Friday, July 8, 2011

Talk to Me About 'Off Road'...

Gravel Path, Rockport MA
Almost every cyclist I'm friendly with loves to ride off road. And when I admit that I don't love it so much, the reaction is that of dismay. "What? But you like Rivendell! But you write about randonneuring! But you showed so much promise cycling on those scenic beach trails!" Well yes... And yet I prefer pavement.

Of course, everyone has their own ideas of what "off road" is. For some, anything that's not paved qualifies. For others, only the really treacherous, narrow trails are worthy of the label. I tend to use the former definition, but often get corrected ("Oh, well that's not off road; that's just dirt roads!") - which of course only makes me feel more of a sissy. I can handle fire trails if they are packed dirt with occasional pebbles and roots, but I draw the line at loose gravel that slips out from under my tires, and trails fraught with large rocks and ditches that I need to navigate around at speed. It feels unsafe, and when I feel unsafe no amount of romantic photos or assurances that "it'll be fine!" from ride companions can induce me to go on. Maybe it'll be fine for them, but I need to think for myself and my brain screams "don't do it; you'll perish!"

Gravel Path, Rockport MA
But maybe I exaggerate. When we were in Rockport last weekend, the Co-Habitant lured me onto some trails ("we'll walk our bikes to the water") and I ended up riding on 23mm tires over dirt and gravel.  I've also found myself intentionally taking my bikes on unpaved parts of local trails lately, maybe to test the waters.

As August approaches, people are talking about the D2R2 (Deerfield Dirt-Road Randonnée) - a notoriously hilly, strenuous ride through Western Massachusetts and Vermont, held entirely on winding dirt roads. I considered trying to do the "easy" (40 mile) route, but based on the stories I hear even that might be out of my league. It would be good to read a ride report from someone whose comfort zone is similar to mine, to get an accurate idea of what it is really like.

But wait a minute, why would I even want to go to something like the D2R2 if I don't enjoy cycling off road? Maybe because I want to like it, or keep hoping that I'll like it if I just give it another chance. There is so much beauty that can't be seen from paved roads, and it's a shame to miss it. Now if only I could learn to climb and descend on loose gravel without panicking and getting off my bike immediately!

53 comments:

  1. After really wanting to like off road riding, I too must confess that I've never been able to fully come around to it. I like the stability of pavement, not to mention the very real factor of ride comfort; after riding a 600+ mile route in early June, most of which was over gravel and compact chat ... well the nerves in my hands "buzzed" for weeks. (In fact, I can still feel a slight tingle in the palm of my left hand as I type this note.) Too, I'm not a speed demon but I do like to hit my stride and move at a moderately fast pace: gravel and dirt don't allow me to accomplish that - at least not to my personal satisfaction, and especially not if I'm riding one of my thin tired bikes. I've built up a couple of randonneuring bikes with wider tires and those are better, but what the heck! Those tires feel even better on pavement!

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  2. Can you get the route early and give all or part of it a try? I'd prefer practicing rough stuff without witnesses! Either way, keep up the good work.

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  3. It seems to me that you usually end up enjoying it when you decide to leave your comfort-zone!

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  4. Interesting topic - I too have had many of these thoughts. I mainly bicycle for transportation, often have a child in tow, stay on paved city roads. I've usually never even considered the concept of 'off-road'. However, lately, I kind of wonder what it would be like to get a mountain bike (crazy!) and just have at it. Let loose? I did start tackling something lately that I thought I never could do: running. I've begun a running program and because I've been regularly bicycling, it's given me an advantage into an easy start. I'm surprised how much I'm enjoying it and here I thought running is something I'd never EVER like. (I'm near obsessed now!) So... maybe the same would happen with 'off roading'. I might surprise myself!

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  5. There is so much beauty that can't be seen from paved roads

    And that right there is the majority of the appeal for me:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/7516215@N03/5886180079/

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/7516215@N03/4227646886/

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/7516215@N03/4227639348/

    Not to mention the sheer quiet...

