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Have Bike(s) Will Ride… For Sanity and Happiness. And Friendships.

I sent out the invite to our cycling friends Friday afternoon, hoping five would show up for our Saturday morning ride. It was due to be cold and quite breezy, so I figured it would be a small crew. The text list has grown in the last four years since I began putting rides together. It started out as a twelve-person text. The list has more than tripled.

My hope of five was vastly underestimated.

Friends started filing in around 8:20… Phill, Brad, Joel… then Mike and Diane rolled up. Then McMike… my wife and I made it a gaggle. We rolled out, heading west to unknown territory, roads most of us had never seen before – we ride paved roads out that way all of the time, never dirt. We were out for a straight up dirt road adventure.

We picked David up along the way, maybe five miles up the road, to make nine.

The ride was, for the most part, moderate and fun. There were times when it got a little fast, but as soon as someone fell off the back we’d hold up. We had almost every style of dirt bike there is, from mountain bikes to entry-level gravel bikes, right up to a $4,500 epic, a Crux and a Salsa Warbird. It was a diverse group, let’s say that.

Late fall in Michigan can’t be beat for dirt road cycling. Mountain bikes, gravel bikes, cross or fatties, and this autumn has been utterly spectacular. Cold, most of the time, with a few warmer days, but mainly dry. The “mainly dry” is the important part for me – I can ride in the cold, I hate riding in mud.

And so we rolled down the road, keeping a decent pace but certainly not crushing it. We laughed and caught up, told jokes and poked fun at each other as we rolled along. We simply had a good time in the cold sunshine.

Cycling makes things seem normal again for me. COVID, politicians, shutdowns, the utter silliness of politics, uncertainty… and the frustration of a nation, myself (obviously) included, that gets sucked into arguing the extremes to the benefit of politicians who consistently lie and flout their own rules and regulations to illustrate just how silly the rules, regulations and politicians really are… it all goes away for the time it takes to make it around a 35-mile dirt loop on my gravel bike with my friends.

Thankfully, talk of politics on bike rides is fading and turning to more pressing topics, like “where does that road go?” Here we were, nine friends out for a late autumn two-wheeled adventure. So it was yesterday morning for more than two glorious hours. When we pulled into the driveway, I couldn’t have been happier.

And I was so excited to see so many mountain bikes, I pulled mine out of the garage and got it ready to ride in case it was possible this morning. We’ve got a rain/snow mix moving in just about the time we’d clip in, so doubtful… but that mountain bike sure cleaned up nice. I just may pull her back out for a ride over Thanksgiving weekend.

Having so many bikes to choose from presents a fun problem to have; which one to choose?!

Dropping My Fear of Cycling in the Dark: Thank God for Dirt

Until this year, it’s been a rare day I’ll ride outdoors after dark. I do the annual club “night ride” without fail, but my headlight was the least used piece of cycling equipment I own. Most years I used it just that one time. Even with my fantastic Varia taillight/radar and a decent headlight, I still felt uncomfortable riding in the dark.

The strange thing is, with proper lighting and a little thought about reflective clothing, I’m more visible at night than I am during the day. Whatever it is, I just didn’t like it.

I’ve gone through a change this year, though. I’ve got more rides outdoors than I do on the trainer in November, and to ride outside during the week, after the time changes back on the first Sunday, it’s going to be in the dark.

With the gravel bikes and riding dirt roads so much the last few years in the postseason, my appreciation for a lack of traffic has increased immensely. Not enough to switch exclusively to gravel during the spring and summer months (I’d can’t give up the speed), but autumn cycling is vastly more enjoyable when we’re only being passed by a single vehicle every 20 miles or so.

Due to that lack of traffic, I’ve chosen to ride outdoors with my normal riding buddy, Chuck, after work. Oh, it’s a chore getting all of the clothes out and on – it’s not as simple as throwing on a tee shirt and an old pair of bibs to ride on the trainer, but my God is it fun. With some consistency I’ve managed to drop my fear of cycling at night.

