Felkerino and Lane, crossing the closed road

The Wonder of the “Road Closed.” Detours by Bike

Summer is a busy time for road construction. Road repairs may reduce traffic to one lane, and in some cases may cause a temporary road closure. With those road closures come detours.

Road Closed. Photo by Felkerino
Road Closed. Photo by Felkerino

When I see a “Detour” sign during a ride, two thoughts pop into my head.

  • Is it really a detour? That is, can a tandem or single bicycle pass through even though a car cannot.
  • If the road really is closed, how many extra miles of riding does this mean?

Detour on Montevideo Road. A true skills test
2013 Detour on Montevideo Road. A true skills test

There are a couple of ways that road detours are laid out signage-wise.

  1. The detour sign is in close proximity to (say between a 1/4 mile to 1 mile) where the supposed road closure is.
  2. The detour sign is in one place, but the actual closure causing the detour is a couple of miles down the road.

I much prefer the detours where the road closure is close to the detour sign. That makes it easy for you or one of your riding friends to scout it out, without feeling like you might be wasting time and energy.

Jerry passes the skills test
Jerry passes the skills test

Detour setups where the road closure is three to four miles up the road are another matter. They’re a gamble. You could ride the three to four miles and it may be passable, but if it isn’t then you just rode 6-8 miles extra. For nothing!

road closed. detour
The road was closed here, but the sidewalk worked fine.

On the other hand, you might get lucky and end up with zero bonus miles.

Road closed near Harper's Ferry. The bikes fit just right here
Road closed near Harper’s Ferry. The bikes fit just right here

A passable detour takes many forms. It may mean slipping through on a strip of pavement that would not accommodate a car, but easily fits a bike.

We are going to cross this. It was okay.
We are going to cross this. It was okay.

Recently, we crossed a bunch of road covered in rebar. As a person who doesn’t always trust their footing, this no-detour detour was pretty much at my skills limit.

Sometimes we see detours where a single bike can pass through fairly easily, but the extra length of our tandem makes it impossible for us.

A serious detour in West Virginia
A serious detour in West Virginia
We tried to get around it, but alas, no go.
We tried to get around it, but alas, no go. Maybe Lane could have made it, but not us.
And so we had to backtrack to where we started.
And so we had to backtrack to where we started.

It’s frustrating to have to take the roundabout way, especially if it means more than four or five miles of extra riding, so I will always lean toward checking out the detour rather than blindly going around.

More than half the time, Felkerino and I have found that there is a way for our bike to get through. As for the other times, it’s good to have the GPS to see if there’s an on-the-fly re-route that may work better than the specified detour.

Truly a road closed on this washed out road/detour

What about you? Do you take the detour or will you see if you can ride through?

15 thoughts on “The Wonder of the “Road Closed.” Detours by Bike”

  1. Ha, this one hits close to home! We took our annual group family bike camping trip last week (recap here) and were met with a surprise detour sign. It was near the end of the trek to the campsite and I really didn’t want to ride an extra mile into unknown hills of an already hilly island so I convinced our crew to continue on. So thankful a friend from home happened to ride towards us after we’d only gone about 200 feet downhill and told us to turn back. Of course part of me didn’t actually believe the road was completely closed, but the quicker members of our party checked it out while waiting for the rest of us to arrive and it was indeed closed. And a friend who came out a day earlier hit the closure and had to walk her bike back up the hill. BTW, my bike weighs 75 pounds, my passengers weigh 90 pounds, and our gear was probably another 50 so I’m a little hill-and-detour averse :)

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  2. In south central PA there are a number of closed bridges (there are three within five miles of my house) but nearly all of them are easily passable by bike. In fact, I often do a “bridge out” mini-tour which crosses several of these old structures. In all cases, the roads are all very low traffic and peaceful.

    I try to ride through in unknown locations too. I recently rode a perm route in CT/RI which included a closed bridge. The closure was a “close to the sign” type and it was quite evident the bridge was gone completely. As I stopped to take pictures, a group of local riders pedaled up and showed me the way through the construction which involved crossing a steel “I” beam lying across the waterway.

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  3. I ride / hike through usually where there is little risk of loosing footing. Cleat / bike choice of the day may play a role. MTB shoes w/times pedal vs Road Speed Play system become a deciding factor with potential bonus miles : )

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    1. College and Mill….looks very familiar….was that taken at the bottom of the hill near Messiah College? I ride through that intersection frequently. It is just about the only way for a bike to to go across the Yellow Breeches in that area now. The next nearest “bike-safe” bridge is at Bishop Rd…which was closed 6-8 weeks ago. There used to also be a bridge across the YB at Chestnut Grove but it was completely removed a few years ago. I miss that one.

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      1. Yup. That was about 3 years ago when a micro-burst dumped 6 inches in 2 hours along the YB corridor/McCormick Road. I get out there pretty often as well on my way over to Cumberland County.

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  4. Received a stern warning from county sheriff deputy 2 weeks ago for going around a “road closed” barricade. Very nice guy, just doing his job..

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  5. A couple of years ago I took the wife on a hilly, 60 mile ride SW of Warrenton. We crossed Route 211 onto Richmond Road, but there were road closed ahead signs. I knew that roads are sometimes closed to cars, but not necessarily bikes so we continued the 3 miles until the closure. The bridge over Battle Creek was completely gone and the construction crew was doing significant upgrades to the road/stream bank. They were very nice and allowed us to have a look at whether it was worth fording the creek or not, but I decided against it. A detour around wasn’t feasible so we turned around and retraced our route. We still got 60 miles because it was right at the half-way point of our ride. We just did the hilliest part twice.

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  6. Earlier this summer, I tried to ride past a detour on the Jane Addams Trail in Northwestern Illinois. When it crossed over into Wisconsin(Badger State Trail), some construction horses were strung across the trail. I chose to ignore them. about a mile up the path I found a tree downed over the trail. No big deal. I can take my bike right around it. Then there was another. Same thing. went right around it. Then about every hundred yards another tree was down! And these trees were massive! I had to end up taking a gps detour of several miles to try to bypass this. Up and down some big big hills with my bike all loaded down with gear for the weekend. Was thankful to get back to the trail finally. I rode only about 50 yards into the trail and found that the trail was totally covered by more trees! It turns out that a couple weeks before there had been a tornado in the area that had leveled barns and trees alike! So much stuff had been affected that the trails had not been cleared even after a few weeks! wow!

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  7. While I dislike “extra” miles, I can’t help but see the humor in complaining about riding bonus miles when the entire ride was at some level optional. Especially on a brevet, when we are going to ride very long distances to begin with, I always want to remind myself that the whole ride is essentially riding a whole lot of extra miles to get back where you started. I also notice that the extra miles are not a big deal when I am bike touring or riding without a set destination or time limit.

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    1. I agree with you, though I think there is something about expectations, that is, thinking your day’s route is one way and it ends up another. Also, some detours are no joke, both in terms of additional miles and terrain!

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