Asking the park ranger about my planned itinerary, her answer was to take, instead, a 4-lane divided highway with wide shoulder, the argument being that it would be safer than using 2-lane/little-or-no-shoulder country roads. Adding that "people drive like crazy" on country roads.

I've heard the same argument offered by a park ranger at another location.

I personally hate riding on highways, because of the noise but also because this is where the occasional narrows (e.g. bridge, overpass) appears to present more hazard potential, and based on the impression that the difference in traffic volume makes it more likely that a DUI/sleepy driver might hit me.

Anyone would be familiar with a source that would offer some indication of the probability of serious or fatal injury suffered by a cyclist as a function of the type of road?


As much as I appreciate the sensible opinions expressed below, I couldn't find any evidence to support the impact of road type on hazard.

The closest that I found is a statistics from the UK comparing built-up vs non built-up fatalities and serious injuries for various types of vehicles. The proportion of incidents affecting cyclists vs motor vehicles driver/passengers is the same, irrespective of the road type. Same for A vs B roads.

Another way to look at this question - none of the reviews on the etiology of cycling mentioned the type of road. Mentions were made about the hazard posed by intersections (car attempting a right turn while a cyclist overtakes on the right; failure to obey stop or light) and dooring.

Sorry for not providing links to sources - I am on tour and using a phone to post/edit

  • 3
    I think I would take the advice of two park ranger over some general statistics.
    – paparazzo
    Jul 20, 2017 at 19:17

4 Answers 4


This is highly dependent on where you live and the driving+riding culture in the area.

For example: In the town I live in (Midwestern US), heading south or south east on country roads is fine -- people are calm and aware for occasional cyclists. Heading northwest its a tossup between the country roads and following the highway. And heading southwest, I'd follow the highway as long as I could.

I've driven along I-40 in Arizona before, and it looked like a wonderful place to bike (esp. near Flagstaff); You could see cyclists on it. On the other hand, other highways may not be good, like I-5 in California from LA to SF (where I doubt it is even legal to bike; if I had to travel along it, I'd rather use PCH 1, depending on the destination).

You have asked two (presumably) trustworthy people, who should have a good idea of the area and suggest using the highway. I'd heed their advice. This is probably the best way to check itineraries (ask someone who knows). Systems like google maps and stuff sometimes give you shorter itineraries or whatever, but they aren't necessarily safer roads to ride on or not properly verified data.

Highways have some advantages -- regular traffic flow and usually enough room to ride on the side of the road versus narrower roads in the country. Plus, if you do get hurt on a highway, someones likely to see you. On a country road, it isn't clear. The threat of a drunk/sleepy driver on a wide highway shoulder is pretty unlikely relative to something like being hit by a car on a country road cause someone was driving recklessly and/or didn't see you. A shoulder is effectively your own bike lane (modulo the occasional broken down car), and it's ideal to use if you have one. Only downside is you have to be a little more careful with debris like glass bottles and what not in some areas.

Plus, on some country roads, you have to deal with wild animals. Less so on highways during the day.

  • 2
    AFAIK, around here (Indiana), it's illegal to ride a bicycle on a divided highway. Also always seemed like the kind of thing that would get you killed. I once rode on a stretch of new highway that was under construction for 3 months, that was a blast. Having a whole highway absolutely to yourself... Jul 20, 2017 at 20:59

Where I live we have one main highway (single lane each way, undivided) with wide shoulders and everything else is narrow country roads with 100km/h speed limits. On these roads, the shoulder line is typically 2-4inches off the edge of the sealed surface, you ride on the white line. Cars are usually driving with the car tire 6 inches off the line.

If a driver does nothing when he sees (or does not see) you on the highway, he passes, maybe a fraction closer than normal, you probably have no idea if he saw you or not. On all the other roads in the area, he runs into the back of you at 100km/h, you will almost certainly die. If something is coming the other way, you get maybe 1 inch gap between you and the car, if its trucks, there is no room for two trucks and a cyclist......

Take the highway.


For your own safety, a wide paved shoulder is the best. Motor vehicles aren't allowed to drive along them (they can only pull over when stopped), but you are, so there's no contention for space. Most of Google maps has the resolution to let you know if the road you want to use has a wide paved shoulder.

Failing that, you want multiple lanes in the direction you're going, so that the motor vehicles travelling next to you can get into a different lane and avoid getting near you.

Failing, that, you want less traffic (so that there are fewer vehicles who have to maneuver around you) and fewer curves (so that those who have to maneuver around you get plenty of time to plan it).

As others have pointed out, many highways are off-limits to non-motor vehicles. This will either be plainly stated in the applicable laws, or there will be posted notifications at the entrances.


I ride both sorts, and the width of the main road's shoulder is balanced out by the increase in traffic.

Locally our side roads might have exactly no sealed surface outside the lane.

Never wear ear-blocking anything when riding such a road - your ears are one of the best radars for sensing if a car is coming.

Ideally, I'd ride a road that has zero cars, even if it takes me out of my way. However river bridges tend to be only on main roads reducing the options.

Suggestion whatever road you ride, consider investing in daytime running lights for your bike. These are essentially red back lights that are too bright for night usage. Sometimes they may be yellow/orange, but never white (because they face the rear.)

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