Last night was a phenomenal example of a perfect ride in the dark. 24 miles (and some change), and I think we were passed by two vehicles. Chuck and I sat up for most of the ride talking about work and current events, letting our problems drift off in the wind as we rode. By the time I pulled into the driveway, about an hour and a half later, I was feeling so good I could hardly stand myself.

I did manage. And after dinner, I drifted off to sleep with a smile on my face. As could be expected, I slept like a brick.

This evening; rinse and repeat.

The Ultimate Hack for a Short B Screw on a Rear Derailleur…

So, the one problem I had with my wife’s gravel bike rebuild is that the medium cage Sora derailleur is on backorder. This is a massive problem for normal folk, but not for me. I’m only rarely normal folk. Or is that… regularly… Meh. I went out to the parts shed, pulled out the old 9 speed Ultegra derailleur out of my old Trek box, and installed that on her bike till the new one comes in. BAM! Drops mic.

One small problem… the B set screw that pulls the pulley wheels away from the cassette teeth. Even after adjusting it, with the B screw all the way in, the pulley teeth were crashing into the cassette on the smallest cog. Which is better than when I first set it up because it was crashing into the biggest and smallest cogs.

I set it so my wife couldn’t use the 32/11 and 47/11 combos and suggested she not use the 11 tooth till her new derailleur came in. Because how in God’s name do you fix that!

Early yesterday morning, I was surfing for B screw setting instructions before work, and I happened on a video that showed a hack to fix a short set screw. He recommended a m4 x 25-mm with a nut to rest on the derailleur hanger. They were relatively cheap, though, so rather than just go for a 24, I picked up a 6, 12, a 20 & a 25, and one nut.

The original is in the middle. The stainless screw was too small. The black 20 too big…

I only needed the m4 x 12. And I didn’t need the nut.

All 18 gears, works beautifully. And a total cost of $3.46. Gotta love it.

I Rode in the Snow Last Night and It Wasn’t… Horrible!

Chuck was late getting out of work, so I was hoofin’ it to his place at ten after five. It was cold and we were due some rain, possibly snow, later in the evening. I won’t pull any punches, I hate the cold. Hate it, despise it, don’t like it (if your sensibilities are a little too frail for “hate”). I can live with it, I can even enjoy it from time to time, but for the most part, I’m supposed to be a semi-tropical person.

On this particular occasion, however, I dressed correctly – and by correctly, I mean I dressed to be comfortable in the cold. My Specialized Element 2.0 jacket (I’ve had that jacket for eight years now and it’s still spectacular), a thermal running shirt, neck gaiter and hat that has the little ear flaps. I’d had a thin long-sleeve jersey on but once I stepped outside and felt the cold, I marched directly back into the house to switch base layers.

I had a crosswind the first mile to Chuck’s, then a fantastic tailwind for the second (that we’d be eating shortly). I was up to temp after the first mile, and that mile wasn’t even bitter.

Normally, I dress a little cooler so that I can ride a little harder without worrying about sweating (sweat wicks body heat away something like 25 times faster than air, if I remember my Survivor Man correctly). Last night, I dressed warmer and rode for the temp, which meant a little slower… and I really had a good time.

Once the sun went down, traffic thinned to a trickle. By the time we hit dirt, we were all alone. We had a few laughs, talked some about current events, and spent a bunch of miles silent, enjoying the ride… and then everything changed.

I was feeling surprisingly awesome for a cold night ride, but then the wind picked up enough that it was surprising. We were back in our normal “Jimmer Loop” subdivision, going for a “Chucker Bonus Lap” when what to my wondering eyes did I see but little droplets in my headlight… then one hit my cheek, but it melted. It was starting to snow. We were headed for home at that point, about six miles from home, so I picked up the pace a little bit, trying to push it to get home.

Then something surprising happened… I realized I wasn’t cold or miserable. I wasn’t in a bad way at all. We had a tailwind for four miles and we enjoyed the boost. With two miles to go my Garmin died (it had warned me the battery was low at Chuck’s house so I turned off the backlight, hoping it would get me home). Not even eight minutes from the house.

Ah well. The final shot to the house, I was ready to be done. I pulled into the driveway with 23-1/2 miles and a smile on my face. Whatever I did last night to get my temp right, I’ll have to try that again. I hate the cold… but I didn’t last night.

