73

I have a dream of one day cycling from one coast of the USA to the other.

I am aware that cycling on the road can be dangerous, but I've done a lot of it. I know how to stay safe, and I'm not concerned about that.

As a Brit, I'm used to the idea that the countryside is not at all dangerous, that is from a criminal/violent point of view. In this country Dick Turpin and other rural bandits have long since been consigned to history. I have never heard of anyone being mugged or otherwise attacked while walking down a country lane in Hampshire or Glamorgan. Not denying it's possible, just saying that I've never known it to happen.

With America, I am not sure. I get the impression that there are areas of serious deprivation where crime is a problem outside urban areas as well as inside. On the other hand I may have watched too many scary American films, and Breaking Bad.

Cycling along a random country lane in America by myself, am I in danger or not?

Edit: I have been comprehensively reassured. You have not only demonstrated that violent criminals aren't a problem, you've demonstrated why as well. What with all the articulateds, trains, hailstones, tornadoes, hurricaines, thunderstorms, blizzards, droughts, earthquakes, bears, wolves, rattlesnakes, dogs, alligators and whatnot, criminals don't hang around because they think it's too damned dangerous.

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    Random violence is unlikely. Random carelessness is more likely. Random acts of nature are far more likely. – Wayne Werner Mar 14 '17 at 13:25
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – JonathanReez Mar 14 '17 at 21:56
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    Violence is far less likely than the movies make it seem, but bike theft is quite common, especially in more populated areas. Make sure you have a good sturdy U-lock and don't leave your bike where you can't keep an eye on it. – zwol Mar 17 '17 at 19:54
  • President Bush's doctor just got shot while cycling by another cyclist. cnn.com/2018/07/20/us/bush-cardiologist-killed-in-houston/… But that was in the city. – DavePhD Jul 21 '18 at 13:13
  • I hope this makes American politicians finally realise how dangerous cyclists can be. They should ban us, really – Ne Mo Jul 23 '18 at 18:26

14 Answers 14

90

I've travelled coast-to-coast in the USA a couple of times, and would say that in rural areas it's pretty much equivalent to the UK.

Both countries have random attacks, but in both countries it's so rare that it shouldn't affect how you conduct yourself, although of course you shouldn't go around deliberately antagonising people.

There may well be some scary places in both countries where you feel conspicuous and threatened as a noticeably wealthy (or wealthier) tourist. Race may play a part in this more than it does in Britain -- for example a white tourist will be very conspicuous in a poor black area in Louisiana.

You'll notice, though, and go elsewhere, before any trouble happens, in daylight hours.

On a random country lane, though -- you'll be lucky to see anyone at all. When you do they're almost certain to be very friendly (and usually very excited to meet someone British -- even if they initially assume you're Australian).

For a Brit in the red states, unless you're significantly to the right of the British political norm, it's a good idea to steer conversation away from certain topics to do with politics, religion and sexuality.

You probably have watched too many scary American films. Watch Eden Lake to even things up :)

59

From my experience of cycling in 10 US states (Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, North Dakota, Minnesota and Tennessee) and coming from Europe as well, I found that in general:

  • Traffic is more relaxed than in Europe and many roads have a very wide shoulder. In general I found the cycling more pleasant than on similarly sized European roads. The problem is that it is often harder to find quiet minor roads in the US. My impression is that overtaking cars will give you more space. It can get a bit hairy when to trucks cross each other right where you are.
  • I never felt unsafe or threatened for (perceived) crime-related reasons. I assume there are less safe areas, just as there certainly are in the UK.

Don't over think this. The US is a safe Western country.

