Interstate highways criss-cross America, promising a faster drive, clear lines of sight, and easier access to otherwise far-flung towns and cities.
The purpose of the interstate was for motor vehicles as a way to speed up travel and make it safer. Interstates were built with that mind: wide, as flat as possible, and as much clear vision as possible.
With this in mind, it makes sense that non-motorized traffic, such as people, bikes, and animals, would be strongly discouraged or prohibited from using the interstate.
Then on second glance, it makes no sense at all because cyclists can certainly benefit from these things too, even if they can’t reach a hundred miles an hour!
Cyclists are now often wondering if they are allowed to ride on those vast swaths of road, where they are allowed to ride, and where they are not allowed.
The short answer is that the majority of states in America still prohibits cyclists from riding on interstates and highways unless there is specific signage allowing bikes on them. And where it is legal, cyclists may be directed to take the first off-ramp marked with signs for bikes to use.
Here are the states where it is legal to ride on the interstate:
- New Mexico
These states allow for some interstate use by cyclists, as long as that interstate is designated for bikes:
- North Carolina
The thing that ties all these states together is the fact that they tend to have lower population densities than other states, or at least have large areas that are much lower.
This makes it safer for cyclists to use the interstate because there is, on average, less traffic to contend with. As you can see, the states that allow it are very much in the minority!
Why Are Bikes Not Allowed on the Interstate?
Although there are benefits to riding on the interstate (as we will see), it’s important to note that most freeways are not designed for cyclists.
The two main reasons are the speed of the traffic around the cyclists (and the make-up of the traffic: it tends to be much heavier, larger vehicles such as shipping trucks, semis, and logging trucks, all going sixty miles per hour or faster, depending on the interstate), and the fact that freeways have very few places to cross safely when needed. It’s also just plain dangerous to be crossing off-ramps, it’s noisy, and there are limited ingress and egress.
Cyclists can still end up on the interstate. Sometimes they end up there because they are lost, otherwise want to use it as a shortcut, or they are just hoping to dodge the state troopers.
Depending on where you are biking, troopers can do anything from giving you a stern warning and a lecture (and tell you to get off the highway) or can find you and still get you off the interstate.
Why Would You Want to Bike on the Interstate?
If you’re here, then you obviously want to know where you would be able to ride on the highway or perhaps what the benefits are. Certainly, it can be quite dangerous, especially when dealing with off-ramps, but there are benefits as well.
A huge benefit for many cyclists is the same benefit for cars: a clear and long line of sight and flatter roads. The shoulders on freeways are huge too-often ten to twelve feet. This gives plenty of room for cyclists to stay on the shoulder while still dodging things like construction, debris, and wildlife.
Another factor is that there are no left turning vehicles. This is enough to make it awfully tempting to ride the interstate as many accidents are caused by negligent left-turning drivers and cyclists who don’t see them or aren’t paying attention.
In this way, interstates are arguably slightly safer than regular streets, though it’s canceled out by the speed and size of the vehicles that cyclists must contend with.
A final factor, of course, is the fact that interstates are the most direct route between cities and towns, saving cyclists time.
Safety Tips When Riding on the Interstate
Assuming you are in a place where it is legal to ride on the interstate, there are a number of things you should keep in mind.
First, keep your wits about you and stay even more aware of your surroundings. Interstates are not just used by the regular cars and trucks, they are also used by massive semis, logging trucks, and other vehicles with larger blind spots and a lot more potential to kill those around them.
Second, it’s important to watch for signs directing cyclists where to go and where not to go. Some on-ramp signs, even where it’s legal to ride, will prohibit cyclists or pedestrians from using them, so move on to the next ramp. The reason for this is usually because that ramp will take you to an area of the interstate where there is no shoulder to ride on.
You may also be directed to use certain ramps to get off the interstate; again, usually because of a lack of shoulder coming up.
Finally, it’s recommended that only experienced, adult cyclists should ride on interstates and only during times of good visibility and during the day.
While it’s not illegal to ride on the interstate at night, the risks of being in an accident go up because drivers can’t see you. Even with lights and reflectors, poor visibility has been linked to an uptick of accidents.
And of course, you should wear a helmet (even if you are not legally obligated to) and make sure your bike is in good working order so that you don’t have a breakdown on the highway.
Riding on the interstate does have benefits: it’s a faster, often flatter, route between point A and point B, there are massive shoulders to ride on, and no left turning traffic.
On the other hand, you’re dealing with vehicles that are often going much, much faster than a bike and contending with larger vehicles.
For the moment, the majority of states consider riding on the interstate to be illegal, but this may change over time with the surge of popularity in bike riding.
For now, if you are going to ride on the interstate, make sure it’s legal to do so, mind your signs, and pay close attention to your surroundings so that you can ride safely.