Dear God, Brent, I may need to look at a fat bike.

A Perfectly Lazy Weekend, Wrapping Up My Wife’s Gravel Bike, Wind, Rain & Cold

I love this time of year. It seems like we’re on the go all year long and when the weather turns cold and nasty in the fall, it’s the perfect time to be a little lazy.

Saturday was cold, but dressed properly, the cold only hurt the five square inches of skin visible between my neck gaiter that was pulled over my nose and my cap… not much. It warmed up pretty well, too, at least enough to take the sting out of the air. We got an even 30 miles on dirt roads, and it was fun. I started my wife’s gravel bike drivetrain upgrade, grilled burgers for dinner, and fell asleep on the couch watching… something.

Sunday wasn’t fit for man nor beast outdoors, so we rode on the trainer after a lazy morning in which I completed everything on my wife’s gravel bike but her last brake cable… I had a couple, but they were regular road bike length (the cable set that came with the shifter lever set was for a standard road bike with rim brakes as well – too short for a mechanical disc brake). Fortunately, a friend had one, the required 6′ length, at home and was going to be out for an errand later so he offered to drop it off.

He showed up three minutes into our ride. I thanked him profusely, and off he went. After our ride, a shower, and some lunch, I went to work on that brake cable. Fifteen minutes later, the drivetrain upgrade was complete and her gravel bike is spectacular.

With intermittent rain, wind gusts topping 40-mph (60-ish km/h), and wet roads, the best thing to do was sit down on the couch and enjoy some (American) football. Mrs. Bgddy made some slow cooker chili for dinner, followed by more football and falling asleep. I woke up for a bit to watch Spiderman (Tom Holland is my youngest daughter’s crush) and then went to bed for real around 9.

I have to be very careful with weekends like this. I truly believe I was meant to be a man of leisure. While some people would get stir crazy with nothing to do, I’d be able to give it a good run. Left to my own vices (I know that’s the wrong word), I can become complacent. Lazy. Useless. I have it in me to do nothing… and so I can only enjoy weekends like that sparingly.

To thine own self be true, they say… and I am that. I know who I can be and who I want to be, and complacent and lazy isn’t it. My only defense is to keep moving. Thankfully, it looks like we’ll have a pretty decent week for some evening rides. Though this is Michigan. I’m not holding my breath.

There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather, Just Bad Gear (And Other Nonsense Having to Do With Cycling In Bad Weather)

There is such a thing as bad weather for cycling. Let’s see if you can guess which photos best depict this simple truth:

Friends, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist. When you have snow stuck to your eyebrows, that’s a pretty good indication you’ve just ridden in weather bad for cycling. Let’s say you know someone who’s extra-dim, though. Have them ask anyone who lives in Ireland (or most of the UK for that matter) and they’ll be more than happy to tell you all you need to know. Sadly, in such places, if you want to ride, you’re going to have to come to grips with a popup rain shower. I’d bet my lunch the saying originated either during a Minnesota winter or anywhere in the UK. There once was an All Seasons Cyclist who loved that saying (and did more than his fair share to prove its plausibility). There’s just one problem: real bad weather sucks. All good gear can do is make bad cycling weather suck less.

Let’s just say we’ve got, for comparison’s sake, on one hand, a sunny 80° day with a gentle breeze.  On the other, a windy, 34° (1 C) day with a smattering of rain/snow mix.  The first example, if you hadn’t guessed yet, is a good day for cycling.  The second would be bad.  You can’t put enough lipstick on that second pig to make it pretty.  

BUT WAIT!!!

See what I did there?  I took a perfect day and compared it with a perfectly lousy day – I took the two extremes as examples to bolster an obvious statement so as to create controversy in the middle by playing the poles.  That, my friends, is politics.  Let’s look at a simpler scenario.  Let’s take out the wind and rain and just go with a chilly night for a ride.  I had one just the other night as a matter of fact, that provides an excellent example of how not to dress for the cold

When I walked my bike out the door at 4:50 pm, it was 54° (12 C).  Not exactly balmy, but pretty normal around here for mid-November, average.  I rolled out over to Chuck’s house and found myself riding a little faster than I’d planned, to stay warm.  I had on arm-warmers, a short sleeved jersey, and a nice long sleeve that I love for 50° rides – it doesn’t block the wind at all, though (thus, the jersey and arm warmers).  For below the belt, I went with wool socks, mtb shoes, leg warmers and bibs.  Again, normal for 50.  I should have been fine and was quite flummoxed as to why I was cold.

