Yesterday was our first evening ride after Daylight Saving Time fell back. This means dark descends long before my cycling buddy and I can get a ride in. So we charge up the headlights and taillights and roll out. On gravel bikes. On dirt roads.
Our dirt roads have potholes. Lots of potholes. Potholes slow traffic. And this is good.
Every year I go through the same progression. I love the speed of road riding so I stick mostly to paved roads through the summer. I dig the gravel bike out, hit the dirt roads, pick a day that’s way too dusty, realize I don’t like dirt too much, pick another day that’s way too muddy, realize I love playing in the mud but hate trying to clean the bike after, hit “fall back” Daylight Saving Time, become friends with dirt roads again because there’s no traffic on them, realize how much I love my gravel bike even though it’s ridiculously heavy (by my standards, not historical), enjoy the dirt roads even more – especially when the dirt freezes up and it’s too cold for skinny tires. Freezing temps mean no mud.
This year, I’ve added a few wrinkles to the enjoyment of playing in the dirt.
I’ve become much more trusting of my gravel bike not withering away in a pile of rust when it gets muddy. I know how to spray it off so the bearings don’t get messed up and I use a soft-bristled brush to get the stuck-on mud off while I’m spraying it down. Then I dry it off, lube the important parts and, amazingly, nothing rusts or rots (except the jockey wheel plates – oops). I also know how to clean out the disk brakes so they don’t grind, catch, rub, click or squeal. I clean the bike, including the bottom bracket and headset, regularly. My bearings still look new.
And so it was, Chuck and I rolled out for our first dusk-to-dark ride of the year. The temperature was glorious, 61 falling to 55 as we were to finish – enough you could almost justify shorts and short-sleeves. Not quite, though. I had a long-sleeved thermal and knee warmers and a light cap. Almost a little over-dressed with the thermal, but once the sun went down it turned out to be the perfect choice.
We rode 21 miles together, most of it side-by-side talking about fun stuff to talk about, and were passed by a grand total of two cars on the dirt part of the ride (we do a mix of groad on the weekdays – it’s a real word, gravel and road). The dirt was in perfect condition last night. Hard packed, no dust, minimal potholes (just enough to keep the traffic slow), and zero mud.
It was, without question, a perfect ride. See, in our little slice of America, when we’re on the dirt roads with our bike, we’re treated like we belong there by other motorists. I don’t know if it’s that motorists don’t mind ceding dirt roads to us as bicycle territory or that the enema nozzles in pickup trucks are concentrated on the paved roads. In the end, I suppose I just need to be thankful we’ve got a place where everyone waves at us and gives us three to eight feet as they pass.
This year’s dirt season has arrived, and I’m glad it’s here. I can’t give up the speed of road riding, but I don’t mind it when it’s time to put the trainer wheel on the road bike and take the gravel bike out to play.
One thing is certain for we part-time bike mechanics, we get a lot of practice maintaining the gravel bikes.
Ride hard my friends. The other option is polishing the couch with your fanny, and while it may sound good for a minute, sooner or later you find that sofa sucks the life right out of you.