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You wouldn't think riding along in a straight line would present too many challenges, but highways can be one of the most demanding places to ride. When on the highway fill your tank to the brim, North American highways are long and usually filled with traffic, there will be a lot of idling and that's a killer on your expensive gas. When in doubt, fill up.
Photo via Toronto Star
We all want to avoid highways on a bike, but if you want to get out of any city, highway riding is unavoidable.
The main consideration is the extra speed, it's easy to think you're riding at a lot slower pace than you are, but if something goes wrong and you need to react to it, you'll soon realize just how quickly you're going.
Lane discipline is not legal on most North American motorways except for California. Do your best to stay calm behind lane hoggers. Overtaking on the inside of normal moving traffic is illegal, but it's becoming more common, so expect it on both sides. Staying alert and extra vigilant is key to keeping out of trouble on highways. That in it-self can be tricky, especially after a long spell running along a three lane route.
Though it's tempting to hit the road and simply see where the road takes you, don't forget that you're more vulnerable to the elements, fatigue, and to other drivers. Prepare yourself with clothing appropriate for the current weather. Plan a route if you don't have a GPS system, do whatever it takes not to get lost.
It's all too easy to become mesmerized by the monotony of a highway; people can be lulled to sleep highway driving, so be careful, especially late into the night or very early in the morning.
Use your mirrors regularly, tailgaters are common on highways and can cause serious pile ups. Look well ahead to give yourself a better chance of dealing with changes in pace or direction of traffic. Always be on the lookout for the start of congestion, it can rush up on you quicker than you think, a line of brake lights gives a good clue.
If you see debris on the road ahead, don't stare at it, otherwise you'll hit it! Concentrate on an alternate line and miss it. Highways are rarely empty these days, think of your bike as a jigsaw piece and move around to fit into safer gaps of the puzzle.
Don't stay at the same speed for mile after mile. While changes in speed help you adapt to changing road conditions; changes in movement can also makes you more visible to drivers. Filter through slower moving traffic very carefully. A sudden lane change by someone can be hard to avoid.
When traffic has been at a complete standstill for a while, watch out for people getting out of their cars. Hitting an opening door or an emerging occupant rarely has a happy ending. If you need to use the shoulder, then park your bike on the inside of it as much as possible, drivers' are often careless and can swipe you if you park to close to the lane.
Pace your travels realistically, don't try to ride so many hours in a day because it might affect your reflexes or decision making. While riding be sure to stop whenever necessary, whether for snacks, to stretch out, or even to sleep. The simple act of taking a breather will make the ride all the more enjoyable. After all, fun is in the journey not simply reaching the destination.
Unless you're on the Autobahn in Germany, highway riding is more of a necessity than a pleasure. One redeeming factor is that the experience will help you build strategies for recognizing what's going on around you. As long as you look at the wholepicture, anticipate and observecarefully when you're riding onhighways, you'll be fine. When you've prepared sufficiently, enjoy the possibility of the unexpected. Riding requires a certain amount of discipline and logistics, part of the excitement is in the process. Be open to re-writing your plans when ever it's necessary and you'll have a great time no matter where you end up going. Enjoy the ride, Eat Sleep RIDE.