Sunday, January 08, 2012

Ride your road bike on unpaved roads

One of the sections in Independent Cycle Touring covers riding on unpaved surfaces with a road bike. Why would you do this when you can just buy a mountain bike? It turns out that there are several reasons.
  1. I don't own a mountain bike.
  2. Many dirt trails are on top of a mountain, and it's easier to climb the mountain on the road bike. The amount of dirt usually is so little that it's more efficient to go faster on pavement and then a little slower off road. For instance, the top of Montebello road is this way, with a short cut to Page Mill road which avoids taking Skyline Blvd, which is a pain on weekends and full of high speed traffic. (This video illustrates how to trigger the gate at the end of the section from Black Mountain summit by leaning your bike over the looped metal detectors as you approach the gate)

  3. Riding dirt gives you bike handling skills that just riding on the road won't give you. For instance, here's Lance Armstrong during the 2003 Tour de France. The rider in front of him crashed but Armstrong who was behind him escaped crashing by riding off pavement into the field.

  4. It's useful to be able to ride little dirt roads on top of passes, since they make what used to be "one way" roads into "through roads."
  5. Unexpected hazards such as slippery leaves, sand, soil, and cow patties can get spilled onto paved roads. Eric House and I once rode down Page Mill road during a frosty spring day, and as we rounded a hairpin turn, we felt our bikes slide a bit as both tires on our bikes slipped on the frosty surface. Neither of us crashed, partly because we were going slower than usual, but also because both of us regularly rode our road bikes off road.
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