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.
When my wife and I brought home our gravel bikes, we did so knowing we were getting better rubber for them, immediately. The bikes come with 700c x 28mm Espoir Sport tires – the Espoir is a paved road tire, or so I assumed. A friend of mine even commented about the “lack of hair” on them when I published my post on bringing the bikes home.
Well, I ordered the hairy tires yesterday and I’ve got a while before they come in… and I’ve got a brand new bike with eight miles on it, sitting in the bike room…. No chance I’m leaving it in there till the new tires come in. None.
I expected to be sliding all over the place once I hit the dirt so I stayed on the hard pack… Then I hit a few bumpy patches, as dirt roads do indeed have bumps, so I got over into the loose slop on the side of the road. I braced myself and scooted my butt to the back of the saddle – and didn’t wobble a bit. I sat normal on the saddle, nothing. Stable.
It made no sense. You’re supposed to have knobby tires on dirt roads. Right?
I had to get into the serious loose junk, 3-5 cm deep, before the bike got a little squirrelly – but at that point, even knobby tires won’t do much anyway.
The Espoir sports were so good I’m actually considering canceling the order for the new tires. Its going to be years before I need another set if we stick with the original tires.
To be fair, the Espoir tires aren’t exactly treadless slicks, either. They do have a tread:
One, especially this “one”, wouldn’t assume that the little bit of tread on those tires would be worth anything on a dirt road, but all I can think of is the advantage my wife and I will have over everyone else riding knobbies…
Interesting indeed. As is always the case in these cycling situations, more research is necessary. MUCH more research.
Take a guess at who finished with the A guys last night. He’s got two thumbs and looks like…
This guy! More on that later (it’s not as sexy as it initially reads)…
We rolled out at 5:15, after only a three mile warm up, so we could get back before dark – with a southwesterly wind.
Cross headwind, cross tailwind, cross headwind, cross tailwind… FULL FRONTAL HEADWIND. The A guys were leading the whole gang out. I did my best to do my part but my turns at the front were short. The guys at the back had it a lot rougher than I did. There was no place to hide so guys were getting spit off every couple of miles.
Thirteen miles in, I’d had enough too. One of the guys came by after sucking a bunch of my wheel and said, “Ya sissy”. I just let him go, knowing that wasn’t the last I’d see of him.
A few miles later, guess who got himself dropped. We stopped at the regroup spot to wait for the others to catch up. I pulled even with him, a wry smile on my face and said, “If you’re going to make that sissy $#!+ work, you actually have to stay up there.”
“Yeah, they made me a sissy too”, he conceded.
We rolled through town, made the left to head back north and rolled. A few miles later and the A guys caught us (we B folks take a shortcut). That happened half a dozen times this year, maybe more, and every time I let them go.
Not last night.
I jumped on the back with six or seven miles left to go…. and I sucked wheel like a champ. Originally I was going to take my turns, but when one of the A guys came back from the front, he pointed in front of me and said, “I want that wheel so you don’t get me dropped”.
I was on the edge, so the offer sounded quite reasonable. I’m not one of those who would let a gap drop people, I’m a responsible member of the group, but whatever. I took him up on it. I felt guilty at first, but I got over it as we topped 28 mph – and the wind had died down. 28, no tailwind.
29 up a slight incline. I knew I made the right choice.
Before I knew it, they were setting up for the sprint… and I let them go. I wasn’t going to suck wheel that hard then jump on the sprint train with fresh legs. No way. That crap is for racing.
The guy who’d called me a sissy earlier wasn’t on same morality bike I was riding. He charged up from the back and three of the A guys boxed him out to let the others (who had worked for it…) have their sprint. It was comical.
Later, after the ride, I thanked each A guy that hadn’t left for letting me suck wheel. I apologized and explained myself, that I was on the edge and didn’t want to get anyone dropped. As you could imagine, they were very cool about it.
They weren’t so cool about the guy who jumped into the sprint. He didn’t win any new friends last night. Too bad, that.
Final thoughts on the night:
- A 24 mph average on that track is freaking fast.
- I love it when karma works.
- I love it more when I get to see it work.
- Every time I ride with the A guys, I’m glad we made the B group. Every time.
- That’s not to take anything away from them, of course, my idea of a leisure activity is simply a little less intense.
- Wind sucks. It splits everyone up.
- Being secure in who I am is the best guard against others saying stupid stuff (see also, karma). Those who hope for a day when people aren’t jerks may as well hold their breath for world peace.
I rode my new gravel bike six miles yesterday, and knew it would do (setting Mrs. Bgddy’s bike up at the shop took till after 6 and it we didn’t have much daylight left). It is not perfect, but good enough for me to work with. That meant some changes were in order.