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    I'm kind of surprised that you say you find it harder to find quiet minor roads. I could understand that in urban areas, but rural areas of the U.S. tend to be covered in such roads (well, at least in the parts where there are roads at all.) – reirab Mar 14 '17 at 14:48
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    RE: the discrepancy between Reirab and Ptityeti's statements about the availability of roads. The further west you are the more it will be a problem. East of the Mississippi (and for a little ways west of it) there are generally many ways to get from place to place without using the main highway. However as you get into the Mountain and Pacific time zones, such side routes become much rarer outside of major population centers. To the point that a closed highway can require a detour that adds several hours of travel for an auto. – Rozwel Mar 14 '17 at 16:54
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    @Rozwel, actually traveling the US a lot and often being led into out-of-the-way places rural places, I'd say it's actually the central US where you'll find the most small rural roads, as they have giant grids of farm roads. East is certainly better than most of the west, but in quite a few areas you have to use at least county/state highways to get between built up areas. In large parts of the Plains, you've got a great grid, and the only trouble is generally near river crossings. – JeopardyTempest Mar 14 '17 at 17:59
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    But having driven a lot in the UK recently, I definitely agree that you'll generally find better shoulders in the US (plus often more direct routes). Having slept many times at rest stops, or pulled off on rural roads, it's not constant peril. There's always some risk, but as many note, and my friends who are big bike riders agree, traffic is probably the bigger concern, even if the layout is perhaps slightly easier in many spots. One thing to really watch is that Americans are slightly less familiar with bicycle traffic, especially in rural places, so be very wary of oblivious turning cars. – JeopardyTempest Mar 14 '17 at 18:06
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    @JeopardyTempest you may be correct, the furthest east I have been as an adult is western Ohio, and not much time there. I was generally thinking in terms of population density and growth patterns for different parts of the country, combined with a bunch of time in the central timezone and further west. Along with having a version of this map as a desktop background. :-) nasa.gov/sites/default/files/images/… – Rozwel Mar 14 '17 at 18:15
38

NB: when I wrote this answer, the question was less focussed on crime than it is now.

Anywhere rural I've ever cycled¹, I felt safer than in rural England.

Although you mention crime in your question, unless you intend to make some side-money smuggling stuff or people across the Mexican border or similar adventures, the risk of getting seriously hurt in crime is essentially negligible compared to the risk of getting seriously hurt in traffic, so I will focus exclusively on the latter.

I've cycled through the countryside in the USA and the UK. Traffic-wise, I find it much safer in the USA:

  • Apart from a handful of urban areas, USA is far less densely populated than England (and even many urban areas are so sprawling that the urban area of Atlanta has a population density not much higher than all of England). In remote areas, you'll find roads where traffic is almost nonexistent.
  • In both urban and rural areas, roads are much wider in North America, so there is far more space. No such thing as narrow winding roads with views blocked by hedgerows but cars still driving at 90 km/h.
  • Contrary to ptityetis answer, I find it easier to find quiet minor roads in the USA. Vast areas of North America are crisscrossed by a regular grid of tiny roads, which means you can cycle straight for hours if not days without being on a major road at any time. In the UK, there are very few straight roads built after the Roman era and you might spend a lot of time puzzling on the map trying to figure out a route from A to B that avoids dangerous roads yet is not a huge detour. In North America, it may simply be the case of hopping one block North and continuing your way west. That actually applies for many urban areas as well.

¹Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, France, UK, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Iceland, USA, Canada. I now live in southern England and no doubt cycling conditions are worst among this list.

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    I agree with almost all of this, but the Romans built some pretty straight roads, and they survive as A roads in Britain. They're exceptional enough that you know when you're on one. – slim Mar 14 '17 at 11:45
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    @slim I've slightly reformulated the point about winding/straight roads in Britain. Indeed, the Ridgeway is straight and safe for cycling (but not suitable for road bikes). – gerrit Mar 14 '17 at 11:54
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    Hehe; probably better to just say "few" instead of "no" and have done. Look at the A15 between Lincoln and Scunthorpe for example. It's a modern road built on a Roman route, 20 miles a straight as a ruler apart from one small detour around an airstrip. Having said all this, straight doesn't mean safe. Most of the Fosse Way in Warwickshire is straight but narrow and busy with fast cars. – slim Mar 14 '17 at 12:01
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    You're certainly right that roads are wider in North America, but I wouldn't go so far as to say that there aren't any narrow winding roads with blocked views and 90 km/h traffic. I drive 90 km/h on such a road daily (and it's also up a rather steep hill.) They're not so uncommon on the back roads in the hilly parts of the country, of which there are many, thanks to several mountain ranges. Generally the highways won't be like that, but then the traffic will be much faster there (and non-motor-vehicle traffic is banned on the major highways, anyway.) – reirab Mar 14 '17 at 15:02
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    @reirab It might be that my experience is biased to Ontario and Iowa – gerrit Mar 14 '17 at 16:31
28

In my experience long-distance cycling in the US countryside is very safe. I cycled rural MA, CT, NY, PA, OH, WV, MD, VA, NC and NJ. I felt safe crime-wise when cycling poverty-stricken places in the rust belt. The unsafe feeling starts when you roll into the cities.

