, then probably Section 2 of the Lewis & Clark route once you get about 10 miles past Sioux City.

That said, it would be very easy to get a very low traffic route in the States of KS, NE, SD, & ND.  Use the appropriate state's Annual Automotive Daily Traffic (AADT) Counts maps and/or bike map to create your own super low traffic road tour.  However, remember that low traffic usually means low population which usually means low or NO services for many miles so be prepared.

Wisconsin has many rail trails and lower traffic roads too.

Tailwinds, John

Offline sjs

Re: It Ain't The Prettiest, But . . .
« Reply #2 on: January 06, 2020, 09:49:38 am »
Thanks John.

 Yes, I know its subjective but personal opinions still help.

No, I don't mean rails trails or bike paths, but roads and you have already given me a bunch of leads to research.  Thanks again.

Offline John Nettles

Re: It Ain't The Prettiest, But . . .
« Reply #3 on: January 06, 2020, 09:57:42 am »
Yes, I know its subjective but personal opinions still help.
I totally agree.  Some people like to have the most direct route, traffic be damned.  I am definitely more in your camp. I would prefer a 100 turns and an extra 25% miles on a quiet road than on a busy road with no shoulder.  Of course, it is the "personal preference" that starts to determine how many extra miles one is willing to do in order to ride on that quiet road.

Tailwinds, John

Offline John Nelson

Re: It Ain't The Prettiest, But . . .
« Reply #4 on: January 06, 2020, 10:43:54 am »
You've limited the field to ACA routes. That makes it harder. There are many routes that are much safer than the safest ACA route. But I'll live within your restriction. Let us know if you'd consider routes that are not ACA routes.

First of all, every ACA route contains pretty much every type of road that exists. In other words, every ACA route has sections that are very safe and sections that are not. So I assume you want to consider the safety of an ACA route end-to-end. That requires some sort of averaging of the safety of the various sections. Such averaging is quite difficult to do, and there are various different averaging algorithms that could be applied. Or do you even want the average? Maybe you want the route that has the least-dangerous most-dangerous section? The best way to make an ACA route safe is to have a support vehicle that can carry you past the most dangerous sections.

One particularly difficult consideration is deciding between routes that have very few cars but each car has a higher probability of hitting you, vs. routes that have very many cars but each car has a lower probability of hitting you. If the former is your cup of tea, I might consider the Northern Tier. If the latter is your cup of tea, I might consider Route 66, opting for the interstate whenever the route is parallel to it.

Bottom line is that I don't think there is any ACA route that matches your criteria, not if you are considering the route end-to-end. There are certainly some routes that are far from meeting your criteria, such as the southern third of the Pacific Coast route.

Offline sjs

Re: It Ain't The Prettiest, But . . .
« Reply #5 on: January 06, 2020, 12:11:16 pm »
Thanks John.

I am new to this and am planning my first short tour for this spring on the Silver Comet-Chief Taldega trail, out and back, for a little under 200 miles.  It is a bike trail with no traffic. 

I am building up my endurance and currently I am at 150 miles a week with my longest ride at 50 miles.  I am planning in advance because my grown son, who is much stronger than I,  will go with me but needs advance notice for scheduling.

But the Silver Comet is a practice run for the next tour and I want to start planning it now so my son has enough advance notice.

I am sort of wallowing in this website because of the vast amount of information so I thought that AC routes would be the simplest framework but no, I am not limiting myself to those.  Any safe route would be good.

I only want about 500 miles for my first road tour and really want to place road conditions as my first priority.  It is not just safety, it is that noisy, crowded, fast traffic with lots of fumes pretty much ruins my enjoyment of a ride and I have plenty of miles like that where I live.  I am comfortable in traffic and can accept the risks but I just do not enjoy it much.

As you explained, there are many factors and it could get very complicated but to keep it simple,
I am hoping I can find a route that is fairly quiet and traffic light for most of its length, with good shoulders where it is not light, and with dangerous sections that are short, rather than slightly less dangerous sections that are long.  If I can find 100 miles like that I will do 100, if 200 I will do that, etc.  I don't think I would do more than about 500 for this trip.

To keep it simple, is there any route anyone felt was pretty safe for the most part, despite some hairy sections?

Offline jamawani

Re: It Ain't The Prettiest, But . . .
« Reply #6 on: January 06, 2020, 12:48:06 pm »
SJ -

You don't say where you are from, but the Silver Comet suggests Alabama or Georgia.
I have a reputation here and elsewhere of being the guy who rides the emptiest roads.
I've done more than 100,000 miles of touring - bad habit - and prefer peace and quiet.