I did my wife’s first, so I could focus as much attention on her bike as I would on my own. This is an important step for me, knowing this and acting appropriately on it.
When it came time for mine, I set it in the trainer and gave it a spin. The stem was a shade off, cockeyed to the right. I took the stem all the way off, stacked some of the spacers on top, to lower the handlebar and lined everything back up.
Next the reflectors went. I don’t go out early in the morning or later in the evening without lights so reflectors are useless. I go big on being seen – active, not passive.
I adjusted the derailleurs where I wanted them. The shop did a good job, I do better.
The brake levers were set perfectly. Just the right amount of squeeze so I moved on.
Saddle was next. Height first, fore and aft second. Then a double-check on the height because I moved the saddle back quite a bit, more than a full inch.
Next I tackled the mechanical disc brakes. Now THIS part can get messy – I had a tough time getting the tandem set-up right so I approached this with some trepidation. First, to center the caliper, I loosened the bolts that hold the caliper to the fork (the front was rubbing, the back was perfect so I left it alone). I loosened the quick release and placed a twice-folded piece of paper over the disc, then replaced the wheel and tightened it back up…. The fit at the disc/pads was snug. Then I depressed the brake lever and while I held it, I tightened the bolts. I loosened the QR, pulled the wheel, removed the paper, replaced and tightened the wheel and gave it a spin…
Still rubbing. At that point I knew the problem is with the disc. I pulled out a tiny adjustable crescent wrench and used that to gently bend the disc so it ran true – you use the brake caliper and pads as your guide…. Here’s a photo, with my bike upside down, to show where I look to see which way to bend – this is the front wheel btw:
Once I’d straightened the disc, the rubbing ceased. I checked the rear brake again, just to make sure, but it was perfect.
Then, one final item that separates the initiated from the noob…. I’d already checked the rear derailleur and indexed it so I knew the set-screws were adjusted properly. I removed the wheel, then the cassette, and took the silly spoke protector off. If your bike’s set-up is right, the only thing they’re good for is collecting dirt.
Bob’s your uncle, the bike is ready to tackle all of the dirt roads I can throw at it (well, after some better rubber, those slicks won’t do on a dirt road).
Mrs. Bgddy and I are about to supercharge our cycling adventures. Paved roads shall no longer be a requirement for us to ride.
I had been holding out. Only two of our group have a dedicated gravel bike so we’ve managed to stick with the mountain bikes. My wife brought up that she wanted one last year but I suggested that she would be better to ride mountain bikes with us, rather than ride a gravel bike. If she switched, initially she wouldn’t have to work as hard to keep up, but eventually she’d suffer on her road bike because she’d effectively be taking it easy all winter long…. right up until road bike season, at which time she’d have to play catch up to the rest of us.
Then my buddy, Chuck, went and bought a gravel bike last week…. and Saturday my cycling brother from another mother, Mike, bought one as well. Well, my other buddy Phill already has a gravel bike and so does Diane… So with the friends in our world going gravel, so did we – otherwise we’d never keep up.
We decided to go entry level, as we’re buying two bikes. Also, you’d expect my bike to be the first one, right? Red on red, super awesome? It’s not, that’s Mrs. Bgddy’s. Mine’s the second one. Mine’s a 56, my wife’s a 54. Anyway, we’re a Specialized family and we’re not changing anything there – both are Diverges. My wife’s is a 2016, mine’s a 2017.
No more having to plan our rides around pavement – this year we get to go anywhere we choose to point the front wheel – and with that, we’ll get to avoid a lot of the traffic that we all hate. We’ve already got a few rides planned for areas that we normally choose to avoid because of traffic – and now, with dirt roads on the table, there’s no limit to where we can go. Next year is going to be fun.
For bikes where the cables knock together when you roll over bumps, there is a very simple way to stop the noise, rather than learn to live with it.
I have one on my Venge, too:
Now, there exists a contingent of purists out there who will cringe at the sight of that little, plastic piece of brilliance. Their bikes rattle when they ride. And they’re proud of it, because old-school!
I, on the other hand, like a quiet bike. A sweet, sexy, quiet bike.
Keep your cables right and all you’ll have to listen to is the wind whipping by your ears and the sweet “swish, swish, swish” of the tires on the asphalt as you cruise into the sunset… If you rode that close to dark, which you don’t do because…. well, let’s not open that can of worms, eh?
I love riding in the fall, but not for the normal reasons…. Cool weather, changing colors – those are great, but they pale in comparison to my reason for loving fall cycling.
