Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Dead Road

When I first heard the phrase, I knew what they meant by it exactly. Still, it surprised me that this existed as a phenomenon acknowledged by other cyclists. I mean, it seemed like the sort of concept that would thrive within my own imagination, only to be met with skeptism by others. But now here they were, throwing the words around on a group ride.

A "dead road." What an evocative term. And while it never occurred to me to describe the sensation with those exact words, now that I heard them I recognised what they referred to instantly.

A dead road is not just a road that involves a long climb at a grade that never quite lets you get into a good rhythm. And it is not just a road where the surface resists the tire's progress with a dull tacky stubbornness. It is more than merely a road unfortunate enough to be on the wrong side of the mountain, where the sun hardly shines and where there is always a mild, but annoying headwind in the direction of the ascent. While all of these factors may well be present, a dead road is more than the sum of its parts. It is like a twilight zone, upon entering which the cyclist grows aware of a disconcerting sensation where their bicycle - normally so fast and responsive - feels utterly lifeless. Where their tires feel as if they stick to the road and they just aren't getting out of the bike what they put in.

You might say that a dead road is the geographic equivalent of a bicycle that does not "plane." After all, if a bike can be responsive or non-responsive, why not a road?

Possibly the concept of a dead road is local to the UK and Ireland, as I've never heard cyclists use it in the US. But perhaps I just hadn't ridden with those over there who use it.

I was reminded of all this as I cycled along a dead road on this morning's ride, counting the minutes until it would be over. Turning the corner onto a road that was distinctly alive, I continued to climb yet felt distinctly untethered. It was a wonderful sensation. And it would have been impossible without the sensation that preceded it. So maybe the dead roads are nice after all, as they heighten our enjoyment of live ones.

32 comments:

  1. Introduce the word "plane" in a post, possibly misunderstand its meaning, wait for 70 posts about what it is. Fun.

    I hadn't heard the term either, but of course everyone knows what they are. Anyone who pays attention, that is.



    Ying/yang? Nah, couldn't be that simple.

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  2. The imagination comment - wow. The characteristics of a road that sap energy is very different from anthropomorphising a house.

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  3. Is that picture recent?

    I've read Ireland and the UK have been getting some phenomenal wind storms.

    If the picture is recent, it must not be all that cold though what with all the green and that body of unfrozen water.

    Dead the road may be, the scenery is lovely.

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    1. That particular picture was taken in September, in Donegal. The weather now is very variable - below freezing one day, balmy another. Water is hardly ever frozen, but there is often snow and ice up on the mountain. It is also very, very windy - sometimes too windy to ride. But the scenery is always gorgeous.

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    2. Do road markings in Ireland differ from those in Northern Ireland and would you know what side of the border you were on just by looking at the road?

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    3. I don't think the road markings in the Republic are different, though I could be wrong. But the road signs are, so it's easy enough to tell where you are - even though there is no border as such.

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  4. Never heard the term before but have certainly experienced roads like you explained here; I usually describe them as sucking all the energy from every pedal stroke thereby eliminating any hope for momentum... pedaling through sand, as it were. But, as you mentioned, those roads help us appreciate the good ones!

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  5. A road like this feels like swimming against the tide. so frustrating that the best thing is to avoid it. But I guess sometimes we are stubborn enough as to try to tame and conquer this bastard... A waste of energy.

    Greetings from Madrid.

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  6. There is a chunk of rail trail local to us that is dead. Dead in both directions. The trail in both directions from the dead zone is identical to the dead zone in construction, grade, and basic layout. However, there is a distinct dead zone. The tires bind to the trail, pace slows slightly, and effort increases. While I have not used the term "dead road" to describe this kind of place (I describe it as being surfaced in glue - and I don't mean the kind of glue left by a dog...), dead road is a great way to phrase it.

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  7. It gets talked about often in the context of road racing; dead, heavy or sticky tend to be the terms. That said, 'sticky', tends to be reserved for when you get patches of soft or melting tar in hot weather which are terrifying to encounter on a descent.

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  8. Your "dead road" is a metaphor for points in one's life, or at least mine. Sometimes.

    Neither the good nor the bad last forever.

    Nice ride home in the freezing rain today. Loved it.

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  9. I thought you were going to tell us about dead end roads in Ireland. But then you explain the wheel sucking surface and uphill cant. This is quite contrary to your photo, which shows breathtaking scenery.

    However, I can relate to what you describe as a "dead road".I recall some roads in Turkey that were so abrasive, unendingly uphill, they eventually reduced me to walking my bike. Very demoralizing.

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    1. Oh a pretty road can still be dead. Last place I lived, if I wanted to cross over the top of the mountain I had to climb up a series of such roads - breathtaking scenery but like crawling through sludge.

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  10. While I like the theory that the road surface itself, like the variable of tire casing suppleness, has something to do with the dead road phenomena you describe, I kind of doubt it, except in extreme heat conditions where the road gets noticeably soft.

