ODOT to bicycle riders: Here’s your chip seal cheat sheet

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward
You might not like chip seal; but at least now you'll know how to avoid it.(Photo: Peckham)
You might not like chip seal; but at least now you’ll know how to avoid it.
(Photo: Peckham Asphalt)

For the first time ever, the Oregon Department of Transportation has published their list of upcoming chip seal projects specifically with bicycle riders in mind.

Chip seal is a type of paving material that mixes asphalt with pieces of fine aggregate (a.k.a. gravel). Road agencies love it because it extends the life of low-volume rural roads and it’s much cheaper to do than repaving. But for people who bike, chip seal is a drag. Literally. The tiny bumps don’t even register while driving, but on a bike they can really slow you down and cause fatigue. (And you do not want to think about what happens when you crash on it.) What makes matters worse is that road crews will often chip seal just the standard lane and then leave a ridge that crosses the fog line and goes into the shoulder people ride.

“My goal is to get the word out so bicyclists can plan accordingly and avoid an unhappy experience.”
— Sheila Lyons, ODOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Coordinator

Because of the groans that come with chip sealed roads, we were happy to get an email from Oregon’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Coordinator Sheila Lyons last week. She wanted to make sure people know what to expect when planning summer bike adventures on our state’s many excellent backroads. Lyons knows this is an issue, not just because she hears about it from Oregonians, but because she’s a rider herself. “It can be no fun to ride on,” she wrote in the email. “But it’s a cheap and effective surfacing treatment that ODOT is using more and more.”

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