1. Most states have AADT data available through their DOT websites.
Average Annual Daily Traffic is a good measure of how busy the road is.
Traffic is usually busier during morning and evening rush hours and in summer.
But roads to popular parks or lakes can be different - esp. around holidays.

Here's an example of a PDF map of Kansas state highways:
Many states also have AADT in a database map system such as Indiana & Georgia:

Here is my general comfort guide to traffic levels:
Less than 500 - Magical
500-999         - Excellent
1000-1999     - O.K., shoulders helpful but not essential
2000-3999     - Fair to poor, shoulders needed
4000 plus       - Tough, shoulders definitely needed

2. Next most important aspect is paved shoulders.
A very few states have shoulder width info - although it is unreliable, I find.
Most of us simply use Google Maps Streetview when available.
Quite a few states have Bicycling Maps which are often only marginally useful.
Arizona's bike map was probably done by people who have never been on a bike.

3. Different regions have different attitudes towards cyclists on the road.
Most of us who have toured for years have heard, "Get off the road!"
I've lived in the South and toured all over the U.S. and the South is worst.
(Some may disagree, but look at the number of bike trails for Iowa vs Arkansas.)
Similarly, it pays to use caution around major holidays like July 4th when people drink.


So, to answer your question -

Close by - there a excellent, nearly empty county roads in south Georgia and south Alabama.
Empty roads, of course, have fewer services, especially with the demise of the country store.

You could use the Georgia AADT info and develop a great tour out of Plains.
Maybe even stop in and see Jimmy and Rosalyn at church on Sunday.

I rode the area 10 years back and can attest to how empty most roads are. Key word - "most".

Further away -
Thousands of miles of empty roads in the Great Plains.
My pick - a loop in the Sandhills of Nebraska out of Valentine.

Even further -
Scenic Wyoming - at the base of the Bighorn Mountains.
Buffalo, Gillette, Wright, Kaycee, Buffalo.
The Hwy 50 section has more traffic, but shoulders.
Which is often the case with road touring - always a section that is busier.

Safe travels - Jama

Offline HobbesOnTour

Re: It Ain't The Prettiest, But . . .
« Reply #7 on: January 06, 2020, 04:59:06 pm »
 Not an ACA route but I'd suggest the Natchez Trace Parkway.
No shoulder, but very light traffic with notable exceptions at Tupelo and especially Jackson.

As a European I came over here & was horrified by parts of the Atlantic coast route. I could not believe I was being advised to ride on major highways without a shoulder. Terrifying! Also, don't get me started on the bridges!!

On the Atlantic coast route and again on parts of the Southern Tier I regularly went "off course" to avail of better, safer options. (Yes, I know that's entirely subjective!)

A great tool is
As well as plotting routes you can see most of the main ones. You can click on any point of your route and get the Google Street view. Very handy for figuring out whether to take road A or road B.

Good luck!

Offline Nyimbo

Re: It Ain't The Prettiest, But . . .
« Reply #8 on: January 06, 2020, 05:54:40 pm »
My 2 cents - or my favorite 500 mile section looking back and remembering my ride on only one route the TA might be riding across Oregon.  I know the coast section has more traffic but from Florence, OR on the coast to Baker City was pretty much spectacular following the ACA maps.  Once you get to Idaho, I'd think it would be easy enough to detour over to Boise to get an airport home.

(I'm adding this clarification that I'm not thinking about the spectacular scenery alone, I'm keeping in mind your request for a safe place to ride.  I can think of other safe places, I've ridden but balancing safety and beautiful location and 500 miles I'm recommending Oregon.)
« Last Edit: January 06, 2020, 06:14:25 pm by Nyimbo »

Offline sjs

Re: It Ain't The Prettiest, But . . .
« Reply #9 on: January 06, 2020, 07:37:34 pm »
This is great!  I have never used AADT, or state Bike Maps or even knew of  A quick look at these tells me you guys have some serious planning skills.  I also appreciate the specific route suggestions.  I live in the South Carolina low country and the idea of finding quiet back country roads in southern Ga and Al is very appealing.  Right now I am enjoying a look at Jamawani's blog.  This is very kind of you all to give this kind of help.

Offline staehpj1

Re: It Ain't The Prettiest, But . . .
« Reply #10 on: January 07, 2020, 06:02:03 am »
Sorry if this isn't a good answer or what you are looking for, but at some point it becomes kind of moot for me...

On much of the portion of the AC routes I have ridden, major portions have light enough traffic and/or good enough conditions that safety becomes a non issue for many major portions.  I can't even begin to list the many long sections of the Southern Tier that I found to be very safe when it came to road conditions due mostly to the lack of traffic.  Unfortunately, I also can't begin to list the sketchy sections.  The TA is similar to a lesser extent and the Pacific Coast has more traffic so not so much in the way of empty roads but even it more had empty sections than I would have though (there was even one place empty enough to have free range cattle on the road).  Pretty much any AC route will be a mix of both IME.

