Cycling and Why the World Decided to Take A Roll In the Dirt (And A Few Tips On Keeping Your Bike On the Road)
My weekday riding buddy, Chuck, is up north at his cabin this week, so I’m riding solo after work and after time change. It gets dark around 6 pm and the earliest I can roll out is around 5 – maybe 4:45 if I’m lucky. Cycling in the dark has its benefits with proper lighting and reflective clothing but I still feel exposed and a bit nervous when I’m out on my own. After a long, ugly stretch of wet, gray and astoundingly cold (10-20° below normal) weather, we’re into one of the latest Indian summers I’ve ever seen.
We’re talking shorts and short-sleeve riding weather (or close to it). I can’t miss out on it, so that means riding in the dark.
And that sets the table for last night’s ride. I needed arm and knee warmers, but I’m normally decked out in layers to ride this late in the season, so simply riding without having to worry about sweating is a treat. I wanted to ride the Venge, my road race bike. I didn’t, though. I chose my much slower and eight pound heavier gravel bike.
First, my headlight won’t work on the Venge’s aero drop bar. Second, the taillight is a little difficult (not horrible, just not ideal). I could have taken the Trek, my rain bike, both lights work excellently on that bike, but rolling in the dirt has one spectacular advantage: I was passed by two cars in just shy of 20 miles last night. One the night before. During rush hour with everyone trying to get home from work to dinner.
People drive on paved roads to get where they’re going. People drive on dirt because they have no other choice.
Friends, I ride gravel late in the season because I’m safe there. After a season of battling for a few feet on local paved roads all summer long, it’s therapeutic to not have to worry about traffic.
During the heat of the summer, dirt isn’t as attractive. First, with dry weather comes dust, and lots of it. Later in the season the roads get packed down so they’re not near as gnarly with the rare passing vehicle. For me, the big deal is the speed, though. I love paved roads because they’re fast. Dirt can be quick, but nothing compares to shooting down a paved road at top speed. On the other hand, as the season winds down and riding becomes more about riding for the fun of it, the peacefulness of rolling the back roads is not to be missed.
And that brings me to a few helpful tips. First, disc brakes. Rim brakes can’t hold a candle at 20-mph to disc brakes in the dirt and mud. Second, learn to take your crank apart to clean your bottom bracket. This must be done regularly. If your bike “clicks” when you pedal out of the saddle, it’s because you’ve got dirt in there. Third, clean your steering assembly, including the bearings, a couple of times a season. The bottom bearing will see an immense amount of dirt buildup. It’s gotta be cleaned out. Fourth, service the wheels and keep an eye on dirt getting into the bearings. Fifth, wax lube (or straight up wax your chains). Wax lubes are better at keeping dirt at bay than wet lubes. Your chain and cassette will last longer. Finally, if you don’t have internal routing for your cables (I don’t, and that’s a good thing if you ask me), be sure to keep up on your cable maintenance. Change them regularly and be sure to keep dirt from building up around the cable housings.
Rolling on the dirt is a maintenance intensive part of the sport, there’s simply no way around this. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a little tranquility on two wheels, there’s nothing better than a dirt road.