Road biking in Birch Bay: Safety tips

Published on Wed, Jun 25, 2014
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For a beginning cyclist, Birch Bay can be the perfect starting point. The long bike lanes running along the coast, the slow traffic speed and the flat, even landscape make the beautiful little resort town an ideal destination for bikers of all skill levels, and the gorgeous views and refreshing bay air only sweeten the deal.

However, there are plenty of quirks that riders and drivers need to be aware of. Anyone who’s tried to bike for long periods through Whatcom County has experienced the frustration of bike lanes abruptly vanishing, shoulders narrowing to next to nothing and asphalt suddenly becoming ragged. Obstacles like these can hamper your enjoyment of the ride, but more importantly, they can be dangerous if you’re not prepared. 

This guide will help you stay safe, have fun and enjoy some of the beautiful rides Birch Bay and Blaine have to offer. 

The basics:

For beginners, the first and most important thing to do is to make sure you’re riding the right bike. Kae Moe with Kulshan Cycles in Bellingham says having the right size bike for the right person can make a huge difference.

“If you’re riding a bike that’s too big or too small, you’re going to have trouble keeping it in a straight line and it’s going to be harder to watch for traffic,” Moe said. 

When adjusting your bike seat, the leg on the bottom pedal should be slightly bent. This will allow you to exert maximum power when needed. 

Make sure the tires are properly inflated and the chain is well-oiled before leaving the house. It’s a good idea to invest in a small portable air pump, which can be strapped directly to a bike’s frame and can really come in handy in an emergency. For longer bike trips, be sure to take a backpack with replacement tubes, allen wrenches, patches, tire levers and reflectors, so you can repair any damages on the road. 

If you’re on a road bike with thinner tires, avoid damaged pavement or rough, unpaved shoulders. A surprise pothole can ruin the thin wheels, and while tires can be repaired fairly easily, there’s not much that can be done with a dented wheel on the road.  

Finally, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Wearing a helmet is an obvious safety move, but Moe also recommends packing an energy-rich snack, water, sunscreen and a first-aid kit. Keep a working cell phone on you in case of emergencies, and if possible, try to ride with a partner. 

Be aware of vehicles:

It’s as important for riders to make themselves visible to the cars around them as it is for drivers to be cautious around bikes. 

“Most people aren’t looking for you,” Moe said. “Make sure you’re wearing lots of bright colors and have reflectors on your bike.”

Whenever it’s possible, stick to bike lanes or the shoulders when riding on streets, but in those areas where the lanes and shoulders disappear, stay as far to the right as you can to let traffic safely move past. 

If you find yourself in a situation where bike lanes have vanished and the shoulders are dangerously narrow, it might be a good time to stop and reevaluate your route. 

“Keep in mind, cars need to be able to pass you safely,” Moe said. “There are plenty of gravel trails that break off of the main roads that you should look out for, but you may not always have that luxury. If it’s looking dangerous, stop and reassess.”

Choosing a route:

Not everyone rides at the same level. It’s important to determine your skill level and your goals before setting out for a ride. 

Fortunately, the Blaine and Birch Bay area has a fairly diverse set of roads and trails that will accommodate riders of all levels. 

Birch Bay Drive is an ideal bike route for beginners. The road has bike lanes on either side, and it runs along the bay all the way down to Birch Bay State Park, about 4.5 miles each way if you start near Birch Point Road. Traffic is kept at a mellow 20-25 miles per hour, and the ride is flat and even the entire way. It’s important to keep an eye out for pedestrian traffic, as the bike lanes double as walking paths for a lot of locals. As a bonus, the cyclists have a beautiful view of the bay for the duration of the route. 

More experienced riders can try their luck riding out to Semiahmoo spit. Riding towards the resort from Lincoln Road to Semiahmoo Parkway, riders will have to contend with more traffic at higher speeds, but the wide shoulders can easily accommodate two bikes side by side, with plenty of room leftover. 

The long, hilly stretch of forested road takes you all the way to the Semiahmoo Resort, where bike-friendly trails surround the resort and give you fantastic views of Drayton Harbor and Mount Baker. The ride back can be a rather daunting 2-mile uphill road, but for those who are up for the challenge, it’s a scenic and rewarding excursion. 

For riders who’d rather avoid the hills and just ride around the resort, consider taking the Plover Ferry out of Blaine Harbor. The ferry can transport bicycles for free, and disembarks near the sandy beaches near the resort.