Crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on my Motorcycle

Chesapeake bay bridge

As a new rider, one of the most daunting ideas was the thought of crossing bridges on a motorcycle.  Many are very narrow, few have any shoulder at all.  There are lots of very high bridges…from which the fall would be quite long.  Often bridges have very little safety barrier along the sides – perhaps just a small railing, nothing that would actually hold a vehicle from going over the edge.  And then there are crosswinds!  Larger bridges are even built to intentionally sway a bit; it is more structurally sound that way than a rigid-built bridge.  Somehow knowing that doesn’t really help very much when weighed against the vulnerability of riding fully exposed to the world like you are on a motorcycle.

For 2-1/2 years I rode an XLH883 – the smallest Harley-Davidson model made, with a high center of gravity.  When riding it often felt like if someone sneezed it would blow me off the road.  But I didn’t let that uneasy feeling trap me in my home town.  Heck, with the Delaware River to the east, C&D Canal to the south, and the Chesapeake Bay & Susquehanna River to the west, I can’t go much of anywhere without crossing a bridge!  But I pretty much kept it to the smaller bridges for quite awhile.

Stepping up to my “big girl bike” last summer changed all of that.  The extra 175 pounds slung low to the ground on my 2008 Harley-Davidson Super Glide gave me an almost instant feeling of security that I never felt before.  I wanted to jump on my ride an tackle the world immediately!  Within a few short weeks I was riding on Interstate highways and begging to ride my own on weekend trips.  I started flying over the Reedy Point & Chesapeake City bridges with comfort and ease.  I even found dodging the potholes, patches, cracks, and loose pavement chunks on the old St George’s bridge to be fun!  (Call me crazy, but it’s like skiing moguls!)  But one accomplishment still eluded me…crossing the Bay Bridge.

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge consists of two spans (a 3-lane span that generally carries westbound traffic and a 2-lane span for eastbound traffic) connecting Annapolis with Kent Island across the Chesapeake Bay.  At 4.3 miles in length, the Bay Bridge was at the time it was built the world’s longest continuous over-water steel structure.  The roadway reaches a height of nearly 200 feet above the water.

On Saturday, June 27, 2009 I went along with two dozen other members of the First State HOG chapter to the All-American HOG “Brain Freeze” Poker Run.  Every stop was an ice cream joint…so yes, we all got our brains well frozen that day!  The trek took us across the Bay Bridge.  Because of construction, there was two-way traffic on the westbound span (as if I needed anything else to make it even more of a challenge!), so we rode in single-file formation.  I welcomed this idea because it gave me more room to maneuver should I need to dodge out of the way of a semi, and it put me a little farther away from the edge where I would have been less than 2 feet away from plummeting 200 feet to my death!

As we began up the long approach and the roadway began to gradually rise, I felt a slight anxiety attack coming on.  My chest tightened.  I reminded myself to breathe.  Breathe in….breathe out….breathe in….breathe out….  and within a minute I was fine.  I did have a bit of a death grip on the handlebars, but this really wasn’t too bad I thought to myself.  All of a sudden thum-thump!  What the hell was that?  OK, I am quite familiar with the zig-zag section joints…but this thing was like long intertwining fingers, with huge gaps where they intertwined.  A bicycle tire would have fallen through!  Good-grief that wasn’t fun.  Oh crap, here comes another one on the other side.  Hold steady, no sudden moves, keep it smooth just like on grooved pavement.  Whew!  Oh yeah, breathe!  Coming down the other side now.  Geez this bridge is long.  What have we been on it for like 10 minutes?  OK, a good 5, but still!  Almost at the end, we’re going back to staggered formation.  Hey, that was actually pretty cool!

After a nice relaxing day eating way too much ice cream, I returned back across the Bay Bridge…this time after going through the toll plaza.  I had to get my EZPass out and hold it up to the sensor for it to register, but then I didn’t have any place to put it.  I quickly shoved it halfway under my waistband as I started across the bridge.  This time I was prepared for those section joints, and more concerned with the EZPass flying out into the Chesapeake Bay than anything else.  No anxiety attacks, I even remembered to breathe!

Two days later, our chapter went on a ride to Solomon’s Island for Million Mile Monday.  We traveled much the same route as we had on Saturday.  By this time (after doing it 4 times in 2 days), crossing the Bay Bridge was a piece of cake!  Another huge accomplishment to check off.  Now I just have to go on that weekend trip…

Here are some of the 200 pictures taken by my GoPro Helmet HERO handlebar mounted camera that was set to take a picture every 5 seconds.