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  6. D2R2 intrigues you because you're curious and like a challenge (I'm assuming you had a similar feeling about joining the paceline rides). The 40 mile ride is very doable, you can go at your own pace at whatever speed you're comfortable with. You don't have to speed down the descents, you can go as fast or as slow as you want. From what I remember of the 40 mile course it was mostly packed dirt with some loose stuff but it wasn't scary. If anything is a factor it's the heat which can be brutal in late August. Wider tires and sensible gearing are all you need to enjoy this great ride.

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  7. I have brought up the topic of off road to you on this blog on several occasions. It would probably help greatly with bike handling skills and you would get ample opportunity for low-speed falls. The 'body-English' used in manuevering around and over large holes, tree roots, etc. does transfer to on-road riding. When a particular riding skill eludes me, I try it out repeatedly in a controlled setting. It's not unlike learning a difficult piece of music where one repeats difficult sections during a practice session to make them solid. A example more germane to cycling is my recent experience with fixed gear. Although the bike I am using has brakes, I wanted to learn how to stop without them, so I took the bike to a wide open, empty (don't want to look foolish) park and spent some time practicing stopping and skidding.

    Off road of the single-track variety (a trail as oppossed to a fire road) would be more easily accomplised on a dedicated mountain bike, but starting out on fire roads with the Sam would be a great start.

    I whole heartedly encourage you to do it!

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  8. If past patterns indicate future occurrences, you'll own a mountain bike by this time next year :)

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  9. I've been cycling for 40 years. I like Rivendell and randonneuring too. Yet I loathe off-road biking! For me, anything that isn't smooth asphalt or concrete is off-road and not worth cycling on. Just three weeks ago I convinced myself to give the C &O canal trail a try and cycled the 60 miles from my home near DC to Harper's Ferry. I'll never do that again! In my opinion, bicycles (unless they're MTBs) are meant for smooth pavement, not gravel, dirt and pebbles.

    Maybe I'm a sissy too, but I've cycled 10,000 miles throughout Europe. And hey, if Yugoslavia (as it was back then), and Greece and Spain can have good smooth roads, I don't know why I should have to 'rough it' here in the USA.

    The final decider for me is the speed reduction on unpaved roads. Dirt roads and gravel trails slow my average speed to under 8mph. Heck, I can run at that pace. If I can run that fast, I don't see why I should lug along 30lbs of bicycle.

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  10. Personally, I don't think any cyclist needs to like any particular kind of riding, and I also completely understand the idea that it isn't necessarily for you. Sometimes people insist that you will love something and we end up not being so fond of it at all. I recently experimented with mountain biking for the first time and it didn't go so well. I've promised myself to try again at some juncture, but honestly, my biggest issue is fear. I have a specific bike for such purposes though, and I'm wondering if you perhaps had some wider tires for your off-road adventures you'd feel a bit safer and confident? Of course, I will note that this doesn't work for me, but it might for someone else experimenting with off-road kinds of rides. Just a thought.

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  11. Take you 650B bike and do the 40 mile ride, it's lovely! It's like a packed fire road that follows a river, so it's not hilly.

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  12. "If past patterns indicate future occurrences, you'll own a mountain bike by this time next year"

    I doubt it. I actually used to do more off road cycling (or at least attempting) than I do now. In the beginning, I assumed I'd like it, but the more I cycled the more I began to gravitate toward pavement.

    While I enjoy the scenery offered by off road trails, I almost never enjoy the experience of the actual riding on them - whereas with things like roadcycling, fixed gear, etc., I actually liked doing it when I tried it.

    arevee - Yes, "ample opportunity for low-speed falls" is what I worry about, so that one goes in the "cons" not "pros" column for me!

    One thing I do not understand is how exactly does one learn the "skills" to descend and corner on terrain that slips out from under your wheel when you go over it, or that your wheel sinks into? My bike starts to fall at that point, or at the very least fishtail.

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  13. somervillain - Right, this is the kind of path where I will refuse to keep going, especially if it's on an incline with winding turns, which it usually is!

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  14. If you can ride from Somerville to the end of the Minuteman trail, you most certainly can complete the Green River tour of D2R2. It is an easy ride on a graded dirt road. Though many guys are telling their wives that they "need" to buy a bike with wide 650B tires for D2R2, 700 x 30mm tires are plenty wide enough for any road out there.