    I suspect the main cause to be the prevailing wind direction, perhaps combined with incline. Get the right (wrong) combination, and you've got that sludge feeling. Why, even with the same road surface, are some "false flats" pure hell, when going up other, steeper sections feels like I've got more of a motor? A little push from behind in the form of a barely noticeable breeze vs. a barely registered headwind can make the difference.

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    1. No, road surface definitely plays a part.
      We have some roads in NW Sydney whose surface just sucks the life out of each stroke. They're not quite bitumen, not quite chip-seal, not quite anything. The surface is smooth-ish, yet rough from the stones that were used in sealing. Overall they're best avoided.
      The local regional road races are held on these roads and bunches that crash and go down seldom get up to finish the course.

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    2. The way the term is used here, it is mostly about road surface.

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  11. I cant help feeling that soggy isle is getting into your karma, its (bloody) hard not to feel all roads are a bit dead in the teeth of an British winter - however, expedia has breaks to the Caribbean for less than a grand for two weeks - and in st lucia dead roads feel good (realy good)

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    1. actually I was introduced to this term in the summer!

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    2. ah, yes, the British summer, the mother of all dead roads. I get the planing thing though, but think it's also a weird bike quirk, I have a rubbish old Dahon that for no good reason always glides and some more expensive bikes that just wont do the same.

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  12. Air-plane
    Sea-plane
    Road-plane
    Thought-plane
    Plane-geometry
    Cool!

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  13. Oh it's the road!! And I thought I was just out of shape!
    More doughnuts please!

    Sometimes the stretch on 3rd Avenue from the 30s to the 50s in Brooklyn on my way home from Manhattan is exactly that. Slight uphill, wind in my face from the south, nearing the end of the ride, dreary scenery underneath the elevated 278 / Gowanus Expressway. I have stopped every now and then to see if my brakes were dragging or my bearings free or bottom bracket spinning. Alas, mostly I am out of shape!

    vsk

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  14. Sewups. Very few roads are dead on sewups.

    If a lot of your local roads present as dead and you won't use sewups start experimenting with tires and pressure. Too many variables to make any guess what or which would work for you. Tires are not all the same.

    The other thing that sometimes works is to attack. Some dead roads sap an approximately fixed amount of power. The more power you throw at them the smaller the proportion of power that disappears to the suck. The extra increment of power mostly does what you expect. Other roads the harder you ride, the deeper the hole. For those roads, sewups.

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    1. I think Anon. 12:17 is onto something.

      It probably doesn't explain all dead roads but there are some that just need a good ass kickin'.

      The hill between my house and town is famous for sucking the life out of you, especially if you just did a couple of hard hours and you're headed home. I see people who are stronger than me get off and walk the last 100 yards sometimes. That climb used to just be miserable to me whenever I rode it no matter the weather, the company or if the sky was lit up in psychedelic swirling strawberry scented sunrise. I have to climb it every freaking time I go to work, the bookstore, the theater or whatever. I hated that road.

      Now I try to hit it hard halfway up and carry as much gear as I can all the way up. Now it doesn't seem "dead" as you say, more like my personal stage to privately slay monsters and save Damsels while waves of Wagner and nausea overwhelm me. Than I'm at the top and I can gleefully hammer all the way down the hill to the stinky factory that takes the goo from the poultry plants and turns it into that tasty chemical agent they include with your Ramen.

      Ahh, Chicken Ramen! The smell of VICTORY!

      Spindizzy

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    2. (I am quietly mouthing a prayer to the
      Powers The Be to spur Rev. Spindizzy
      to write that book already.)

      Never heard the term 'dead road"before, but I
      certainly know the feeling. Mentally looking ahead to the next section, or changing physical effort like Spindizzy describes has always been my way to deal with it.
      Either the road needs an ass kickin', or I do.

      I do want to try sew-ups...

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  15. Have you tried the Broad Road, the main route from Coleraine to Limavady? Not particularly steep on the uphill part but a contender for the most tedious road in Ireland

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    1. I always take the Windy Hill ("Murder Hole") Road instead, since it's less busy and more scenic.I'm surprised that you cycle on Broad Road; how do you find it traffic and safety wise?

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  16. analyzing the reasons behind every aspect of ones riding experience is too much. if you tackle the same route day after day i suspect you, as sensitive as you are, will find some life in the road that others call dead....

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  17. a term commonly used in Australia as well.

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  18. In french cycling, very common to call this a 'faux-plat'. A false flat.

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    1. We have that term too, but the "dead road" feeling is different. The ascent is pretty obvious, but compared to a normal hill there is a sensation of an unusually low responsiveness to effort ratio.

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  19. Perhaps it's as de Selby would describe riding west on an "East Road"...

    Spindizzy

    That book is driving me a little crazy.

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  20. It's very real. It's the surface. Sew-ups or clinchers, it doesn't matter. You can even hear it as you roll on it. A lot noisier. The relief when you get back on a good surface!

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