There are several things to consider, however.

  1. When you are following US (or state) bike routes through "real countryside", they may lead you through almost backyards of farms (e.g. PA bike route S near Lancaster, PA). There are a lot of farm dogs who will bark and follow you for some distance. Be ready for that.
  2. If you are going through some real wild spots, you should be ready for all kind of wildlife encounters. Get a bear spray.
  3. American countryside is much more diverse than English one. Prepare to encounter all sorts of communities, each with their own unspoken rules (e.g. Amish, Mennonites, Mormons). E.g. don't expect Amish girls on a bike to help you with directions.
  4. Rural US residents are - in general - much more about protective about their private property. Do not get off the public thoroughfares, without asking the owner of the adjacent land for permission. Do not set your tent on a seemingly unoccupied piece of land.
  5. It is common in rural areas to encounter farming machinery on a road. Sometimes this machinery is not very well maintained. Stay away from it. I almost got hit when a disengaged hitch let go of the trailer with some farm equipment.
  6. Some rural roads are not paved, so plan according to the weather and tires of your bike
  7. Be prepared that to some of the residents you, as a long journey cyclist, will seem like a "pink elephant". So they will stare at you.
  8. Do not count on cell phone coverage for navigation. Have a dedicated GPS unit, printed-out maps and general idea of a road ahead.
  9. Do not be a bike Nazi

And, obviously, follow the usual precautions, such as:

  1. Travel in a small group, if possible.
  2. Wear some kind of (satellite) emergency tracker/beacon
  3. Make sure someone else is aware of your itinerary.

Otherwise, most of the people I met were extremely friendly and helpful with my small bike problems.

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    Also, be careful what terminology you use. For example, the term hillbilly, referring to rural Scottish people who have lived in mountainous areas of the USA since the 1700's, can be a term of pride for insiders but can be taken as offensive if used by "them furriners". In this way, it is similar to the "N word". – Robert Columbia Mar 14 '17 at 14:23
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    GPS is key. While the vast majority of the interstate highway corridors have coverage from all the major cell providers, bicycles are illegal to ride on highways. His route may take him away from cell coverage, especially in the Rocky mountains and parts of the southwest. Even if a cell phone has GPS (most do) they tend to go nuts and drain their batteries when there are no towers nearby. A dedicated GPS will last much longer on battery. – user25889 Mar 14 '17 at 16:13
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    In regards to the bear spray, the most likely use you'll have for it is dealing with stray dogs. Wildlife mostly leaves bicyclists alone. – Mark Mar 14 '17 at 20:57
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    @Snowman "bicycles are illegal to ride on highways." This is absolutely not true. Bicycles are illegal to ride on the Interstates, and similar highways. On most state & US highways it'll be legal. Britain may be backward, but not that much, we restrict bicycles pretty much in the same places Americans do. – Auspex Mar 16 '17 at 17:53
  • @Mark while I'd agree you're far more likely to need bear spray for dogs than for bears, mostly doesn't obviate the sense of carrying it for bears. Or wolves. There was a story of a cyclist chased by a wolf (in Canada) a couple of years ago. And it pretty much ignored his bear spray. It seems to happen about once a year... – Auspex Mar 16 '17 at 17:56
12

I think you have no sense of how big and how empty the US is. If the US were as densely populated as England, it would have 2.5 billion people. Unless you are in an urban center, you won't find many people of any sort, let alone criminals.

The quickest coast-to-coast route is Jacksonville to San Diego, almost 4000 km, three times the distance from Land's End to John O' Groats, 200 hours of riding for a strong cyclist, six weeks on the road. Here is what it looks like about half-way. See any potential muggers? At about three-quarters. (This is the shortest route, not the scenic route.)

Don't worry about "smugglers" or "gangs". They exist but are largely preoccupied with smuggling and gang-stuff and won't even notice a limey cyclist as they whiz past at 120kph.

