Depending where you are in the world you might not have a clue what I mean when I say ‘B roads’ so let me take a second to explain what they are where I come from. These are roads that have lower traffic flow than the main ‘A’ roads or trunk roads. This classification has nothing to do with the size, dimensions, or physical characteristics of the road. In general, where I live, they are more rural routes with significantly less traffic and the quality of the road surfaces vary greatly compared to main roads.
There we have it – the boring explanation out of the way!
I know that some of you reading this might live in the hustle and bustle of the city and getting to some half decent ‘B’ roads might be quite tricky. However, as I live in what is countryside with a scattering of towns and villages all around me I can only write about what I know. What I will do though is try and make my local ‘B’ roads sound so appealing that you will want to venture out of the big bad city to try and find some of your own!
Anyone who rides on the road will most likely have had a few close encounters with drivers who have failed to pass you safely. It’s almost a certainty unfortunately. We know that when we get on our bikes we need to have faith in all other road users to appreciate our vulnerability as bike riders.
Riding ‘B’ roads is a pretty great way of reducing the number of vehicles that you will encounter on your rides. If you haven’t read my post on night riding take a look here. The advice in that can also be used for riding at anytime of the day!
Without going into too much detail about what I do for work I have seen my fair share of collisions between cars and cyclists. I’ve seen both sides of the coin as well. Cyclists have been to blame, drivers have been to blame, and some are just extremely unfortunate timing that could have been avoided with a little more common sense. Some of the situations I’ve seen are almost enough to put you off cycling completely but if you live life being scared of what might happen then you wouldn’t live much of a life at all.
The majority of people want to get where they are going in the quickest possible time. Everyone seems to be in a rush these days. Therefore, they take the main roads as they are usually faster flowing and more direct. This means the beautiful ‘B’ roads are generally quieter. Not only are they quieter they tend to lead you to places that aren’t as busy.
I found being on quieter roads was significantly less stressful. Most of the time it was just me out there and when the occasional car did come along I could hear it coming and prepare for it. Preparing for upcoming approaching cars is something that needs doing on some of these ‘B’ roads and let me explain why. Some of the roads are a bit beaten up, they have seen better days. If you are riding along with fields either side of you there’s a good chance that the local farmer, in his massive tractor, needs to get in and out of those fields as well. These big vehicles can churn the road surface up quite a lot and potholes are unforgiving. Especially on a road bike.
The potholes in my area were notorious enough to make the news! This article here explains how cycling tourism could decline due to how poor of a condition the local ‘B’ roads were.
Positioning is everything. If I hear a car coming and it’s not safe for me to ride over on the left due to potholes etc then as early as I can, as long as it is safe to do so, I will position toward the middle of the road to make my intentions clear to the car behind. When it’s safe to move back to the left I will. This way everyone knows what is going on. I’m not going to rattle my body and my bike through potholes and rough surfaces, potentially falling off, so someone in a car can save 5 seconds of their day. We’re all entitled to use the road after all.
This is the main benefit in my eyes when it comes to riding ‘B’ roads. If I can do something as simple as riding quieter roads to increase my safety then this is a simple decision to make sure I have the best chance to get home to my family.
What About That View!
The ‘B’ roads around me tend to lead you deep into the countryside. You pass through a few small villages now and again but never through a bustling city centre where everything is stop / start with traffic lights and junctions etc. The miles can pass by quickly and I am treated to picturesque views and sheep cheering me on as I pedal. Far better than the sound of traffic constantly trying to get past me.
When I first ventured out onto these country roads within 50 miles of my house I was amazed how many places I came across that I had never heard of. Not to mention the local historical monuments, postcard worthy views, little cafes and shops just about surviving in tiny villages, and the occasional fellow cyclist passing by in the opposite direction.
Now I’m not sure how to explain this but I will have a go. I found that all of these things made me, as an individual, feel a little bit special. Of course loads of other people had seen and been to these places before but for me this was exploration. I had discovered this, for me, for the first time. That’s a nice feeling.