    I have ridden off-pavement for decades, in the main for enjoyment of nature. Being away from cars is nice, too. Wider tires and purpose-built mountain bikes work well off-pavement, but for city dwellers they are not so fun to ride from home to any place where they have an advantage. Only for ten years or so, when I had a mountain bike, have I used any other than a road bike with 28 or 30mm tires, even for single track. As Jobst Brandt has said many times, there was life before mountain bikes.

    Once on the trails, I ride with care, stay on the trail, and walk the rockiest bits if necessary. I am not into the thrill-seeking riding of many mountain bikers I observe, who often ride off-trail, damaging flora and forest floor, in order to ride over obstacles or to catch air.

    Stay light on the saddle and flexible in the elbows - it is not hard. Though I am not a helmet zealot, I would not ride rough trials without.

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  15. "One thing I do not understand is how exactly does one learn the "skills" to descend and corner on terrain that slips out from under your wheel when you go over it, or that your wheel sinks into?"

    You get an mtb and crash it.

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  16. I'm with the crowd who likes off-road riding for beauty. There are some lovely and remote places and some gorgeous views that you can only get to by leaving pavement. While some of the rides that I've done, like D2R2 or the Vermont dirt road tour also involved challenging terrain, there are certainly some nice paths here and there that aren't nearly as intimidating. My first real experiences doing off-road stuff was riding around the carriage roads of Acadia, and that's probably a good place as any to start getting comfortable with mixed terrain.

    I've done some mountain biking in Colorado, and actual MTB trails are a whole different animal. It is kind of nifty, though, riding those trails on a bike that is meant to tackle that terrain, and the completely different level of security and comfort that can be imparted by wide knobby tires and wide handlebar.

    A couple of the tips that I'd give about riding in dirt -- one's major concern is probably ensuring proper traction, so it's even more important than on asphalt to ensure that you're shifting your weight forward on climbs and backward on descents. It's a little counterintuitive, but you probably shouldn't be getting 'light' on your saddle when descending (as one might do when riding and trying to dodge potholes or gravel in pavement and thus lifting their weight off the saddle to cushion against shocks) Keep your weight on your saddle and a little behind to ensure that if you're braking you won't lift your wheel up enough to lose traction on the back.

    Similarly, when descending on a free wheel, resist the urge to coast. Keep spinning. That way if you do get caught in a clump that drags on your bike, you can power through it rather than getting stuck. I'm pretty sure that the crash that I had on Memorial Day was partially because I forgot to do this.

    The above tip, btw, is also worth keeping in mind when riding in snow.

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  17. One learns the skills to descend and corner on rough and/or slippery terrain like one learns anything else: By practicing. Seriously, if you do it often enough, you figure it out. Tires and tire pressure make all the difference in the world. Wide tires, low pressure, and maybe some knobs will give you the traction you need. The proper tires, properly inflated, will smooth out a lot of the rough spots, too.

    Obviously, people's preferences differ. But I find off-road riding more interesting, less monotonous, and less scary (no cars) than riding on the road. Sure, you go more slowly, but speed isn't the point, unless you're racing. The fun, if you're riding single-track, is in the challenge of negotiating the trail. If you're riding fire trails, the fun lies more in having the off-the-beaten-track experience.

    One more thing: If you're worried about falling, low-speed spills are far preferable to high-speed ones, in my experience.

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  18. Those who are saying they've done the 40 mile D2R2 loop, can you please elaborate? Because "easy" is such a subjective concept. I am not worried about the distance, but specifically about the terrain.

    For example:

    Are the dirt roads narrow like paths, or wide like carriage roads?

    What portion is loose gravel vs packed dirt?

    Are the loose gravel stretches on flat or hilly parts of the route?

    And are there parts that look like this?

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  19. Ask the innerweb: http://www.flickr.com/photos/raphacc/4972800573/

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  20. GR Jim - Okay, I think I get it. So the idea is to practice crashing multiple times until you hit your head impacting the part of the brain responsible for inhibiting reckless behaviour. Makes sense : )

    The online pictures, including Rapha's, make it look not that bad. But the stories I hear contradict the pictures. So I want the *real* pictures!

