As cycling goes, I have been a roadie since the day I rode my first road bike… Actually, it would be better to say that I was a roadie from the moment I put a set of slicks on my first mountain bike and found out they don’t put high enough gears on them. I love the speed.
I don’t love the interaction with traffic, though I put up with it because I like the elegance of the sport. And the speed. Did I mention I love the speed?
When my wife and I bought our gravel bikes, glorified compact racing road bikes with a more relaxed geometry and wider tires – oh, and disc brakes, my expectations weren’t very high. By nature, gravel riding is going to be a lot slower. Well, I wasn’t wrong, but I wasn’t right, fully, either. In fact, a lot of what I thought gravel road cycling was going to be was wrong – even though I’ve spent much of the last two winters riding on them.
Even though we live on and near some of the best paved roads for cycling one could hope for in a urban/suburban area, traffic is still a concern. We strike a perfect balance of just far enough “out in the country”, and close to everything. We’re a mile from farm country and ten miles from Flint. On a Sunday morning, we can ride for an hour on the paved back roads without seeing a car. During the week, though, after I get home from the office, I can’t ride for five minutes without getting passed…. Until I started riding dirt roads.
Last evening, I ride at 5 pm on the nose, I made it a little more than 17-1/2 miles in one hour and was passed by three cars. On my normal paved road route, the number would be closer to 30. Figure 1-5% of motorists are of the variety that will buzz a cyclist to be a jerk and you begin to see how a tenth of the traffic would be a good thing. Not only that, people who drive on dirt roads aren’t in as much of a hurry – rush too fast and all you do is beat the hell out of your vehicle – so it’s even more rare you’ll see someone do something stupid just for the sake of being stupid.
Then there’s the bumps and potholes. Most cyclists would think these are bad, right? I did! Well, a set of 28mm tires and 45-50 psi and they’re not so miserable. Better, the bumps make motorists pay attention. If you’ve never driven your vehicle on a dirt road, try sending a text whilst driving down said dirt road. You’ll hit so many gnarly potholes, your phone will end up in the back seat somewhere before you get three words typed in. Most motorists are going to wait till they hit the pavement to respond to that text because they won’t want to kill their car on the bumps. In this case, bumps are a cyclist’s friends – at least as common sense should dictate. There’s always an exception to the rule. Always. Sad? Maybe, but whatever works.
Anyway, back to my ride last evening – 17-1/2 miles in an hour and a few seconds… I’m cruising down the road and as I heard my third deer rush off, deeper into the woods, I realized just how different the sounds are on a dirt road, compared with pavement. Cycling on dirt roads is quiet. It’s just the wind, the wildlife, and the whir of the chain and I’m cruising down the road. It is slower, there’s no doubt, maybe 3/4 to 1 mph slower on the average. I think the peace and quiet is worth the loss of speed though. I get to sort my thoughts rather than being required to pay keen attention to where the next car is coming from and how close it’ll get to me – or where the car behind me will try to pass in relation to the car coming at me.
Perhaps I’m maturing as a cyclist a little bit, or perhaps I’m finally growing tired of motorists… Whatever it is, dirt roads are quite nice for the daily workouts. I don’t miss the pavement as much as I thought I would.