Saturday, January 28, 2012

Tips On Riding Gravel Roads For T.I.V8 (Or Any Other Gravel Event)

  Note: This is a compilation of gravel road riding tips I doled out a year ago in preparation for T.I.V7. These are still good tips for the upcoming T.I.V8, so I combined the best of both the older posts and am putting them up for your gravel riding knowledge today. Enjoy!

Gravel Road Riding Tips For Trans Iowa: Once again, this is aimed at the first timers out there, but ya'all might want to pay attention, since there might be some things I mention here which will help bring to mind stuff you may have forgotten about. 

Please read and familiarize yourself with the Race Safety & Supplies section of the Trans Iowa site here.

I mention a few things there that are in keeping with my post here, so I will not cover those again. Here you will find some basic gravel road riding tips I have learned over the years and also things I have observed by putting on seven previous Trans Iowas and from my other gravel road racing and riding experiences.

#1: Ride "Right": Just because you are in a remote, rural area, and just because there is little to no traffic doesn't mean you can relax on your road etiquette here. Ride on the right side of the road folks, especially going up a hill! Rural Iowans will expect that when they crest a hill in their automobile, that they will be on the right side, and so would anybody else coming the other way be on their right side of the road, thus preventing any accidental crashes at the summits of hills. That's how it works, so don't forget that, and don't try to push your luck out there. It could cost you your life.

#2: Don't Be A Hero: Trans Iowa is a long, long event. It isn't worth it to blow through stop signs, not pay attention at intersections, and to not wait for cars and trucks to clear out when crossing paved roads. Obey traffic signs! Stop at paved crossings and be very careful. Don't be a dick when going through towns and tick off the locals with your "get out of my way" attitude.

NOTE: If I, or any of our volunteers report or see a T.I.V8 rider violating #1 or #2 above, you will be disqualified immediately and asked to stop riding. I won't tolerate riders being stupid, ignorant, or willfully breaking laws or rules of conduct. Period

#3: "Read" The Road: It is important that you recognize the difference between loose gravel, and smoother sections of the road. Obviously, you'll want to take the path of least resistance, but I am thinking of the fast down hill sections. The ability to look further up the road and "read" the conditions of the gravel will allow you to descend with more confidence and safety. This will become imperative at night. Don't outrun your lights, and ride within your skill level. That said, reading the road will be a handy tool during Trans Iowa. Getting out and practicing this on gravel ahead of T.I.V8 would be the best bet.

#4: Take Corners Very Carefully: Generally speaking, bicycle tires and speedy gravel corners are not things that go together without mishap. Be careful going around corners and you'll be fine. Criterium style cornering will be met with a case of severe road rash!

#5: Easy On The Brakes!: Similarly, heavy, sudden braking is a no-no on gravel and a recipe for going down. Gently squeezing the levers and giving yourself plenty of room to make a stop is advised. Keep drafting distances longer, unless you can implicitly trust the riders you draft off of. If one guy or gal in a draft line makes a small bobble or slips on loose gravel, you will find yourself in a big pile up. Also, keep a light touch on the brakes while descending at speed. Too much brake and you can easily lose control and stack it up heinously. (And it doesn't take much brake to be "too much" on gravel!) Don't draft on the down hills! Especially steep ones. (Getting a gravel chunk in the eye, or a face full of dust or mud is a distinct possibility)

#6: B Road Roolz: B Maintenance roads present their own set of rules. First and foremost is deciding whether to even ride in at all! If it is wet, your best bet may be to dismount while you are still on the gravel and test the road by walking on it. You'll know within a few footsteps if you could ride it out, or not. Better to have clagged up shoes than a mud packed, 70lb bike that you have to carry!

If the B Road has a ditch, you may be allowed to pass in the grass, but if it's like the one I have pictured here, you'll be obliged to walk the entire length of it. Trust me. You shouldn't try riding on a rain soaked B Road! If it is dry, you can pass, or maybe if the sun has gotten to it after a rain, you may find parts will be rideable, but it is best to err on the side of caution here. Added to this is the fact that road obstacles like embedded rocks, holes, ruts, and even random junk are waiting to toss you off your bike or ruin your tires and wheels, and it should become apparent that B Roads deserve your respect.

#7: Road Conditions: Gravel roads in the area of the event will likely vary quite a bit. Here is a short list of what you can expect to find out there.....

  • "Normal" Conditions: Gravel roads normally have at least a "two track" of solid, packed "dirt" to ride on, and usually a three track. This is where the fastest, least resistant path for your tires will be. Along the edges and in the middle of the road, the gravel will be deeper, loose, and difficult to ride in. Remember: Ride on the right side!!
  • "Fresh" Gravel: This is something you will see in patches, (repairs to a gravel road), for several hundred feet, or up to several miles. Fresh gravel is loose, chunky crushed rock, (generally limestone, or other native rock), laid across the entire roadway. This will present a much more resistant path for your tires, and skinnier tired, lighter bikes will be most affected by it. You'll want to scan and hunt for the best lines, but "Ride On The Right Side"!!
  • "Damaged" Gravel: This can be anything from frost heaves, (a few inches or a foot of heaved up earth that is the consistency of thick flour), ruts, mud patches, or wash outs. Be very careful to avoid all of these. Depending on the weather, these can be rather prevalent features, (T.I.V4), or not, (T.I.V5).
  • "Peanut Butter" Gravel: This usually occurs if it rains. And it feels just like you might imagine. Sloppy, nasty, and wet. Not much one can do here but grin and bear it. On second thought, do not grin. You'll get a nasty mouthful of gritty stone in there!
#8: Weather: I've experienced just about everything out there on gravel roads in terms of weather. The worst can be downright nasty. Most of it is survivable. However; there could be an event where your life is in danger. Here is the excerpt from the Race Rules to read here that deals with what we will do in case of severe weather events:

16: Weather Related Stoppage and Time Cut Off Rule: In case of severe weather during the event, we will do the folowing things so you can act accordingly. Remember: YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOURSELF!! If the sky is falling, or you see Dorothy's house go spinning by your head, you should take appropriate actions to protect yourself. We will not be responsible for ill advised heroics in inclement weather. Be smart, or be pig fodder! This is only given out so that you as an event participant will know what our actions will be in regards to keeping tabs on your progress and what will be done with prizing. Weather related cancellation of the event will be enforced at the checkpoints. All participants will be directed as to where and when any prizing will be distributed at checkpoints by our volunteers. If you pull out before a checkpoint, you will need to contact the Event Director to find out if the event is being terminated. Results will not be tabulated if we have to stop the event. If cut off times to a checkpoint are not met by any event participant then the event will be terminated and all will be considered as DNF's. Prizing will be distributed by raffle to the remaining participants in the event at the time of stoppage or when it becomes clear that the cut off times will not be met. Must be present to win. Decisions of the event directors is final.
So, as you may have noticed, Rule #16 deals mostly with what we do with prizing, and little to do with anything related to you, the rider. That is because you need to use your own best judgment in these matters. As stated in Rule #16, " should take appropriate actions to protect yourself", and we mean it. You Are Responsible For Yourself!! Get in the ditch, knock on a farmers door to ask for shelter, or call in the cavalry, but DO NOT EXPECT TRANS IOWA OR ANYONE CONNECTED TO IT TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY! Don't be stupid. Trans Iowa is not worth risking your life for in the instance of severe weather. (Or for any reason, for that matter)

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