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  21. I read this and had to laugh. The city just dumped 2 inches of loose gravel at the end of my back alley and I get off my bike to walk through that 8-10 foot stretch. And that's URBAN gravel. I can't imagine being comfortable wiping out with miles to hike to the local first aid station.

    If you get through your gravel fear, post REALLY detailled notes to help the rest of us.

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  22. That's pretty much it.

    Srsly, you don't know the limits of adhesion 'til you bin it and reading terrain is a big deal.

    For a supposed gnarly bunch the photog sure got some milquetoast shots of the "dirt".

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  23. Erin - Being a tiny bit more confident on it now than before, the only thing I've been able to learn is that pedaling makes it easier than coasting, and that slowing down - and especially braking - is the worst thing to do. Basically, the idea is to go slowly, keep pedaling, and avoid the brakes. It's not unlike snow in some ways.

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  24. V, I would give it a try. The 40 mile Green River tour sounds enticing. Like anything else the right equipment, which I believe you have for this ride will make all the difference. Also, learn to trust your bike, you'll be amazed at what it can really do and the type of terrain it can conquer. Riding off road can be stimulating, not only physically, but intellectually as well.

    If anything else, I would love to read about your experience, whether good, bad, or ugly. I don't have a randonneuring/tour style bicycle (maybe someday), but I write more coming from riding my mountain bike off road. Slightly different, I know.

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  25. I have to agree. I have my Rivendell and even then, when I hit a gravelly bit of trail, my stress goes up. Then I get back to paved and breathe a sigh of relief. All is right in my world again.

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  26. When I was a kid (and reckless;) we had slick smooth driveway. My dad used to overhaul is bugeye sprite in that driveway, so there was grease on it. Add a little water and I had a exactly what race car driver use to learn drift, only I learned it on my Schwinn Sting Ray. It was a perfect way to learn skidding and traction, both front and back wheels. Were I to do it today, I'd use a BMX bike. Learn how to put a foot down when you lose balance. Counter steering is magnified because you have to do more of it to get the lean started. And those 20" wheels are easier to correct, and easier to bail from when they get out from under you.
    My sisters both learned on the same skid track. It transferred beautifully when we hit red clay single-track after a rain storm, the only problem then was clay sticking to tires so hard that our wheels gain 5+ lbs of weight each!

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  27. Beacon Street in Somerville is bumpier than the Green River Road in Mass. and Vermont.

    The dirt portion of the Green River tour is on wide carriage roads consisting of packed dirt. What gravel there is will not perturb the course of your bike or your sense of confidence. There are one or two lumps, but nothing remotely resembling a hill except, perhaps, on a paved portion of the route, in some years.

    It is nothing like the photo of Estabrook Woods (which is not a challenging ride unless in wet conditions).

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  28. ^ Thank you! I think that settles it. Maybe : ) You could be lying...

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  29. I absolutely plan my rides around involving at least some dirt. Roads are only conveyances (or necessary evils) to get to the actual ride, which starts where the asphalt ends!

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  30. I am definitely a "road" cyclist, but I really enjoy smooth dirt roads. There is something liberating about the little movements of the bike when it doesn't have 100% traction. It becomes alive. Most of all, dirt roads usually see very little traffic, so we seek them out for the solitude. With the right tires – wide, supple, and fast – the speed difference between smooth gravel and pavement is minimal.

    Super-technical mountain biking isn't my thing. It's not that it's bad, but I think it's a different sport from road cycling. It's more physical and less flowing. If you want to hone your off-pavement skills, you might try cyclocross. A good cross course feels feels more like road cycling than mountain biking...

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  31. Beacon Street in Somerville is bumpier than the Green River Road in Mass. and Vermont.

    This is a very good point. I actually find that doing road rides on fast, skinny-tire bikes can be more bone-rattling on roads like Beacon Street than doing trails like Estabrook Woods.

    While this summer will be my first D2R2 ride, from what I have learned about it, it's mostly smooth packed dirt, like this road (in the state neighboring to the west) that I used to ride all the time as a teenager on a ten-speed:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/7516215@N03/4228147455/

    Also, many "roadies" do the D2R2 ride on road bikes with 28mm road tires, although they are less than ideal.

