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The Undeniably Awesome World of Gravel Road Riding – It’s That Time of Year

November 2019
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I don’t particularly care for dirt roads. In fact, I’ve hated them since I was a young fella of 17 years and they took my first car. The dirt, the dust, it gets into everything. It wrecks metal.

To this day I won’t drive my car on a dirt road unless it’s absolutely necessary.  I’d say this has something to do with how long my current car has lasted.

Once the leaves start changing and the temperature drops from mild to downright cold, once we can say our season is through, nothing beats cycling on gravel roads.  Most stark, is the difference in how I’m treated as a cyclist on dirt roads, rather than paved.  It’s shocking.  I go from being honked at to being waved at.  Near misses and motorists playing games to see how close they can come to hitting us, without actually running us down turns into wide passes on the other side of the road.  I feel lucky to get three feet on the pavement (a meter).  I get five or more on dirt… and more motorists wave than don’t coming the other way.

Even pickup truck drivers, the scourge of the tarmac to cyclists, are triple nice.


Just a random stream I saw yesterday.  If you zoom in, you might see a sandhill crane in the middle of that stream… I was in my winter gear so I couldn’t get my camera out in time to catch him flying downstream.


Nary a car as far as the eye can see…

Part of the mystique of gravel road riding is that I really don’t have to worry much about anything.  The best part, October trips my “junk miles” or “bonus miles” phase of the year.  Every mile outdoors after November 1st, I consider bonus miles – especially after the time change, when it’s virtually dark when I get home.  The only way I’m getting miles after the time changes back to normal time is with a lights – and I’d rather not mess with traffic, no matter how well lit I am.  October, November, and even a little in December, are the months to sit up and really enjoy seeing the countryside.  There’s nothing prettier than Michigan’s back roads… and riding at speeds to enjoy the view.

After a lot of rain at the end of the work week last week, and dodging a rain-bullet yesterday, I didn’t hold much hope I’d be riding gravel yesterday.  Still, I readied the gravel bike and headed out the door, figuring I could always turn around and get my miles in on the pavement.  To my surprise, while the potholes were half-filled with water and mud, most of the road surface wasn’t all that bad.  I only spent a few miles on asphalt, and that was to get to more dirt or home.  It was quiet and enjoyable.  I only averaged 15-mph.  Speedy for some, that was an enjoyably easy pace for me.

Between April and October, I’m all about the asphalt – hair on fire, hammering the pedals.  At the end of the season, my world opens up to a world of leisure, where I can throw in some intervals, maybe go after a Strava segment, but for the vast majority of a ride, I’m able to enjoy the simpler side of cycling; just turning the crank, looking around.

The cleanup and maintenance needed to keep a gravel bike running well is intense, but the rewards of doing so are immense.  Oh how I love the arrival of another gravel season.

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11 Comments

  1. Sheree says:

    Gorgeous fall photos! Enjoy the gravel.

  2. Gorgeous! Do you drive or ride to this area? Also, do you ride your road bike or a mountain type bike on that rough road?

    • bgddyjim says:

      I ride these roads on a regular basis. The dirt starts a quarter mile from my driveway and I can go for hours barely touching a paved road. We also have really nice paved roads right if I turn the other way out of my driveway. I’m a very fortunate guy.

    • bgddyjim says:

      Oh, I have two road bikes for the paved roads, and a mountain and gravel bikes for the dirt. Can’t have enough bikes!

  3. Enjoy every bonus mile! 🙂 Your gravel looks a lot nicer than mine.

    • bgddyjim says:

      It’s not bad – they’ve been doing a lot of work on them to get the drainage to work properly – that’s the difference between good and bad dirt roads. No drainage = Potholes the size of Kansas.

  4. limetwiste says:

    Lovely photos. In New Zealand we would call these unpaved roads. Gravel roads are something different for us they are filled with loose gravel and are horrible even on a mountain bike. The gravel or the shingle moves about under the wheels and makes for an uncomfortable ride. In a car you need to slow down dramatically to go down gravel roads. Otherwise you spin out.
    Now I understand why tourists who come here have so many accidents on gravel roads. They are expecting something completely different.

  5. Eliza says:

    The view is absolutely awesome!! I love walking along such roads, just being in the countryside/nature.

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