Like the majority of people these days I snap the odd picture on my mobile phone and send it to my wife. She’s not a cyclist like me so I like to be able to document / share my mini adventures with her. Whether she enjoys the photos or not is a different story…
My next point might sound really stupid but unless you have tried this then hold your judgement! Try it first and then you’ll see exactly what I mean.
Let’s say you have a nice little 30 mile loop out through the countryside. It’s a regular route you use. You know the road, you know where all the deep potholes are, you know how long it takes, what the climbs are like, and where you can cut the odd corner etc. In a situation like this you might find that those views you once photographed and stopped to look at become a bit boring. You’ve seen them before after all…
Do this loop in reverse!
It’s so easy to do the same loop that we forget to mix it up. Turn around, go the other way. I promise you that by doing this, even on a route you know well, you will see things you’ve never seen before. A different approach on a different side of the road and descents that used to be climbs. All little changes that will keep you feeling fresh and stop that classic local loop becoming boring. Try it and let me know how it goes. Do this already? Leave a comment and tell me why you agree or disagree!
‘B’ Road Planning – Make It Work For You
Some of you might be true explorers – just jump on your bike and start pedalling. The road will take you somewhere and after that you can work out a way back home. I’m more of a planner. I like to know where I’m going, how far it is, how bad are the climbs etc. I think my approach is even more important if you’re planning to ride some new roads that do take you out into the peace and quiet of the countryside.
If I’m about to pedal my way down some new roads I want to know what I might encounter along the way. Will there be shops? A cafe? Do I cross any major routes? Nowadays, these are all easy things to check thanks to websites and apps like Komoot. You can see what kind of road you will be on, the distance of your ride, the elevation gain, the type of surface and many more stats that will let you know what is coming before you ever leave your house.
I have done a post that covers how to plan a ride and it includes a beginner guide on how to use Komoot. Komoot is free to use as well so click here to have a read of that article and then you can get planning your new ‘B’ road adventure.
What About The City Folk?!
It’s only fair to mention those of you that may live in more urban surroundings where it’s not as easy, or quick, for you to access these countryside loops on quiet ‘B’ roads. If I were you I would still make the effort to find them though!
I recently went on a group ride with some friends that started in the centre of Edinburgh. The first 10 miles or so were through some of the busiest traffic I have ever ridden. As great as it was to ride with friends I did not enjoy the surroundings at all. Stopping every few minutes for traffic lights, cars squeezing by as the driver clearly has somewhere extremely important to be, trying to negotiate busy junctions, and not being able to get into any kind of flow or rhythm was very frustrating.
There was the occasional cycle lane but the truth is quite simple – the city infrastructure when it comes to cycling safety and promoting a cycling culture is insufficient. It’s an afterthought in an attempt to promote a healthy lifestyle.
Some people might love that. Not me. As great as it would be to ride with those friends again it would need to be on the quieter roads. City cycling was stressful with too many stop / start situations.
This got me thinking about what I would do if I lived in the city. What would become of my cycling adventures and how would I get around the problem that is city cycling. There was only one option in my mind. I would have to load my bike on the car, get out of the city, and then enjoy my bike ride. Not ideal but the thought of having to ride through a city, out of choice, seemed a silly choice.
I hope that as the world makes an effort to promote environmentally friendly travel choices the powers that be make better decisions as to how they expect cyclists to get around the cities. Other countries in the world do it significantly better than we do in the United Kingdom so we know it can be done!
So there we have it. I have made my arguments for ‘B’ road cycling. Obviously I am slightly biased, and privileged, to have the option to ride on these roads so easily but with a little planning everyone can make this happen.
The increased safety, the peace and quiet, the views, the lower stress levels, and that country air are all strong points that I hope will convince you to hunt out some quieter areas to ride your bike. If you get hooked you can go all in and get a Bikepacking set up on the go. The we can get even deeper into the middle of nowhere and leave even the ‘B’ roads behind… Click here to read more about what Bikepacking is!
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