    Honestly I think the 40 mile Green River ride is right up your alley.

    It is nothing like the photo of Estabrook Woods (which is not a challenging ride unless in wet conditions).

    The only challenge when wet is being slippery, especially with smooth tires. But slipping and sliding around rocks is fun!

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  32. I really enjoy smooth dirt roads. There is something liberating about the little movements of the bike when it doesn't have 100% traction. It becomes alive.

    Well put! I was trying to articulate another of the reasons why I have come to like trail riding, and this pegs it. There's a thrill component, which keeps you just slightly on edge. "Alive" is a good way to put it.

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  33. I grew up with the local "Woods" right at the end of my street and riding offroad for me is as natural or maybe more comfortable then riding on the street. First, the right equipement is critical. Wider tires and the proper geometry. I formerly taught a begginers mountatin biking class and there are definately some things that do not come naturally to some people; Braking and how to use different gears for different surfaces, etc. I think my comfort level is very different from yours, if I see a fast downhill sweeper, my brain says "OH boy! FUN!" not panic! Not saying you have to have a mountain bike, but If the folks who hooked you up with the Seven could follow that with a mountain bike, it might be a better starting point then taking a road bike offroad. I think you could be able to handle some moderately technical trails on a decent mountain bike, that will give you the confidence for something like the gravel road thing you are talking about. The thing to remember is that off road take allot more out of you then riding a road bike on the road. A 12mile technical Mtn B. ride is probably equal to 20 or more on the road, as far as energy expended goes. A 40 mile dirt road is probably like 50 miles or more of paved road. I really don't consider dry smooth dirt roads "offroad", wet dirt or gravel maybe?? I personnally find offroad much more forgiving, to me a fast downhill on a road bike with 28mm tires is WAY more scary!!

    Masmojo

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  34. If you ride a mountain bike for it's intended purpose you will fall. "If you ain't fallin', you ain't haulin." The thing is, you can fall off a mountain bike twenty times in a ride and not even lose a glove or rip a hole in your shorts. Falling almost becomes addictive.

    And yes, the law of averages will catch up to you.

    As a rough guess 50% of road bike falls have some consequence. Mountain bike falls maybe 1 or 2% have consequence. Maybe even less than that. Mostly the MTB falls are pratfalls that provoke laughter & merriment. So the guys who do it get into that.

    I gave up the MTB when I realized that my whole career injury list (except for that truck traveling the wrong way on the one way bicycle path) was offroad.

    Still glad I did it. Everything healed. You could learn the skills other ways but most people won't.

    If D2R2 gets too exciting stop and lower your saddle a centimeter or two. Get on the spot advice for tire pressure. You'll be fine.

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  35. A lot depends on the specific bike and the bike setup. A regular roadbike would not be a good choice for backroad/offroad.

    The setup will vary depending on the type of gravel or dirt you're riding on. Is the gravel fresh? Packed? How much rock is still left in it? How packed is the dirt? Are there leaves or other debris?

    Locally, there is actually a gravel race series.

    http://www.raceforthecup.blogspot.com/

    For an idea of how bad it can get, here are some pictures from this year's Almonzo 100. 45F, raining, and over half the riders bailed.

    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=215448331812934&set=a.215448278479606.58841.109589985732103&type=1&theater

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  36. V, I don't like riding "off-road" much either, though having fallen a couple times on pavement, I'm not as terrified of that as you are. Still, I'd ride a nice flat fire road, if I had a cute little vintage mtb. No real hills, no roots and stones above the small variety, and nice and slow, and I'd be down for that.

    I don't have the bike for it. Maybe that's part of your reluctance: you haven't ridden a bike designed for that purpose lately on that sort of terrain. Perhaps borrow one and see how you feel about it on a gentle, easy fire road? Start small?

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  37. When the surface gets rugged you can always put your head down and "go Belgian", like you are on a mission to finish Paris-Roubaix. Be brave.

    Fantasies of the Belgian classics aside, generally I have no desire to pedal off the tarmack.

    However, I'll mention I've done a couple of organized rides down in south Georgia and north FL, a 40 miler and a 65 miler, on unpaved roads that were very nice. Basically hard-packed clay plantation roads.

