The trick to enjoying cycling—and staying safe while doing so—is to pick the routes that a car would never consider. Find the hidden paths (desire lines or goat tracks, in cycling parlance) that sprout from cul-de-sacs or shoot out of dead ends, well-trod lanes that allow for two wheels but not four.
"You can take those and transform what would normally be you stuck in gridlock into an adventure," says Back Alley Bikes owner Jason Merrill.
To that end, here are three tempting avenues to consider before your trip.
DURHAM: The Bull City can often seem like a web of one-way streets. And while those roads become zippy thoroughfares for cars, they're not the best avenues for cyclists. "You could do it, but you'd be taking your life in your own hands," says Tyler Kober, who owns Bullseye Bicycles. "I know people that ride them, but I never do." Instead, Kober says, just head over a block, where neighborhoods, speed bumps and stop signs might slow you down but up your chances of a safe trek.
CHAPEL HILL: "It's our flagship street," says Merrill, "but it is clearly built for one purpose—that's for people in cars to get from Point A to another point as quickly as possible." Merrill is talking about Franklin Street, the stretch that splits businesses at the edge of UNC-Chapel Hill. The road needs to be narrowed and slowed for cars, Merrill says, so that cars creep while cyclists whiz past in dedicated lanes. Should changes like that happen, Merrill says he'll believe that Chapel Hill is taking cycling seriously.
RALEIGH: Many of the major thoroughfares that head into and out of downtown Raleigh are invitations for trouble, but the interlocking system of greenways and trails help. When you're downtown, though, beware the lure of Peace Street. It's wide, and it provides quick access to Glenwood South, Cameron Village and several neighborhoods. But the four-lane traffic is fast, the sidewalks are slim, and the access points to Capital Boulevard are a cluster of confusion. Push toward downtown, instead.