How to ride a bike on rural roads while avoiding a trip to the ER

Rural bike

Cycling in the country can be a great experience: beautiful vistas, open roads, and oh, the peace and quiet—until a farm truck passes you going 50 clicks over the speed limit and you’re left spluttering on the shoulder in its dusty wake…if you’re lucky.

It is absolutely possible to have a great biking experience on rural roads, but there are a few things you need to do to keep yourself safe.

Scout your route or do your research

Some country roads are easier to bike than others. Look for paved shoulders, if possible, wide lanes, roads with little traffic and few blind curves. Narrow lanes, no escape routes, and lots of twists might be fun to ride, but the danger factor is upped considerably. Check online for good rural cycling routes if you’re not sure where to go.

Remember that you might be an unexpected sight

It’s not that country cruisers are more inconsiderate than those in the city (anyone who’s been doored by a parked car can tell you that), but a lot of country drivers simply aren’t used to seeing or dealing with cyclists. Yes, you have every right to be on the road, but be proactive in protecting yourself as well. Making eye contact and waving, when possible, is also a good idea.

Make yourself as visible as possible

Seriously—go overboard, because to a car travelling at highway speeds, you’re pretty much invisible. Wear bright colours, add a flag to the back of your bike, use your lights, even during the day, make sure you have plenty of reflectors, and throw on a fluorescent safety vest if you want to be extra cautious (one with an ANSI II rating should do the trick).

Ride with traffic, further away from the edge of the road than in the city

Riding this way will allow cars to see you more easily, encourages them to go around you with enough space, and gives you somewhere to move without necessarily having to go all the way onto the shoulder. It’s important to always make sure you have a space to escape to.

Stay alert–even more than you think you have to

If you ride in the city, you’re probably used to staying alert for all sorts of obstacles—and, believe it or not, the country is no different. Keep a regular eye on what’s behind you, watch for rough roads, be aware of hidden driveways and access points (remember, people aren’t necessarily looking out for cyclists), and watch for animals. If you have to stop, make sure it’s in a visible place, and well off the road. And don’t wear headphones. Yes, the wind in your ears may not allow you to hear easily, but you’ll still be better off if you aren’t distracted by Katy Perry.

Gear up

No, not for big hills, although do that too. Make sure your stuff is suited to country roads: fat tires for unpaved roads, panniers rather than a backpack for comfort, a patch kit, bandaids and—do we even need to say this?—a helmet. Leather gloves will help protect your hands both from fatigue and from road rash if you take a tumble. Bring lots of water, and a snack for an impromptu roadside picnic. Oh, and if dealing with animals might be a problem, pack a squirt bottle of water so you can scare them away.

Don’t ride into the sunset

Drivers will have a hard time seeing you in the glare, which makes you a sitting duck for an accident. So, whenever possible, avoid riding into the sunset.

What’s your tip for a great country ride?