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  38. I'm certainly enjoying the exchange of ideas regarding riding off-road and what that may entail. I live in a very rural area in Southwest Missouri. Our roads are either fairly low traffic two lane asphalt without shoulders or gravel roads. I ride both types and enjoy both; I like having the variety. I've found that gravel roads around here have a wide variety of surface conditions that range from hard and smooth to very loose to large coarse rocks. I've found it works best for me to find a "line" on the gravel road that gives me the most comfort with the least slippage or bumpiness. I recently rode some gravel after the county road crew came through and graded the surface. It was some of the worst road surface I have ever ridden. The "washboard" bumpiness was extremely uncomfortable. Riding on asphalt after this was like riding on a cloud. I really enjoy riding our local crushed limestone rail-trail known as the Frisco Highline. The trail is bikes and peds only which lets one enjoy the natural beauty of the trail at whatever pace one wishes. I've ridden this trail with both my single-speed road bike with sport-touring geometry and 35-622 tires and my full suspension mountain bike with 26 x 2.1 inch knobbies. I've found I enjoy the ride best with my mountain bike. It really absorbs the surface chatter and helps the tires maintain traction which gives me more confidence in the rough stuff. I've ridden some mountain bike trails in our area. They're fun but I'm not really into doing stunts or trying to do really technical mountain bike maneuvers. I think it's important your choice of riding is something you enjoy and don't feel you have to do it. I'd suggest you borrow a mountain bike and give it a try if you're curious; just like (if I'm not mistaken) you got into riding pace lines with a borrowed road racing bike.

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  39. Since my near death accident four years ago my motto has become - live to ride another day. No I wasn't hit by a car and yes I wore a helmet.

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  40. I'm a pavement rider, not a mountain biker. Love the mountains but will tackle those with feet and backpack. On the other hand may I suggest there might be a "third way" for cycling. I've found that many areas have great hard packed trails, some of which are well maintained "rails-to-trails". Tackling these with say a Pashley Gun'nor on 40mm Schwalbe Delta Cruisers is quite the thing. And the thing is old rail beds are flat as a pancake, I think no more than an occasional 4deg here and there. You don't need those knobby old mountain bike tires for this kind of riding. And the best part - no cars except for the crossings. Though I agree 700x23 tires would be chancing it on hard pack dirt, I don't think I'd hesitate to use 700x28s. The "third way"? It's quite the thing.

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  41. Roads? Where we're going we don't need... roads!



    I find occasional off-road riding very enjoyable, but's not for everyone,and even those who enjoy off-roading have differing preferences ranging from "dirt road, to "MTB trials."

    I will say that I've found the skills I learned riding off-road have helped me on the road, and even saved me from some potentially nasty crashes. And you don't HAVE to fall if you ride trails, especially if you're not embarassed to walk the sections that you think are too tricky for you. You don't even need a special bike for some of the less technical singletrack, you can ride whatever you happen to have with you.

    But if you don't like it, there's no reason to do it. Bike riding, even utility cycling, should be fun, and if we all liked the same kind of riding, we'd only need to sell one model bike in a dozen different sizes and color schemes.

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  42. Velouria: "One thing I do not understand is how exactly does one learn the "skills" to descend and corner on terrain that slips out from under your wheel when you go over it, or that your wheel sinks into? My bike starts to fall at that point, or at the very least fishtail."

    These are traction issues. Having some rubber with knobs obviously helps, and having a bicycle with geometry that allows the rider to easily shift his/her weight fore and aft (as appropriate) to deal with loss of traction is good. Please bear in mind that there are riders who kind of hope to get some fishtail effects out of their rides...

    I tend to think of "offroad" as anything that the gov't doesn't consider a road-- if a road (paved or not) shows up on road maps and has the same sort of signage (often, not as much), provided by the DOT, as the road I live on-- then it's a road, even if it's a dirt road. Again, paved or not, if I'm on a thin strip of asphalt running thru a park, I am on a MUP or something, which isn't a road.

