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Dirt Roads, Road Bikes, and the Peace and Quiet of Relative Safety…

October 2017
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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.


14 Comments

  1. Bill Chance says:

    Interesting post. It’s cool how our cycling changes as we age – I now consider myself the slowest cyclist out there, and I’m fine with that.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. biking2work says:

    I share the same thinking after discovering many off road routes to work over the summer. Getting back on the roads while faster has taken a bit of getting used to though

  3. joliesattic says:

    I dislike roads but paths with greedy cyclists can be hazardous to your health as well. I got thrown off mine and suffered a concussion and haven’t ridden since. These girls would not go single file and took the path four abreast. I moved over as far as I could and his a chink in the pavement and I went flying. Shortly after, my son in law got hit by a car and is still unable to work. It’s been several months now for him. It took weeks for me to recover and now I’m afraid to go back out. I’m 70+ and I just don’t heal like I used to and it saddens me. I so miss and love to ride. When I lived in California before I didn’t ride because of traffic. I developed a love for riding in Colorado where there were miles of farmland and quiet roads. I miss that.

    • bgddyjim says:

      I hope you find a way to get back out – and don’t be afraid to be a little assertive with people on trails…. Like yell, “out of the way, dippy!” When people take up the whole trail.

      I know what you mean though, it gets spooky out there.

      • joliesattic says:

        I know. I know if I were younger it would be no big deal for me. I’ve fallen many times in sports, but a head injury is scary.

      • joliesattic says:

        My heart breaks for her. I’m 70 and I still carry the memory of a boy who broke my heart in high school, even though I wouldn’t even want him now. A part of me wants to get back at him for what he did or show him up somehow. Love can be betray us.

      • MJ Ray says:

        I tend not to mess about with the dippy points. No shouting or moving over. I just stop and brace for impact. Only one bozo has tested it so far in all the years I’ve been riding. I was unharmed and they were on the floor. Neither bike or rider damaged. Long may it continue!

  4. Sue Slaght says:

    Interesting to watch your evolution in cycling Jim. I’m all for less traffic and more deer. 🙂

  5. betatheif says:

    Great post, off road cycling is pretty much the only cycling I do so had to have a look at this post. I used to ride to work, all roads and I felt in danger the whole time, I became the master of emergency stops and had more than a few near misses and minor collisions, although the roads I was on sound way more busy than you describe here. I love the outdoors, nature etc, trails beat any road for me!

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