In hindsight, once the sun started going down, the temp went with it, and the Weather Channel completely missed this happening. It had us in the upper 40’s till 9pm) but that’s not what we got.  It turned cold.  By the time I had four miles in it was down to 45° (7 C).  Just two miles later, 37° (or 3 C).  I was on the bad side of cold most of the ride (though it wasn’t too horrible as long as I didn’t coast much).  I didn’t know why I was so cold while I was riding, but now that I can see the temp reading from my Garmin on Strava, it makes all the sense in the world.  I should have had a thermal vest on as well, and a second layer down low, with either foot covers or at least toe covers.  And that’s exactly where the saying “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear” makes sense. 

There’s no question I was underdressed for that ride. In a case like that, the gear selection made for a chilly ride, even if it wasn’t technically my fault.  The prognosticator at the Weather Channel wasn’t riding my bike, so “blaming it” on him does about as much good as $#!++!ng in my hand to prove a point.  It wasn’t a “bad” ride by any stretch, either, but the right clothing would have made it vastly more enjoyable.  And that was my first poorly judged weather scenario of the fall season.

In cases like that, good gear choices can absolutely make or break a ride.  Getting closer to the bad pole, though, sucky cycling weather is sucky cycling weather, was ever thus.

Suffice it to say, some frickin’ days are meant for Zwift.  Or a good movie.  And jammies.

The Hardest Front Derailleur I’ve Ever Confronted; And How I Vanquished It!

I run a Shimano Sora drivetrain on my gravel bike. 2×9 sp., 48/32 up front, 11/32 in the back. I had to compromise buying the bike because I bought one for my wife at the same time. We simply couldn’t justify laying out the cash for two high-end gravel rigs when we really didn’t plan on using them in a manner that would require a high-end steed. That is, until a couple of my friends whom I can normally hang with put a hammering on me on their high-end horses. It was only then I thought, “I should have known better! Why, oh why didn’t I buy a better bike?!”

Whatever, it’s water under the bridge. I have to work a little harder to keep up, it is what it is.

That said, the Sora Drivetrain was a nice surprise. I was expecting something well below the quality of the 105 line on my Trek and the Ultegra on my Venge. The shifting and overall feel of the drivetrain is exceptional. I never thought I’d write that sentence.

It wasn’t all fun and games, however. Since I brought the Diverge home, the front derailleur gave me fits. At first, I thought there was a noise from the chain rubbing the derailleur, both at the big and little gears. Getting the cage to handle all of the gears was not easy – but I always assumed whoever set it up at the shop got the set screws right, and you never touch the set screws so it had to be a barrel adjustment issue, right?

Wrong. I spent the better part of a season (which sounds long, but really isn’t, I only put a few hundred miles on the bike the first year) monkeying with the barrel adjusters hoping I’d be able to luck my way into getting it right. I could get it close, but there was a rub when I trimmed the front cage for the two smallest (hardest) gears, then chain rub on the biggest gear without the trim.

That’s where this gets fun.

I’m going to condense two years of consternation into two paragraphs, but keep in mind, being only a junior bike noise sleuth in good standing, it took a minute to figure all of this out – and it wasn’t until I decided I had to play with the set screws that everything finally came together.

The first problem was that the chain wasn’t rubbing the front derailleur cage in the two smaller gears, with the cage trimmed. It was the crank arm that was hitting the cage when it was trimmed all the way out. The trick, then, was getting the derailleur cage in, toward the chainring, but not too far it that it would rub the chain. As it turned out, there’s a fine line between the two. A very fine line.

How fine? You can’t measure the clearance in millimeters. Tenths of millimeters.