Your big concern will be water. Out west, 100km gaps between sources of fresh water are not at all uncommon, and it would only take a little bit of bad luck (a leaky camelbak shorting out your cell-phone for example) to make dying a very real possibility.

You'll also have to cross two, and possibly three, major mountain ranges. I don't know if there is any route you could take that would not require you to climb to a pass half again as high as the highest peak in England.

  • Excellent points! I grew up in Idaho (granted, that was 30 years ago), but it was not at all uncommon to drive some of the back roads and not see another vehicle for 24 hours. Nor a town. The rule of the road back then was never pass a vehicle stopped on the road without checking on them - it could be days before another vehicle came by. – FreeMan Mar 20 '17 at 12:56
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    Also, if you take the southern route in the summer, it will be HOT. 40-45° C is common during the day. A friend is currently in AZ somewhere and commented that it was 32° C this past weekend (mid-March). – FreeMan Mar 20 '17 at 13:00
9

As a Brit, I'm used to the idea that the countryside is not at all dangerous, that is from a criminal/violent point of view.

This is true in the U.S., also, with the possible exception of drug dealers/smugglers, particularly in the deserted areas near the Mexican-American border. I'd advise not cycling there. Otherwise, rural areas of the U.S. are quite safe (from a crime standpoint.) Larger cities, however, can be another story, especially in the lower-income residential 'inner city' areas. Almost all small cities and towns will be safe, but some large ones are less so.

Frankly, when biking across rural parts of the U.S., violent crime should probably be the least of your concerns. Depending on exactly where you are, weather, traffic, vast distances between even tiny towns (often 100+ miles, sometimes much more,) harsh terrain, and/or wildlife will be much larger concerns. Most of those concerns (except traffic) apply more to the Western states. Once you're East of the Mississippi River, things aren't quite as desolate and there will at least be small towns somewhat frequently (though still not nearly as close as they are in Western Europe.)

Make sure to read up on the normal climate of the areas you'll be traversing in the season you'll be traversing them and also make sure you have some way to keep up with the weather forecasts for where you'll be. Weather in many parts of the U.S. (especially the parts away from the coasts) can change very quickly. Depending on season and where you are, the temperature may be anything from +50 C to -40 C. When I was in North Dakota a couple of years ago, it was +40 C while I was there and they had a snow storm about a week later. Even where I live in the Southeast, temperature swings of 20-30 C over the course of a day or two are not at all uncommon, especially during the non-summer seasons.

Another safety consideration to keep in mind is the type of road you'll be on. It's important to note that bicycle traffic (and any other form of non-motorized traffic) is completely banned on most Interstate highways. Even on several non-Interstate highways, there can be a significant amount of traffic even in the rural areas and quite high travel speeds (70-85 mph / 110-140 km/h is common in some areas.) Biking on those roads, even if it might be legal in some cases, is definitely not advisable.

Also, in case you haven't spent much time in the U.S., it's worth a reminder that the U.S. is very, very large. The distance from New York City to Los Angeles is a little more than the distance from Lisbon to Moscow. You'll be crossing everything from large mountains to desert to plains to hilly countryside. It typically takes about 3-4 days to cross the U.S. by car at 70+ mph / 110+ km/h. Even by airplane, it's similar to crossing the Atlantic. Crossing it by bicycle is not a small undertaking.

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    Speaking as a resident of a very large and somewhat notorious city (Chicago), I'm inclined to call concerns about safety in large cities substantially overblown as well. There are some very specific, quite small areas where ill-considered policing operations have started turf wars (giving long sentences to elder members of criminal operations who had worked out treaties and boundaries, and then redeveloping the housing that had constituted that turf), but we're talking a few very specific blocks here and there, and a visitor is unlikely to happen through them. – Charles Duffy Mar 14 '17 at 20:07
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    ...indeed, downtown Chicago (near the financial district) is extremely heavily-policed. A few years ago we had an office worker shoot his boss and then himself -- it was street closures and helicopters in a matter of minutes. – Charles Duffy Mar 14 '17 at 20:12
  • @CharlesDuffy Right, that's why I said "especially in lower-income residential 'inner city' areas." The areas of most major American cities that tourists are likely to visit are generally quite safe, though pickpockets and the like are more of a concern than they are in smaller towns (as is the case pretty much every country.) – reirab Mar 14 '17 at 20:32
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    nod. Most of your lower-income residential 'inner city' areas are fine as well -- I spend a great deal of my time in the immigrant-heavy north side of town (excellent food up that way!) and have family in some of the almost-burbs to the further south (~95th or so), and have never felt the slightest bit unsafe in either. – Charles Duffy Mar 14 '17 at 20:41
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    Bikes are not banned on all interstate highways. Around here I would be allowed to ride a bike on the shoulder of the interstate when going between cities. You are required to take the first exit in a city, though. This is because there simply are not other options. – Loren Pechtel Mar 15 '17 at 2:23
9