    When it comes to unpaved riding, you have your fireroads, your hardpacked cinder paths, doubletrack (ride next to your friend!), and singletrack (ride in front of/behind your friend!), etc. There are millions of terms to describe surface conditions, and these tend not to be universal. Someone without a "real" mtb and a lot of offroad experience will probably prefer easy trails with hardpacked soil. I recommend perusing trail reviews on MTBR.com, but remember that the reviews are pretty much unmoderated, so there will be sketchy trail reviews with liberal use of the letter "z" to indicate plurality and an attitude that easy trails are, by definition, awful trails. I'm sure you can discern good internet info from the bad stuff, but don't write off the entire site due to the occasional lousy review. (235 trails reviewed on mtbr in Mass.)

    I've never been on the D2R2 course, but it is my understanding that you'll need neither knobs nor trail bike to ride it. Sounds like a 'cross bike'd be ideal.

    -rob

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  43. As a former Franklin County resident, albet one who only drove Green River Road, my memory is that Green River Road is a basically flat road running from Rt2 to a park on the river, then next to the river up to Vermont. It is paved for at least the first few miles. The dirt portion of Green River Road is basically two lanes wide, cars do not have to pull aside for someone driving the other direction. The surface is mainly packed dirt. There will be small rocks floating on top of the dirt.

    No one is paying to haul in gravel. The reason the roads are dirt is because it is cheap! The only way there would be gravel is if gravel is what is underground right at that point.

    If you want narrow dirt roads with steep hills, you really have to go up into the hilltowns. There is a reason they are called that. However, I am pretty sure most of the longer routes are also on two lane dirt roads, not trails. People live on them and drive everyday to work, school, etc.

    I don't know how they route the short route from Deerfield to where Green River Road turns to dirt. There aren't a lot of dirt roads down in the valley. They could route you up over Greenfield Hill to Shelburne and back down through Colrain or Leyden. Greenfield Hill is pretty big.

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  44. After a decade of off-road riding, I felt the same way I felt when I started: I prefer riding on the road. Mind you, I don't mind a dirt trail or even some gravel now and again. But I always liked to feel that I had gone from some particular place (whether home or someplace else) to another. It's an attitude I developed from my earliest long rides ("Hey, I rode to Asbury Park today!") and, well, I guess it has always shaped the way I see my rides. I never could feel that same sense of pride in doing an off-road ride.

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  45. As someone has already quoted, "There was off-paved-road riding long before there were mountain bikes." A search of the web will turn up some lovely photos and even movies of cyclocross action in the first decades of the last century. I have ridden trails on virtually every bike I have owned for 60 years. Eventually I got a proper French cyclocross bike - still before mountain bikes. The funny thing about mtbs is that they are designed to do what you don't need to do, to ride over stuff it is easier to carry the bike over. After all, the bike has carried you a long way, why not return the favour a little?

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  46. I love riding on decent unpaved roads. Mostly it's about exploration, and seeing beautiful areas I don't usually get to at a slightly slower speed than I normally ride at. Now and then there is a puddle, rough spot, sand trap, etc and I get to play at being a little more technical or else get off and walk. The key is, I'm there for the surroundings, and sometimes I go by bike and sometimes on foot, depending on my mood. I am not a mountain biker by nature or by skill, so all the off road riding I do is closer in nature to road biking than typical mountain biking.

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  47. Have you tried the dirt path that starts at the end of the minuteman? I really like it, and some of my friends have used 23mm tires on it without incident. It's called reformatory branch trail on google maps.

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  48. Asking friends about riding off road, they admitted you will fall if you ride dirt. They chose falling on dirt rather than pavement. One policeman who rides a bike told me he's ripped a tire on a tree root, hitting it wrong and at speed. I personally don't like the shakiness and obstacles of off road cycling. I tried loose gravel on packed to loose dirt once and it was so shaky that I walked 2 miles rather than damage my bike and my body. I have managed to ride on packed dirt and grass and have been over tree roots in a dirt parking lot. Then I decided to go back to pavement. Packed clay roads the day after a rain is pretty smooth.