Bay Bridge 1

Bay Bridge 2

Bay Bridge 3

Bay Bridge 4

Bay Bridge 5

bay Bridge 7

Bay Bridge 8

Bay Bridge 9

21 Responses to “Crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on my Motorcycle”

  1. Good for you girl! It’s amazing how great we feel after an accomplishment like this! And after a few times, like you said, it’s a piece of cake!
    Love the pics too!

  2. It looks challenging. And yep bridges get you thinking when one comes up. Go to the Internet and check our bridge out. The Mackinaw Bridge in Michigan. It is five miles long. Last time I was across it it still had those scary rails you talked about. It is well over 100feet above the straits may be 200. Years ago it blew a Yogo off the bridge. Poor lady didn’t have a chance. Truckers all over the country will tell you about those cross winds. They shut it down at time because of the cross winds.

  3. Good for you for overcoming your fears, and taking the bridge on. It looks like it would be a blast.

  4. You’re turning into a riding animal! And I mean that in the most complimentary way.

    I remember a two day ride in stormy weather. We crossed paths with a poker run. One of the check points was a toll receipt from a steel bridge over the Columbia River at Cascade Locks. I never saw so many scared riders!

    Now you won’t be in that group. I’m going to have to set up a camera like you did. That’s a neat set of photos.

  5. Way to pull the hair of the span. Bridges are always freaky and exciting to me. Great photos! The wind crossing over one of these bridges is what really makes my hair stand up.

    I was crossing the Bay Bridge in S.F. one night and a gust blew my GPz against the railing curb. I pulled out of it with only a damaged foot peg and soiled underwear. This really is a big deal as far as I am concerned

  6. Way to go Di!!!! Quick story here: Half-a-dozen years ago or so a friend of mine’s wife started riding. The only thing she had a problem with was bridges. We were on a group ride and got a little lost around downtown Charlston, SC. Next thing you know we’re going over a bridge! She got safely to the other side, and then the ride leader figured out where we were, and that we had to turn around and go back over the bridge. She wasn’t doing it again. First she rode bitch with me over, then her hubby rode bitch with me and rode her bike back.. She has since broken herself of the fear of bridges I was very proud that she made it over the first time.

    Diana, I guess the next hurdle is the Ches. Bay Bridge/Tunnel. Every time I’ve been on that thing I think to myself, “How many grams of what psychotropic drug did how many engineers have to take before they came up with this mess?” It’s a fun ride (if a little bit unnerving).

  7. Thank you all for your comments. A few of you mentioned fear…I don’t think I was ever afraid, just nervous or anxious. I know people who won’t go over bridges of any kind; personally I like to step up to the challenge! Still, it was a big accomplishment
    ~
    As for the Chesapeake Bay Bridge & Tunnel…I was supposed to go over (and under and through?) that one in April, but plans changed and we didn’t get there. I’ve been across in a car a few times, and it is definitely an interesting feat of engineering–LOL! (For those of you not familiar with this particular structure, it is a fairly low long bridge that curves around and then in front of your eyes it disappears…because it turns into a tunnel under the water! After you come back up again, it repeats the same thing…back down underwater for a ways, and finally back along a third long low curvy stretch finally landing in Virginia Beach on the other side. I believe it is something like 23 miles long altogether–spanning the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay as it spills into the Atlantic Ocean, and there is even a rest area/overlook/gift shop/restaurant in the middle of it!) Definitely crazy!

  8. I’m impressed that Rob knows about the Chesapeake Bay Bridge & Tunnel and he lives way up north.

  9. You are truly an inspiration to other
    Bikers, Diana…

    The crossing of a bridge seems to be somewhat of a hurdle to some, and your post no doubt lets them know they are not alone…yet you demonstrate…it is a surmountable hurdle…and there is a freedom to be felt on the other side…

    Awesome!

  10. I’ve ridden the CBBT on at least 4 occasions that I can recall and driven it a few more. It’s a great way to avoid the DC area and the dreaded Capitol Beltway….and by the way….I’ve lived way down south too, ya know.

  11. Rob, I thought you were too nice to be from Connecticut.

    I thought it was appropriate to mention without names that crossing this particular bridge convinced two different people I have known to give up riding.