I've been to 45 out of the 50 states, especially in rural areas.

Like Hank Williams, Jr. said:

you only get mugged if you go down town

Country criminals might steal your stuff if you leave it unattended, but they won't assault you or rob you in person.

There's an extremely small chance that you could be accidently shot, like this cyclist in Herndon, VA (suburban, not rural) who was accidently shot by someone loading his gun in his house.

(The shooter, John Alders, had to pay a $250 dollar fine for "reckless handling of a firearm".)


Three cross-country routes are:

TransAmerica Trail (try to go through Yellowstone June-September, as cold as -50 degrees C in winter)

Northern Tier (likewise, June-September to minimize chances of snow in the Washington state to Minnesota portion).

Southern Tier

  • well that's not necessarily true at all especially if you break some unwritten social norm or other rule like using a road on unmarked private property... I think people in rural areas can definitely be threatening to outsiders and they might act on it. But just apologize to an appropriate/proportional degree, leave the area and then you should be good. Source: I'm from Missouri. – gloomy.penguin Mar 14 '17 at 17:41
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    @gloomy.penguin Most of the red-neck areas I've been in are WV, VA, PA, MD; hiking, caving, canoeing. I don't think anyone would do worse than yell at you for cycling on their property. Especially if it's not even posted as "no trespassing". Somebody yelling "what the f--- are doing here, get the f--- off my property" is about the worst I can imagine. – DavePhD Mar 14 '17 at 17:51
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    yeah... I've seen people come with a shotgun, too, but I guess I've personally never seen it actually fired even as a warning. Maybe once but the person was clear across a field and it was shot towards they sky. I guess really only drunk or drugged (meth) people would really act on threats. Just avoid driveways and livestock for sure. – gloomy.penguin Mar 14 '17 at 17:59
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    I currently live in Missouri, but grew up in rural Alaska. I have had people come to the door armed semi regularly when I pulled up in front of their place, particularly if I, or the vehicle, was not recognized as "belonging" there. However, once I was identified everything was cordial. – Rozwel Mar 14 '17 at 19:47
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    @RobertColumbia I've been on the W&OD trail too, but the accidental shooting happened at 1239 Summerfield Drive, not on the trail. – DavePhD Mar 20 '17 at 12:18
8

While I will join the crowd in saying the risk of being mugged is trivial there are other threats to be aware of:

Wildlife, including dog packs, is more of an issue in the US than in England. This is very situational, in most areas the threat is about zero but if you're off the main roads and in the areas in the west with evergreen forests the bear threat is small but real. Generally they'll leave you alone but getting between mama and her cubs is a very bad idea.

Also, in the southwest the distances can be long and the weather can be hot. I would recommend reading up on desert survival before biking between cities in the summer in the southwest deserts. Unless you're on the interstate you're unlikely to have cell coverage, an accident on a side road could be a very serious situation. Now and then we have cases of tourists who head out into the desert unprepared, have some sort of breakdown and die out there.

On the flip side, winter storms can be a lot worse than you're used to, also. England is surrounded by ocean and the Gulf Stream warms it to some degree. Much of the US is a lot farther from the moderating effects of the ocean and only a small part of it is warmed by ocean currents.