Now, this crank requires a wavy washer, so technically, because the wavy washer is for preload, I could install the washer at the drive side. This would push the chainrings and crank arm to the right and allow a little more clearance for the cage at the crank arm. But, that thinking is a little flawed and, as you can see, I made it work. Barely.

In the first photo, you can see I couldn’t fit more than a business card, folded in half, betwixt the crank arm and derailleur cage. The second photo shows the clearance for the chain. Again, not much… but enough.

When it comes to set screws, I tend to create more trouble than the problem I fix, so rather than mess with this with YouTube videos, which are great, but tend to lack the finer points, I went straight for the Shimano front derailleur installation manual. The manual shows precisely how to install a front derailleur properly – and if you use the full install instructions from the beginning, you don’t have to worry about narrowing down and fixing a flaw, you just set the derailleur up correctly. The instructions start on page 10. I read through them once, then did everything, step-by-step, using the manual as a guide… and a short while later, I had the derailleur set, perfectly. After that it was just a matter of tinkering to get it dialed in so everything worked without rubbing. And Bob literally is my uncle.

And so there it is, the perfect setup on my Specialized Diverge (mine’s the one with the red helmet hanging from the shifter lever.

The main thing I learned through all of that is, the shop’s mechanics aren’t always perfectly right, and I can be if I seek out and follow the proper instructions.

Unless we’re talking about a suspension fork… in that case, it’s going to the shop. That’s a period at the end of that last sentence. Some $#!+ I just don’t need to get into.

Tuesday Night B Group Gravel – Everything You’d Get On Pavement, On Dirt

At the request of a couple of friends, I opened up my house so we could still do a Tuesday Night Ride, but on gravel roads.  Last night was our last day of our Indian summer.  It was above 70° when we rolled out (about 22 C).  In November, in Michigan.  I wasn’t expecting much of any turnout because a couple of people texted that they wouldn’t be able to make it this week, but the future looked good.

I prepped my bike and waited for my regular riding buddy, Chuck to show.  I was early and decided to do a couple of warm-up miles.  David texted asking that we not leave early as he was cutting it close.  With that, Chuck and I weren’t riding alone, but Mike and Diane pulled into the driveway shortly thereafter with their mountain bike tandem in the back of their SUV… and just like that, we had a ride.

We rolled out into the wind at a decent pace for the headwind.  David picked it up for the next mile and some change with a crosswind from the left and gave me the next mile into the headwind.  I was of two minds as David faded to the back… I wanted to keep the pace up, but 19-mph into that wind, on a freshly graded road, simply wasn’t happening.  I got to 17-ish and that was just enough suck – maybe too much.  A half-mile later and I knew I was hurtin’ for certain.  And just then, I got word from the back that the tandem had fallen off the back in the headwind.  Sweet Mary have mercy!  When they caught up, Mike apologized for not keeping up, but we all made it very clear we were happy to slow down.  I almost dropped myself, for God’s sake.  The rest of the headwind section was awesome.  Right on the edge of “hard” but not so bad you were questioning how you get yourself into situations like this.  We each took mile-long turns and shared the load.

And just like that, we were into a 17-mph (27 km/h) tailwind.  And it was awesome.

We had some crosswind, then tailwind again, some more cross, then tail again.  We decided to add on a couple of more miles on a paved road and that ended up being my pull – tailwind on pavement, what a gift.  We flew, hitting speeds in excess of 27-mph (43 km/h).  David got hit with the headwind mile back the way we came, then the tandem for the crosswind, then me, and I gave Chuck the final pull home.  

Chuck put the hammer down and our pace rose steadily until we were 28-mph down a slight hill.  We were going so fast, you couldn’t really ride anyone else’s wheel, you had to ride a little off to the side so you could see bumps coming up.  Being in the back, I could see everyone throwing rooster-tails in the dirt.  It was special to be a part of that pace-line.

And just like that, we were done.  24-ish miles at just shy of 17-mph for an average.  And in shorts and short-sleeves.  In November.  In Michigan.

Folks, that fair weather stretch will live on in my memory for years to come.  What a fabulous cap to a great cycling season.