  12. mr. green,
    didn’t we get over that about 5 articles back? i seem to recall that you were on someone’s back about a road course and being from the cradle of liberty. maybe he can hook us up for a nice ride to mystic seaport museum. then we can hang you from a yardarm or whatever. bullslap can then bring the paint ball guns 😉

  13. I personally enjoy going over bridges on the bike and never felt any sort of apprehension even the first time I did one, and the same goes for tunnels. I will say though that heavy traffic in either case does make me a bit tense. We have a guy in our Chapter who death-gripped his bars and slowed to a crawl going over a bridge. I wasn’t there but I think it was either the Bourne or Sagamore over the Cape Cod Canal. He is now known by the road name “Bridges,” and he still doesn’t like going over them on two wheels.
    Sounds to me like you had a blast, and as a former Sporty rider myself, I agree the heavier bike with the lower center of gravity makes a big difference.

  14. How fantastic it is when you gain new skill and confidence in riding. Congrats to you and your bridge conquering. When I was a new rider, bridges and tunnels were scary. I caught a gust of wind on the very first bridge I rode over (an itty bitty one too) and had to really countersteer for the first time. After that bridges have been fun. What we really had fun doing when i lived in Chattanooga was riding through the short tunnels in low gear with the engine revved and a lot of throttle (we called it tubing). The first time for that was scary – I didn’t dare look at the speedometer :). Now it’s one of my favorite things to do. We have a short little tunnel in Ft. Lauderdale that I go to for a little exhilaration once and awhile.

    My favorite bridges so far are the 7 Mile in the keys and the Sunshine Skyway across Tampa Bay. I was a little nervous about the Skyway since it is a super high suspension bridge and the wind can get really gusty at the top – but what a view. I really wanted to stop and get pictures of the yellow cables, but there was no where to pull off. Great pics from your bar mounted camera. I think this will go on my Christmas wishlist.

  15. Kathy,
    I am familiar with the Sunshine Skyway bridge. My dad lives in Clearwater, so I have been to the area several times — though never on my bike…YET!!! We have a local bridge that spans the C&D Canal (much smaller scale) that was designed after it. I go over it every day on my way to work. Beautiful! Especially at night when the lights shine up the golden poles…it’s almost like they are glowing!

  16. Wait for our product review before putting the camera on your wish list Kathy.

  17. has anyone ever ridden the huey p. long bridge in N.O.? i heard its a monster if’n you’re ascairt of bridges.

  18. I live in the DC area and am a new rider (only have about 1K miles on my ’06 Sportster on just local area rides). I am just now getting comfortable with interstates. I would love to take a road trip to Ocean City on my bike but I fear the bay bridge for both the section joints and cross winds.

    You mentioned your fear of crosswinds initially but didn’t say if you encountered any. The weather looks nice in your pics so maybe wind wasn’t an issue. I had crosswinds push my SUV hard in the past though and am uneasy about encountering that kind of force on my motorcycle.

    Is there any way to get “crosswind forecasts” for the bridge?

  19. Kevin,
    Congrats on grabbing life by the handlebars! When I rode a Sporty, the biggest problem I had was wind blowing me all over the road (and those were just regular roads). The difference in wind resistance between 50 mph and 60 mph is amazing. If I ever got up to 60 I felt like I was holding onto the handlbars for dear life so I wasn’t blown right off my bike! I don’t think I ever would’ve considered crossing the Bay Bridge on the Sportster because it was so light and had such a high center of gravity.

    My Super Glide weighs 175 pounds more and has a much lower center of gravity. The feel is SO much more stable. First time I hopped on (I had about 5-6K under my belt at that point), I felt like I could just take off and ride anywhere with confidence.

    As far as bridge conditions are concerned, there is a phone number 1-877-BAYSPAN you can call for current traffic conditions, and you can check baybridge .com as well. (There is currently a scrolling banner warning motorcyclists to beware & avoid the center lane due to steel plates) Hope this helps.

  20. Thank you for the posts regarding riding a motorcycle over the Bay Bridge.

    I recently got back into motorcycles by purchasing an 08 KLR 650. Due to being tall, I really like the 35 inch seat height. It’s the first bike that I’ve ever had that I didn’t think my legs were too long for it.

    The KLR is built like a sail though with it’s light weight, high center of gravity and a big high mounted fender on the front that catches wind big time. I get blown all over. I recently switched out the windshield to get more “blow back” resistance to wind at high speeds and I just ordered a smaller front fender to help with the sail effect. The windshield has really boosted my confidence riding at highway speeds. I know what Di meant about feeling like she was going to be blown off her sportster at anything over 50mph.

    My goal is to take that bike over the Bay Bridge this summer. I have a big fear of heights but I enjoy the eastern shore and all the great rides waiting for me over there. I can’t let that bridge get in the way of that. The bike is a light weight at only about 400lbs with a full tank.

    Any advice out there from other KLR 650 or dual sport owners would be greatly appreciated.

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