Finally, our extreme weather events are also worse than anything you're used to. If you're near the ocean in the southeast beware of hurricanes. You're looking at winds of at least 120 kph and the worst of them will be twice this. Rain will be extreme, flooding common. The areas near the ocean are usually subject to a mandatory evacuation in such cases and the areas a bit inland aren't but you'll have problems finding supplies and shelter. In the Midwest you'll also have the threat of tornadoes. They are too unpredictable for evacuation, alerts go out when there is threatening weather, warnings when radar sees a tornado and some communities also have sirens. People take shelter where they can, the well prepared have underground rooms. Winds again start at 120 kph and the record holder was 476 kph. All ordinary houses will be flattened by the strongest of these.

8

TL;DR: Look, Listen, Live!

While the other answers are indeed correct that crime isn't a major concern (at least compared to weather or even wildlife in some areas), and I don't doubt your ability to deal with traffic hazards to cyclists in general, there are a few peculiar things about North American traffic that could trip you up in a large and splatter-y way.

Trucks are bigger here (just like everything else)

North American standards allow for larger and heavier trucks (lorries for you Brits) than their European counterparts. This is mostly an impact to you when you go to pass a Rocky Mountain doubles rig (this is a 40-50' semitrailer with a 20-28' full trailer behind it) or some other equivalent setup that simply would be too large to fit on European roads. Even larger setups are possible -- up to and including seeing two 40' to 50' trailers in a doubles setup in some parts of the country, or triples trucks with 3 28' trailers one after the other.

There are also long "dump and pup" rigs that consist of a dump truck connected to a full trailer by a long (at least 15') drawbar, which means you need to pay attention for the presence of that drawbar lest you merge back in too early and get clobbered by the pup trailer. Two-pup setups are even seen in some parts of the western U.S., but are not nearly as common as a standard dump-and-pup.

Of course, oversized loads are present on the North American highway system as well, and merit the same cautions as anywhere else in the world.

You may not notice the first few rural grade (level) crossings you go over

Grade crossings (level crossings for the OP) in North America are dramatically different from those in the UK, especially in rural areas and on lesser-traveled roads. In the UK, the railroad right-of-way was required to be enclosed since the early development of the railroad, and controlled signalling systems were implemented over most of the network, meaning that even the most minor crossings are gated and provide a facility to contact rail personnel. Furthermore, most UK rail traffic is scheduled to a published timetable, meaning it is largely predictable in timing.

None of this is true in North American rail practice. The vast distances involved effectively prohibit the fencing of the rail right-of-way save for in urban areas where it's necessary to prohibit trespass, and also made UK-style signaling impractical as well. This means that most crossings in the US are open crossings with no gates, especially on minor roads. (Major roads use a style of crossing that is essentially identical to a UK Automatic Half Barrier or Automatic Barrier Crossing - Local save for lacking monitor functions in most cases.)

Likewise, most of these open crossings lack any active train warning function whatsoever, resulting in what are called passive crossings. These are marked only by the advance warning and crossbuck signs, and require user vigilance to detect the presence of oncoming trains and yield to them. Furthermore, train traffic in North America is largely run on a prioritized "best time" basis, instead of on a regular, published timetable. This means that no matter what time of day or night, you must keep a watchful eye and ear out for rail traffic at grade crossings, because that's the only warning you'll get in most cases, and trains may be present at any time.

(P.S. most North American rail crossings have a contact telephone number on them, but that's an emergency number, not to be used for minor matters such as a cyclist crossing the rail line as part of normal traffic.)

  • Thanks, I didn't know that about railways. I guess I can always jump into a boxcar if I get tired ;) – Ne Mo Mar 16 '17 at 7:30
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    "train time is any time" has always been true. Stay off bridges. – Kate Gregory Mar 18 '17 at 17:53
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    I'd pitch in and watch for cattle guards, as well. Generally a series of metal bars across a concrete pit in the road with fencing leading away on either side. Usually these are on interstate on-ramps (slip roads) to prevent herds from roaming into fast-moving traffic, but there is also a lot of public land out west that ranchers are allowed to use for grazing, and there are cattle guards helping to protect the borders. These are going to be 90° to the road, unlike some rail crossings, but the gaps between bars are much larger than those between rail & pavement. – FreeMan Mar 20 '17 at 13:09
  • I suspect most serious British cyclists understand cattle guards. – Auspex Mar 22 '17 at 10:01
5

If you stick to public highways and rights of way, the US isn't going to be any more dangerous than the UK in that respect. Where there might be additional risk is if you (intentionally or not) stray onto private property, because the owners are far more likely to be armed.

