Photo by Rachel Hugens Heading north on Peck Road, a connector between the Portage Hike and Bike Trail in Ravenna, and the Headwaters Trail in Mantua.
Portage County has many fine areas for road cycling. As a mostly rural county, there are lots of roads with low traffic and great scenery. There are only a few super-challenging hills, with gentle "rollers" being the norm. The southern and northeastern roads are particularly pleasant. It is always important to understand safety concerns, laws, and risks before riding on any road. See below for more information. Use roads at your own risk. Wear bright colors, use flashing rear lights, and follow all traffic laws.
Road Conditions Since I rediscovered cycling in 2004, the rural road surfaces in Portage County have become less friendly for bikes with skinny tires. Smooth new asphalt is harder to find these days. The cost of road repairs is up, so cheaper maintenance options are in use. Larger potholes are generally being repaired but most rural roads are now resurfaced with varying grades of "chip-n-seal." If the term is unfamiliar, this is basically a spray coat of tar with loose gravel applied to the top. Traffic eventually packs it down but patches of exposed tar and loose gravel can persist. Irregularities due to old patches remain, but are hard to see. Gravel size varies from fine to coarse. Some road closings and repair notifications are posted on the blog page.
Adapting to the Lumps and Bumps Ride whatever works for you. If you own a traditional road bike (racing bars and skinny tires) and your body is young/fit enough to shake, rattle, and roll...just keep on riding that bike. Padded gloves, bar tape, and cycling shorts (with chamois pad) are helpful.
Some bikes will accept a new generation of wider tires with lower pressures and good rolling characteristics. For example, a bike with a tire width of 42mm (1.7 in) running at 45 psi, can be as fast as traditional 25mm (1.0 in) tires at 100 psi. Wider, lower-pressure tires smooth out the ride. The reduced vibration takes some punishment away from your body and bike parts. These are not the wide, chunky "mountain bike" tires that come on many bikes. Those are sturdy but stiff and slow. You may wish to consider tires that are intended for cycle touring, commuting, or "gravel cycling." Minimal tread is needed. Portage County has few loose gravel roads, but these tires also work well on chip-n-seal. Your local bike shop can recommend tires that will work with your current bike.
Resources for Road Riders in Portage County AMATS (Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study) If you are new to road riding in our area (or otherwise), and wish to plan a ride, the following link will take you to a cycling map for both Portage and Summit Counties. Roads are ranked for your level of experience. Experience levels are largely linked to traffic volume and vehicle speeds. Other factors such as road condition and width of shoulders (if any) should also be considered. amatsplanning.org/wp-content/uploads/switching_gears_map_2019_4_5_V9.pdf
AMATS' "Switching Gears" program is focused on bike travel in our area. You can also order a paper copy of the above map, or download individual pages here. Maps for other nearby counties are also available. A bit more general information on local trails (beyond what is on my pages) is also provided. switching-gears.org/
Reporting Road Problems Occasionally you may come across a bike-swallowing pothole, or a loose drain grate or manhole cover. Various local entities are responsible for roads, so first find the location on a map. Cities (Kent, Ravenna, Aurora, Streetsboro, etc.) have their own road departments, as do the townships. City and Township websites will provide contacts for road crews or township trustees. If you encounter a problem on a county road (running through but not maintained by cities or townships), contact the Portage County Engineer's office. https://www.portagecounty-oh.gov/engineer In my experience, these various entities will reply quickly to safety concerns. A few years back I found a collapsed drain grate that was located near the borders of Franklin Township and Kent. It was also a possible county road. All three departments worked with me to sort out their jurisdictions, and the hazard was quickly fixed.
Reporting Human Problems Losers If you encounter a dangerous driver or have some other incident requiring police action, you will need to contact the specific department that is responsible for the exact spot where the incident occurred. If you are hoping for a resolution, you will likely be expected to have the license number of any involved vehicle. You may be also asked to come to the station to fill out a report in-person.
Accidents If you are involved in an accident (or come across one) and need to call 911, make sure you know and provide your location, as your cell phone is registered to your home or business address (not helpful if they arrive there instead of the accident scene). Be aware that 911 services seem to overlap. You may need to be persistent regarding communicating your location. I came across a roll-over accident while riding near the Portage/Summit border a few years back. I was transferred twice before I was connected to the "correct" 911 operator who understood where I was. Not all EMS departments have the capability to use GPS (Enhanced 911, etc.) to detect your location.
Some highlights (good to know when ignorant drivers shout at you):
Bikes are not only allowed on Ohio roads (except freeways), communities are PROHIBITED from preventing the use of roads by cyclists. It is a little-known fact that roads were originally paved due to the demands of early cyclists, before cars were common.
Motor vehicles CAN pass you by crossing a double yellow line. You must be traveling under the speed limit, and the motorist must be able to pass you safely while traveling within the speed limit. The rule is the same as for farm tractors and Amish buggies.
You may NOT run stop signs or red lights. Some states have more progressive laws. Ohio has not adopted these (yet). Ohio's Red Light Law: There is an exception for traffic lights that require a vehicle sensor to operate. Your bike doesn't contain enough metal to trigger these, so you may proceed with caution if you confirm you are stuck at one.
You must ride in the direction of traffic and obey all other vehicle laws.
Lights (front and rear) and a rear reflector are required to ride at night.
Yes, you can stick out your right arm to signal a right turn. If you are a certain age, you were taught to use your left arm in a raised position. That makes perfect sense only if you are sticking your arm out a car window to signal because your turn signals is broken.
You may use the entire vehicle lane as needed and even ride two abreast, as motorcyclists do. However you are also required to stay as far right as is "practicable." Occupying a lane at an intersection with a traffic signal is often safer than staying on the shoulder. You are less likely to be hit by a right-turning vehicle that doesn't see you (or doesn't care). Be courteous and safe. You don't own the road either.
As of 2017, an Ohio motorist must allow at least THREE FEET of space between their motor vehicle and the bicycle they are passing.
Local laws also come into play.
Helmet use may be required in some towns, especially for minors (but is not encoded in state law). Where there are age limits, these vary a bit. Wearing one saved my life.
The legality of riding on sidewalks varies from town to town. It is often prohibited in Cities. Where permitted, pedestrians always have the right of way.