I got home from work at 3:30 in the afternoon. You’re thinking that’s an easy day, right? That was 13-1/2 hours. Better to work when every one else is sleeping, I get more done. Anyway, I was whooped so I took a 20 minute nap. I woke up recharged and ready to go.
I dealt with some work stuff while I readied the Trek. I waited till 5, changed and headed out the door.
It was warm out, maybe three degrees above normal, or a perfect room temperature. I had a smile stretched across my face before I rolled over the quarter-mile mark. Coming up on the middle of October and I’m riding outside in shorts and short-sleeves. It just doesn’t get better than that.
I just did my normal 17.6 mile route and I loved every one of the 4,940(ish) pedal strokes. There was nothing unique about my ride yesterday, but it was good.
It rained all day Thursday, and Wednesday too. Wednesday was a day off and I rode the trainer on Thursday. Good Lord, the trainer…. Not the trainer!
I love autumn cycling because the weather this time of year is a little crappy, so every chance I get to ride outdoors is special. Every ride feels like a treat, and for that, I am grateful.
*Obviously, riding a bike or running is no guarantee you won’t end up playing pill roulette. Bad things do happen to fit people. On the other hand, without fitness and an intelligent diet, your chances of blowing an ungodly amount of your monthly income on pills increase exponentially. Sadly, that choice is quite real.
For those of us who exercise regularly already, the news that exercise can help fight depression won’t blow up anyone’s skirt. Hell I knew and was writing about that years ago… I just never knew so little would work! And there’s a study attached to it.
Personally, I’m an hour a day kind of guy, but for others, say those who don’t like to get our so much, the hour a week news could be a life-changer.
My friend, Tony, put out a great article about the subject in the Title, so please check it out at the link above.
After, try this little experiment: Go to a supported ride or a running race. Look around at the participants for a person who appears angry or sad.
I doubt you’ll find one. Out of all of those people, you probably won’t find one person in a foul mood.
I know I’ve never been out of sorts before one of those events. The vast majority of us will be smiling and having a good time – and that’s before the event. After is even better!
Any way, please check out Tony’s post… Then pass it on… and get your butt out the door!
With the days getting shorter and the end of Daylight Saving Time coming, we’ve been combining the A and B groups for the first 15 miles or so of the Club Ride.
It’s a blessing and a curse.
It’s a blessing for some who can hang with a 24-26 mph sustained pace. For those who struggle at that pace, not so much.
We rolled out promptly at 5:30, a large group, easily 25 of us. I was surprised at how good my legs felt, too. I felt that “End of Season” let down a couple of weeks ago, where you’re tired and you know it but you just can’t manage to take time off yet, and your legs are like, “Dude, seriously?” Instead of cooked last night, I was really into the ride, and it was awesome.
And my brother from another cycling mother, Mike, was doing well also… he was still with us at 16 miles, as we got into the hills. After the second set of hills, he wasn’t. Diane and Mike on their tandem had fallen off, and Phill with them, and Mike and Big Joe were a half-dozen bikes off of them. I told Matt and a couple of others that I was going back for my buddy.
I drifted back, passed the tandem and Phill, and let Mike and Joe reel me in. As they closed the distance, I picked up my pace till they seamlessly joined me.
First, I got them back on with the tandem and Phill, then I took the lead of the bigger group. And I dropped everybody, trying to reel in the lead group. Twice. I hate it when I do that – I feel like an @$$hole. I dropped to the back of that gang so I could learn the proper pace so I could actually help… Two miles later, I had it and we cruised.
The B Group had dropped from the A guys and we were slowly reeling them back in… and after a swift downhill followed by a long climb, I could see some of the B Group, most of it, were waiting for us.
Together, we cruised in strong – 1:20:12 for the 29 miles and change – 21.7 mph for an average. I took third in the intermediate sprint (two guys were off the front and I didn’t see them till we were approaching the line) and second in the finalè…. and some members from the church down the road were waiting in the parking lot for us with cold water and Gatorade. Seriously.
Then I headed over to the local burger joint, which was holding a fund raiser for the High School girl’s (my daughter’s) swim team. I was joined by Matt (the owner of the LBS), Chuck… and Chuck’s wife and son. Chuck brought his family out to eat to support my daughter’s swim team.
We had a lot of laughs whilst eating some fantastic burgers.
I drove the whole way home with a smile on my face. I got to be a friend, and two of my best were friends to me last night. It just doesn’t get any better than that.
I joined the bike club to ride my bike with some decent people and ended up getting some of the best friends a guy could ask for. That’s the best bargain for twenty-five bucks I ever found.