5

I'm going to take a slightly different note than all the other answerers unfortunately. While I don't think you'll be targeted for violent crime or theft (assuming you have the good sense to identify bad neighborhoods and stay out of them), it may be worth noting that certain passing motorists may buzz you in non-injurious ways. Examples are -- Intentionally swerving to get close to you (without hitting), honking/yelling as they pass you, or a particularly gross one, revving their engines to cover you in soot/exhaust fumes. This is far from the norm (I can also attest a lot of people will move to the inside lane to give you space, even if you are on the shoulder), but it is something that a certain type of individual (read - Douche) will do, and have done to cyclists just because they're cyclists.

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    Believe me, in the UK I'm used to the motorists' sense of entitlement... and I am one. Don't let the bastards grind you down! – Ne Mo Mar 14 '17 at 19:13
  • I don't do a lot of rural cycling, but I will say I've been "assaulted" this way a few times, and every time it was from the occupants of a pickup truck. Mostly verbal assault (yelling something which can't be made out as they are zipping by at 5 times my speed), but at least once a metal object was thrown. Given the demographic of pickup-truck drivers (and the lower traffic speeds), I actually feel much more safe cycling in urban areas. – T.E.D. Mar 14 '17 at 21:52
5

The city is only dangerous because there are more people.

Actually, the chance of any random American hurting you is about the same, city vs. country. (I'm being charitable; actually the per capita injury rate averages a tick higher in the country.) Crime per se is indeed higher in the city (though not as different as it used to be), but there are other risks in the country which you can't avoid, predominantly, traffic accidents.

But that doesn't tell the whole story. We have a lot of localized problems. For instance cities are even safer than statistics say, because their average is pulled down by local problems, e.g. Baltimore and southside Chicago. That same thing happens in the country, but where cities have it almost block-by-block, the country has it town-by-town.

It may be worth calling the state police or better, county sheriffs, along your route, tell them what you're doing and ask about areas to avoid.

As you know, America is broken into the several States, and within each state, 30-120 counties, averaging maybe 50km across.

Especially in rural counties with little gun control, you benefit from criminals having no idea if any particular person has a gun. Don't mess that up by making it obvious. Don't get one, either. The gun laws are a politicized tangle of local and state laws, and accidentally running afoul of one is a huge risk, especially if you're moving across dozens of jurisdictions.

Those other hazards

You will not see an earthquake coming, but, if you're a bicyclist, an earthquake harms your mobility almost not at all. Even if a road is damaged you can simply carry around.

The weather threats, we know they're coming. Watch the news.

Other than that, your biggest enemy is the poor state of our national bicycle-route system. We do have one; it's just nearly zero-funded and is mostly just signage of "State and U.S." highways (both State funded; have level crossings) which have a lot of 55-65 mph (90-105kph) traffic. I'm sorry, did I just explain to a Brit what a mile is? Nevermind me.

America has many pastoral country lanes (often former Fed/state highways), even in the most surprising of places such as frontage roads for rural freeways. Sometimes those are designated or recommended as bicycle routes, but not always: you are often forced onto a very busy main road and sometimes even onto a freeway (M-motorways). Figure on some "on-the-freeway" running unless you choose a cross-America route very carefully.

Your other enemy is that of the Donner Party; the sheer breadth of this country and the raw number of miles you must cross, especially in the west, where services and support can be very far away and cell phone service can be nonexistent. You might want to own a 406MHz EPIRB so you can get help for sure. That said, a lot of people do this.

We have a shocking number of "rails to trails", old railroads converted into bike trails. That's something to think about when choosing routes. They have the advantage of being contiguous and free of motor vehicles. (you had "Beeching Cuts", we had ConRail, but our freight system emerged healthy and profitable.) Often a former eastern rail route will be bike-trail for much of its length.

