Tuesday, July 18, 2017

I Am A Road Rider

This is a road. I like roads like this to ride bicycles on.
I was made aware of this post about "never riding a road bike on the road again". I took a gander, and you know what? I kind of took issue with the post, but maybe not for the reasons you might think.

First of all, I am a road rider. My roads just are not paved. Small technicality, but one many people make a big distinction on. I know that I have been a big advocate of riding gravel, but I have been careful about not saying anything about it being a completely different discipline in the general sense, because in my mind, it isn't.

Now, the manufacturers will tell you it is different, and the cycling media heavyweights will definitely poo-poo the idea that I am a "road cyclist". They have condescendingly called what I do "groad" riding and people that do it "groadies", as if it is something to be laughed at or sneered about. And whether that is actually true or not, that is the vibe that these editors and writers put out there.

I call it "gravel grinding, because, ironically, that's what the old roadies that trained on gravel called it before me. But the media wonks don't want to hear about that. They had to come up with a dumber sounding name themselves for it, and they succeeded, I might add. What a stupid term for road riding.


This is a road bike. It is pictured on a road.
The point is that the story I referenced at the top says that road riding is too dangerous. Well, yeah.......if you ride where the traffic is heavy, or fast, it is. However; we have 70,000 plus miles,  just in Iowa, of roads that are not paved. These roads have almost no traffic. These are the roads I enjoy riding all the time without fearing for my life. These are the roads I ride where I do not get buzzed by cars going 60 plus miles an hour. These are the roads where car traffic, when I do encounter it, often slows down and pulls off to the side of the road to give me more than three feet. Heck, most of the time the drivers actually wave a friendly wave at me. 

So, my question is, "Why would I want to ride on paved roads anymore?" The answer is, I do not. Because I have a resource right outside my city limits that affords me the opportunity to ride all day long and see only a handful of cars, if I see any at all. 

I can also see things I would not ever see on paved road rides. I see remote, rustic farms, animals- both wild and domesticated- and I see landmarks and natural features I'd never see on paved rides. I can ride all day by myself, or if I ride with a friend, they can ride beside me and no one gets angry about it.

That said, I did agree with the author of the tagged post above that cars are too easy to drive. Combine that with the last decade of increasingly self-absorbed cell phone usage, and you get a dangerous stew. Cyclists are not the only ones suffering from the collateral damage caused by this phenomenon. Pedestrians and other motorists are also in harms way of the "distracted driver". While some things are being done about it, and more sweeping measures should be taken, I, in the meantime, will not be found on paved roads unless it is for my commute to work.

That isn't to say riding gravel roads is completely safe from motorist doing harm to you as a cyclist. (Ask me how I know.) But I'll gladly take the odds for being hit on gravel or dirt roads against riding on paved black top roads and highways any day.


graveldoc said...

I appreciate the thoughts you've shared today, Mark. I'd like to add to what you've already so clearly stated. Having lived 99% of my life in rural Missouri, I have come to the conclusion that rural America is somewhat over-looked by the rest of the country (except during election years). What many non-rural folks don't seem to realize is that people live down those gravel roads and that much of the time the food on their tables was brought to them over those same gravel roads. Yes, they are roads and they are relevant.

Nooge said...

I agree that rural roads are safer due to fewer cars, but even though the odds are better, it only takes one incident to take a life. Your incident could have been much worse. The drivers on gravel roads near me are traveling 60 mph over blind hills and turns. And they don't slow down for cyclists.

I debate with myself all the time if it's worth the risk. When I ride alone I ride in parks, the local college campus or industrial parks so that the cars are traveling slower and I have better odds if I do get hit.

Also, the blog you linked to did say "There was a rider killed on the street I live off of a couple of years ago from a car pulling through a stop sign for this very reason. I live on farm roads which used to be our safe place to ride." So he seems to be referring to rural roads, though they may still be paved. Some states pave even light traffic roads.

No matter how you ride, stay safe. I really think having a GPS tracker sending your location to others should be used so that if you do get hit there's a better chance you get medical help in the event of a bad accident. Especially if you ride where not many cars pass and they might not notice you in the ditch.

Guitar Ted said...

@Nooge- There are always exceptions to the "rule", but again- even you admit it- the rural roads are safer due to fewer cars. I'll take those odds over slower driving, (often distracted) urban drivers any day. Does it really matter if you get killed by a car going 35mph or 60mph? Either way, you are dead. Also- if I live in fear of the "one incident", then I am not free. I choose freedom.