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  49. Hmmm, you definitely have the bikes for easy off road riding. just tonight I had gone for a walk up the hill to see the sunset and a woman came barreling down on a downhill mountain bike at full speed. I might do it if I am on the right bike, but I am scared of falling, losing control so go slowly down hills. There is alot of mountain bike action up my road, but we're the only commuting cyclists.
    I used to ride on trails as a kid on a bmx, then I used to take my mom's old 3 speed on dirt roads with hills and I did not brake on the hills....I did alot of cross country mountain biking on tight knotty rocky trails for years....but when I moved to mountain biking heaven I could not handle the serious stuff and actually have no interest in riding on logs, scary ramps, extremely steep or super narly trails. I regularly end up on smooth dirt trails, short mountain bike single track, and dirt roads on my commutes and rides. I live on a dirt road so have to bike up and down. It's not that hard and for that kind of stuff you do not need a mountain bike. You are not automatically going to lose control on a patch of gravel. Have confidence in yourself, you did start doing pacelines.
    I will say that descending on long gravel logging roads I start to get the itchies in my arms, then my legs,and entire body from the vibration and soon burst into tears. It is so agonizing and painful! I get this when riding my aluminum mountain bike with shocks which is party why I gave up on riding it. My steel bikes handle the bumps much better. So, I can't do those ultra gravelly roads. It also depends on the bike and it's frame material. I ended up on a super rough old logging road with my raleigh sprite and it handled it very well. No vibration itchies. So your rivendell or royal h would be grand!
    Find out what the quality of the roads are on this D2R2 are. Are they loose, rough, bumpy, gravelly? Or hardpacked with clay which means nice smooth track to ride on? There is a difference between dirt roads and gravel roads. Dirt roads will have a bit of gravel, while gravel roads are loaded with gravel that get churned all over. My road is a mess because the department of highways keeps adding gravel, grading it, spraying it....then it all goes to hell. There is now a hardpack clay track that everyone tries to ride on.
    I really like riding on nice smooth dirt roads, fire trails, little bike trails, easy mountain bike trails. The paved roads and the highway are in such bad shape with piles of sand and gravel that are far more unsafe than any dirt road. Wooshing along on a smooth trail safe from cars is so much fun.
    The majority of my riding is on pavement though, only wish I had a sweet smooth fast road bike.

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  50. heather - I would definitely not be interested in doing the kind of riding that requires an actual dedicated mountain bike. My Rivendell with 42mm tires is pretty much perfect for dirt, gravel and bumpiness; if anything I am underusing it in that respect.

    I am hearing somewhat contradicting stories about the quality of the D2R2 roads, with some saying it's no worse that the potholes in my neighbourhood (this is not an exaggeration - we have potholes here that make "roads" resemble a true off-road experience), and others saying it's fairly technical, at least some portions. So... not really sure what to think.

    Randall's suggestion earlier to check out the route beforehand is a good one, but we have no easy way of getting there and no spare time for an extra trip.

    Still, I am leaning toward going, if I am able to arrange it.

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  51. "Please bear in mind that there are riders who kind of hope to get some fishtail effects out of their rides..."

    shudder!

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  52. I think the sort off-road cycling, you may be into where you walk bit, ride bit, stop look at view for few minutes before carrying on with the ride. This is sort thing we do on South Lakes Group rides on average weekly club ride and also not forgetting the two cafe stops on route (here a link www.southlakesgroup.org.uk/2011photogallery/july/2nd.html to last club ride to Hell Gill Bridge where did about 30 miles with about 12 off-road following part of the Pennine Bridleway). The South Lakes Group( www.southlakesgroup.org.uk ) is local group of the Rough-Stuff Fellowship( www.rsf.org.uk ) which is off-road cycle touring club which was first started in 1955 in the UK.

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  53. I've ridden the 100km D2R2 route for two years. The section along the green river is the same as on the 40 mile route from what I hear, and incorporates the bulk of the dirt portion. The bulk of the 40 mile is paved from what I hear. The portion that is dirt, which corresponds with the 100km route, is rather flat and smooth, it is the easy section. It is the part that you can have the best conversations with your fellow rider. I suspect the war stories that you hear from the D2R2 are from the longer rides, especially two years ago when the steep roads were washed out, even then the green river portion was still smooth and comfortable. A nearby dirt road that might be comparable is Lincoln/Hazelbrook between Glezen Ln and Waltham Rd.

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