  • 1
    The article you link is including accidental deaths in saying that the chance of 'violent' death is higher in the country. The murder rates, on the other hand, tend to be higher in urban areas. Many states' per-capita murder rates drop by half or more when the large cities are removed. You're generally much more likely to be killed by a human in an urban area. You're generally much more likely to be killed by a bear (or other wildlife or the weather, etc.) in the country. Also, people tend to be more likely to do dangerous things in the country, resulting in more accidental deaths. – reirab Mar 20 '17 at 15:00
  • @reirab I'll be darned... you're right. Indeed, people in cities don't have farm accidents or drive 55mph on roads with bicycles. – Harper Mar 20 '17 at 16:17
  • Only 55 mph? ;) – reirab Mar 20 '17 at 16:48
  • Yes, officer! :) – Harper Mar 20 '17 at 17:44
4

I'm going to echo the advice of others, you're generally safe from crime on the "random country lanes" you seek, and I won't caution you about your safety from the other vehicles on the road.

Do keep tabs on the weather forecasts, as others have said. It's not just the temperature swings to beware of, there can be downright dangerous weather. Thunderstorms with strong gusty winds, large hail, lightning strikes, and tornadoes are a common thing in the summer months in the middle and eastern parts of the country.

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    Incidentally, the time of year where tornadoes are most common varies a lot by region. In some regions, they're much more likely in the spring and fall than in the summer, but in other regions they're much more likely in the summer. This has a lot to do with the normal location of the jet stream at a particular time of year as well as the normal timing of hurricane season along the East and Gulf coasts. In TN where I live, tornadoes are about 10x more common in January than in August. – reirab Mar 14 '17 at 20:45
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Crime in the US largely falls into violent and non-violent categories. Because of our culture and our media we tend to "report" more one the violent crimes, and just quietly deal with the non-violent crimes.

The largest crime your going to need to be aware of in a rural area is probably going to be theft. Same if your in the city by the way. It's far more likely that your bike is stolen then anything else, but in truth, even that is pretty rare, if you use a U-Lock.

Your two problems are going to be the vastness of the US, an the way our road system works.

The size of it I had a family friend come from England and stay with us in Florida. They decided they wanted to see the country so they decided to drive to California. They were totally unprepared for the shear distance and what it would mean. Our country is large enough that you have different eco systems as you travel, specially east to west. Your will have Swamp, plantations, flatland, prairie lands, deserts, mountain ranges, arid zones and coastal areas (just to name a few). There are areas that get 450 cm of rain a year and others that get 60 mm.

This is also true for people. In some areas strangers are welcome and invited guests. In others they are an annoyance to be avoided. It all depends on area. Now, no one would be hostile. That's not what I mean. But in some areas you will have people invite you over to their house so they can bake you a pie, in others it will be hard to get a passer by to tell you the time of day.

Even animal concerns are going to be different. Most parts of the US, (even in cities at times) have loads of wildlife. Cougars, snakes, (brown or black) bears, alligator, panthers, crocodiles, bob cats, and so on, are very common in rural areas, some even in cities. Smaller animalas are "worse" if your going to be camping out. Raccoons, Possums, Armadillos, squirels, etc. all will have no problem getting into your food stores.

Cell coverage doesn't reach everywhere are there are large stretches of road with nothing on them. Your could easily find your self sleeping rough.

The road system is vastly different in many subtle ways. Most importantly, is the county, state, US highway, Interstate differences. Before the interstate system, if you wanted to travel across country, you would take a US highway or maybe some State Roads. But largely these roads were made to get you from specific point A to specific point B. Small towns and villages popped up along these highways. Then comes the interstate system. This system is designed to take you to maybe 1-2 big cites in a state, but largely to travel long distances between many large locations. They are not meant (primary) for travel inside the same state, though because of their size, they end up being really good at traveling between large cities in the same state.

The result is, if you're in a car, going from one rural area across the country to another rural area, you would take a county road, then a state road, then the interstate. Travel for several days, then get off the interstate near a large city, and take the state and county roads to your rural destination. For a biker, you can't get on the interstate. To do so would be illegal and life threatening. But you can travel the state and county roads quite safely. That said, you, as someone not from the area your traveling in, will have a very hard time figuring out if a road is "safe" to travel. It could be nearly empty, or it could be a main thoroughfare for that part of the state. Even more so because the same road in different areas would be used very differently.

protected by JonathanReez Mar 14 '17 at 21:06

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