Rural paved roads here are not much better, so I stay away from those as much as possible, using only short bits to connect gravel with. And by the way, the highest percentage of automobile crashes happen at intersections where people, (often distracted), do not adhere to the commands of traffic signals or signs.

Anyway, I'm not going to change my ways anytime soon. I'll ride roads, just not the ones most people think of when they hear about road cycling.

Nooge said...

We all pick our battles. I just wanted to point out that even gravel roads are only so safe and my local gravel roads aren't as safe as yours.

I do want to point out that speed is mainly what kills. The energy involved in an accident is a function of speed squared. And it's relative speed that matters. If I'm riding my road bike at 15 mph and get hit by a car doing 55 vs a car going 25, the energy hitting me is (55-15)^2 / (25-15)^2 = 1500 times worse for the car going 55 mph. I would rather be hit 100 times by the 25 mph car than once by the 55 mph car.

Nooge said...

Oops. Messed up my math. It's only 16 times worse, not 1500. Makes more sense. It's still a big difference though

Guitar Ted said...

@Nooge- Yes- Gravel roads are "only so safe", but much safer than riding on higher traffic count roads. Nothing is guaranteed, but I'll take the odds of where I ride over anything paved and driven on by cars and trucks any day. If ALL of your unpaved gravel/dirt roads are driven on at the speeds you say, at traffic rates that scare you off them, then I am truly sorry for you. Move to Iowa. ;>) It's much better here.

And by the way- Since you brought it up....If you honestly think that cars are only going 25mph in residential areas, I am afraid you are being naive. And,as you so rightly point out ,being hit at above that speed dramatically increases your chances for death. See this link: http://gizmodo.com/how-likely-you-are-to-get-killed-by-a-car-depending-on-1778993900

So, add in whatever speed you are going to the likelihood that most cars are traveling in cities well above 25mph, (in my city, it is anywhere from 35mph to 60mph on city streets), and again I say to you- Does it really matter what the speed of the vehicle was if you are dead? (And even if you don't die- you are injured. No thank you.)

This also does not take in to account at what angle you get hit at.

So, we can argue back and forth all day- My point remains and I am unconvinced it is actually safer to ride on higher trafficked roads whether or not they are speed limited, in urban areas, or rural areas.

Ari said...

Nice post and I think there is a lot to debate about it. I must say that we have the right to ride on all roads that we are allowed to ride on. We shouldn't be bullied off roads. That is why we have laws and that is why we have the right to vote. Exercise those rights. Secondly I see a lot of riders out there riding 2-3 abreast when that is not right to do so. I see riders decked out in all black and wonder why they are not seen. No blinkers, no visibility and oh, also plugged into their phones and ipods listening to music. Why do RAAm riders, Trans Am riders and others not have mirrors to check on traffic from behind?
I live in Chicagoland. I am and have been enamoured with gravel for many years. But around Chicagoland we have concrete and tar roads. That's what I work with. I take precautions. I know what roads to be on and which ones not to. At 54 years old I am not letting anyone ground me.

Nooge said...

The state of Michigan has a law that gravel roads have a 55 mph speed limit unless they have so many driveways per mile. So yes, the speeds are high on basically all of them.

Anyways, I don't think we are in disagreement. Riders need to judge where they think is safe to ride. Not riding is a sad alternative. For me I feel safer on certain paved roads. I would feel safer on your roads for sure, but I don't have them.

Mr man said...

Wish I had more gravel roads to ride on. Lots of urban riders dont have much choice... I have access to lots of trail systems but use roads to get there. Someday I hopd to move out to the country. Until then... Stay safe on the roads and trails alike.

Robb Sutton said...

Hey man! Thanks for linking my article and I do appreciate your point of view. All areas are different and while we don't have a lot of gravel roads...it is all two lane farm roads around my house. Gravel road riding really isn't my thing. I am not sure if I would do it even if we had them as I would rather be mountain biking at that point. That said...some of the gravel road drivers are even worse as the roads can be narrower, they are traveling at the same rate of speed and the vehicle control is much less. On some of the gravel roads we use as connecting roads for mountain biking in North GA...it is worse than being on a busy paved road if you run into the right drivers.

The conversation is always a good one though. Hope you are doing well!