If you really want to, I am sure you could avoid traffic almost entirely in places like west Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas, or pretty much any of the SW or Great Plains by mapping a route on rural farm roads.  Personally I have no desire to do so.  I am happy riding roads with the "US" designation much of the time and don't even mind it when I wind up on the interstate for a bit.

Offline sjs

Re: It Ain't The Prettiest, But . . .
« Reply #11 on: January 07, 2020, 10:08:42 am »
Thanks Staehpj1.  Would you be willing to share one of those stretches with me?  Perhaps one in the southeastern US, light traffic being more important than big shoulders.  Even if it were not that long it  might be a good starting point.

Offline jamawani

Re: It Ain't The Prettiest, But . . .
« Reply #12 on: January 07, 2020, 10:28:20 am »
SJ -

Staehpj1 and I tend to be on different sides of the equation.
He's far more likely to do a busier road - and you can with good cycling skills.
US and state highways are more direct, have a better grade, and have better services.
After all, the stores, cafes, and motels are where the traffic is.

I tend to go out of my way to find super empty roads.
Obviously, super empty roads will have no shoulders, but they don't need them.
I've changed my shorts in the middle of the road without worrying about anyone coming.
But's it takes planning, you have to carry more water, and figure out overnight stops.

In my "Deep South" journal - the overnights were the biggest challenge.
And I usually was on the busier roads getting into county seats to find services.
In the West, I'm perfectly comfortable heading off the road for a mile to set up my tent.
It's public land in the West - but it's not in the South.

I usually look at overnight possibilities at the same time as picking roads.
Sometimes I just want to ride a long road that has no traffic.
So I plan that day around the road - if possible.
But in places with few overnight options -
I have to pick the best roads in between.

A few hints -

a) Consider doing short unpaved stretches.
If there are two routes between Annville and Bobtown - 25 miles -
If one is all paves but the other has 5 unpaved miles in the middle
The latter one will almost always have almost zero traffic.

b) Take the longer route.
If there are two routes between Annville and Bobtown - 25 & 30 miles -
Take the longer route - it will have far less traffic.

c) If there are two routes between Annville and Bobtown - new & old -
Take the old road - it will have less traffic and be more scenic.
There may be more goathills and the pavement will be bumpier, but hey.

All of the above may vary if there is a major factory or strip mall on the old road.

Best - J

Photo - Jama doing his "Summer Soltsice Dance" in the middle of an empty road, 06-21-2019

Offline John Nelson

Re: It Ain't The Prettiest, But . . .
« Reply #13 on: January 07, 2020, 10:46:59 am »
I also prefer low-traffic roads without shoulders over high-traffic roads with good shoulders. My experience is that nothing interesting happens on high-traffic roads. In short, they are boring and unpleasant. Furthermore, there is more likely to be tire-puncturing debris on the shoulders of high-traffic roads.

But of course the premise on which you started this thread is that safety trumps everything else.

I concede that a high-traffic road with good shoulders may be slightly safer than low-traffic roads without shoulders. Slightly. Very slightly. You are always vulnerable to distracted and impaired drivers, but perhaps drivers are slightly more focused on high-traffic roads. Perhaps.

And, as jamawani said, services are more available on high-traffic roads, and such roads are flatter and shorter. But most of aren't out there merely to get from point A to point B in the easiest, fastest way. If we were into easy and fast, we'd drive.

Offline staehpj1

Re: It Ain't The Prettiest, But . . .
« Reply #14 on: January 07, 2020, 12:19:45 pm »
Thanks Staehpj1.  Would you be willing to share one of those stretches with me?  Perhaps one in the southeastern US, light traffic being more important than big shoulders.  Even if it were not that long it  might be a good starting point.
I dunno, it is kind of hard to remember specific sections since there wasn't much there in the kind of sections you are looking for.  Also they tend to have no decent starting and finishing access often being in the middle of nowhere.

As Jamawani says I don't really seek out empty roads.  I don't mind some traffic and prefer to ride where I meet people throughout the day.  Riding through deserted sagebrush is okay sometimes and has been part of my touring experience, but it isn't really my thing.

That said, I think US 90 was pretty empty in much of west Texas.  I recall riding all day headed east from Van Horn and not seeing more than a car or two.  I don't remember too much about the roads after that, but I don't think there was much traffic for a few days all the way to Del Rio.  My recollection is a little foggy on the roads on the portion after Marfa though.