Safe Route Design
by Bob Zogg
Designing a route for a club ride requires a very different perspective than picking a route for a small group of friends or a solo ride. Club rides will include a broad range of rider speeds and experience levels. Also, packs of riders can obscure visibility, and an obstacle that requires a cyclist to brake suddenly can quickly lead to a multi-cyclist pileup.
Whether you’re a ride leader or a ride participant, it is helpful to know what constitutes a safe route. Ride leaders, whether developing a new route or using a tried-and-true club favorite, will want to review the route carefully to ensure that it is reasonably safe. Ride participants may want to give a ride leader constructive feedback if they notice opportunities to improve a route for future rides.
Of course, “safe” is relative—no route is free of potentially dangerous spots. Keeping a few basics in mind, however, can make a route safer than it might otherwise have been.
Get off to a good start:
- Pick a start location that’s easy to get to from major routes, has ample parking, and has safe entrances/exits. Provide clear driving directions in the ride announcement. This will help participants arrive safely (and on time). Always secure permission to use the lot, and check that your ride won’t conflict with other uses of the lot that day. Many owners will require a certificate of insurance, which the CRW can readily provide. The CRW will also cover costs for permits, if required.
- If practical, turn right out of the lot, rather than crossing the road or turning left
- For the first few miles (before the group has spread out) keep turns, stop signs, and traffic signals to a minimum.
What to avoid:
- Bike paths: These are tough enough to navigate safely when riding alone at a slow speed. Forget about it for a large group, especially when some will be riding fast.
- Major or confusing intersections with lots of turning traffic
- Bad pavement on fast downhill runs: Riders may brake or swerve to avoid bad areas, possibly leading to rear-end collisions or side swipes. Even if the riders up front can see well enough to avoid sudden maneuvers, those behind them may not.
- Fast downhill runs that have nasty surprises (such as sharp or blind bends, or sudden deterioration in pavement quality)
- Splits (where short and long routes diverge) that cannot be clearly described on the cue sheet or clearly arrowed well in advance of the split (if the ride is arrowed)
- Dirt roads, especially if soft or rutty.
What to minimize:
- Steep downhill runs. It’s safer, and more enjoyable, to climb steep pitches and descend more gradually.
- Fast downhill runs that lead to intersections where riders might need to yield. Some may be tempted to blast through without slowing or stopping.
- Turns off fast downhill runs
- Crossing busy roads, unless there is a traffic signal
- Left turns onto, or off of, busy roads, unless there is a traffic signal
- Sharp turns (more than 90 degrees)—these sometimes take riders by surprise
- Multiple turns over short distances
- Barriers or obstacles that force riders to stop and walk
- Bad pavement—to the extent one can avoid it in New England
- Intersections with limited visibility.
You may need to leave out a scenic stretch of road if it’s not up to club-ride standards. Nice scenery cannot compensate for a bad crash. On the other hand, sometimes a risky road becomes a safe road simply by switching the direction of travel—stay flexible and be creative. Participants will be grateful that you kept their safety in mind when you designed your route.
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