So here’s the interesting thing to think about: Riding in a pace-line is tricky enough in broad daylight. At night, it’s downright discombooberating. At night on dirt is downright crazy. Thinking about it, I’m actually quite impressed with us… I’ll have to be careful not to pull a muscle patting myself on the back (patting my friends on the back isn’t much of a problem, except to do so socially distanced… now that’s a feat).

A Perfect Night On Gravel… Except For That Old Man Who Almost Got His @$$ Kicked…

You ever have one of those Mondays where you need that bike ride to bring you back up from the depths of despair that was your workday? Chuck and I were both living that Monday… and on top of that, Chuck’s brand new light mount wasn’t cooperating (noisy, kinda squeaky over even the smallest bump, so you can imagine what it was like on the dirt). On the other hand, we’re in a warm trend the likes of which I can’t remember seeing in November (fear not, it’s over tomorrow)

I’d left early to get to Chuck’s, simply because I could. In shorts and short-sleeves… and I went the looooong way. Then, I tinkered with my front derailleur for a minute once I got to his house until Chuck came out (it’s a complex obsession, my front derailleur on the gravel bike, I’ll get into it in another post – I actually, FINALLY, got it last night). I dropped my average from 18.2 down to 16 in the process. I’d hoofed it over to make sure I wasn’t late.

Chuck had gotten a new light mount – he’s got one of those headlights that they can see from the space station in orbit. He had an issue just snapping it in, where he darn-near lost his temper. I could tell he’d had a rough day at the office, so I just let him go until he got it and we rolled out. Less than a mile in, he was incensed that the mount was a little squeaky (okay, it was a lot squeaky), so we stopped at a fella’s house and asked to use a screwdriver. He tightened his mount down and we rolled again. It didn’t help the squeak.

As we rode together, I could feel my tension lift. It’s almost magical how a rough day can be brought around simply by getting the blood flowing. It also didn’t hurt that we were only in summer gear. We headed south into the wind, the sun long below the horizon. It got dark in a hurry.

We turned and headed west. About a half-mile up, maybe, we had a mini-van pass us. I was over as far as I could comfortably get and Chuck was right behind me. The driver crowded us but not bad enough I was nervous. We couldn’t have gone further right, though. The grater had been through and the crown on the road made the far right of the road slick as snot on a door knob. We’d have risked sliding off the road, down into a rather large, swampy ditch. The vehicle made it by and we rolled on.

The driver looked to be making a left into a driveway but stopped kitty-corner in the road. As we rolled up I could hear someone operating a leaf blower in the driveway, so I figured the motorist was waiting on the blower… and that’s when the driver-side door flung open and an old, disheveled looking fella got out and started yelling about getting over to the side of the road. Lovely, I thought. We’d drawn an idiot who doesn’t know how traffic works (keep in mind here, we were unquestionably over as far right as we could safely be – just to the ditch side of where the passenger wheel tracks on the road, a little less than a few feet (a meter) from the drop into the ditch – this knucklehead had the whole rest of the road).

I told him to shut up and get back in his car and, looking at the size of Chuck and I, he did. But he continued to holler about getting over to the side of the road, so Chuck kept it simple and said, F*** you. We kept rolling, and that was that.

The rest of the ride was quiet as you’d expect at dinnertime on dirt roads in rural America. I don’t think we were passed again the rest of the ride and I completely let the altercation with that old fart go. The farther we went, the better I felt.

We hit our farthest point north and turned around to head home… the tailwind was our friend and the remainder of the ride was glorious.

There’s something about the smell and feel of dirt roads that’s just… I don’t know… I took a big gulp of water, my first of the evening to wash the dust out of my mouth. I made mud. I coasted for a second to let Chuck catch up and told him what had happened. We had a laugh and I put my head down and took it to the barn.

When I pulled into the driveway, I shut my computer and headlight down and went into the house. My daughters already had a chicken dinner ready and hot. I sat down to a feast – I didn’t even bother showering first. After, the girls went upstairs and I cleared the table and did the dishes. I took my shower and sat down on the couch to watch some Monday Night Football… I was asleep just after the Jets kicked a field goal.

It was as good as it gets. For a Monday.

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.  

sunset

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.  

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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.

dirtwithfriends

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.