CYCLING: On the freeway? Yes, you can!
There are rare days, usually special events, when you and your bike can actually have a freeway all to yourselves. It’s a treat not to be missed.
Have you ever ridden your bike on the freeway? I’m not talking about riding on the asphalt shoulder while four or more lanes of car traffic are roaring by your left shoulder at 65 miles per hour and up, but actually on the lanes.
Would you like to?
Normally, of course, this is out of the question. States usually make it illegal for a bicycle to be anywhere on the freeway, even on the shoulders — with one notable exception.
In certain areas where there is no practical or convenient alternative for getting from Point A to Point B, a cyclist may be able to legally ride on the shoulder of the freeway between those two points.
Your state or county highway department can tell you which stretches of freeway are “bike legal” where you live. California has roughly 100 miles of freeway that are “bike legal,” and I’ve ridden some of them.
But that’s not what we’re talking about here.
We’re talking about you and your bike being legally and safely in the freeway lanes themselves, any or all of them, without a motor vehicle in sight.
Can you actually do that?
Yes, you can — this spring in Fresno, the unofficial capital of California’s Central Valley. That’s where the California Classic Weekend will be held on May 19–20.
That Saturday is devoted to cycling: a century ride, a metric century ride and a mini-metric ride. A century ride is just what the name implies — 100 miles. A metric century covers 100 kilometers or 62 miles, while the mini-metric ride is a 35-miler.
But here’s the kicker: Ten miles of the course are on California Freeway 168, which will be closed to vehicular traffic for the event.
It’s all yours, folks, for almost an entire day.
Sunday is for runners, a half-marathon and a 2-person relay, which allows pairs of runners to split the half-marathon into 6.5–mile legs.
For those who really want to test themselves, you can enter the Classic Ultimate Challenge — do the century ride on Saturday, then run the half-marathon the next day.
The whole thing is sponsored by Rabobank, a major bank/investments/agribusiness firm in the Netherlands. If its name sounds familiar to you, it might mean that you follow the Tour de France, because Rabobank sponsors a team every year in the cycling world’s premiere event.
But what jumps out at me is the chance to pull onto a California freeway with your bike and hammer your pedals for ten miles, without fear of either a citation or getting flattened by a long line of cars driven by crazed motorists.
It’s not uncommon for authorities to open a freshly constructed freeway to hikers and cyclists the day before opening it to traffic for the first time. But closing down an existing freeway for a day and turning it over to recreational cyclists?
Nothing common about that, I promise you.
While there are hundreds of “event” rides that take place each year across North America, only a handful give you the chance to ride on a freeway or expressway.
The Five Boro Bike Tour puts cyclists on the elevated Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in New York City. The one time I did that ride back in the day, the road surface on the BQE was so awful, with so many ruts and huge potholes, that the biggest thrill you got from riding it was surviving it.
One hopes that things have improved since then.
In Canada, there’s a charity ride, the Heart & Stroke Ride for Heart, that lets cyclists onto the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto.
If you know of other cycling events, in California or anywhere else, where they do this sort of thing, leave a comment on this article or drop me an email at email@example.com.
For me, the Central Valley has always been an area to pass through between Los Angeles and San Francisco. I never had much reason even to slow down en route and certainly had no reason to view it as a travel destination.
This little event just might be enough to change my thinking.
How about you?