Wednesday, February 24, 2021

B.O.G. Series; Why Ride Gravel?

 Welcome to the Basics of Gravel Series (B.O.G.)! In this series I will attempt to bring a very foundational knowledge of gravel and back road riding to anyone reading that may be curious or a beginner in riding off-pavement, but not wanting to be mountain biking. There will be a new entry every Wednesday until the series is complete. To see the schedule, click this LINK. Thanks! 

This is gravel.
Why Ride Gravel?

With miles and miles of smooth, paved roads, why would anyone want to ride on gravel? It's dirty, dusty, rough, and uncomfortable. All these things are true. Pavement is a lot faster, smoother, and more fun- IF you aren't getting buzzed by speeding cars, afraid for your life, or getting abused in other ways like getting yelled at, having things thrown at you, or getting 'coal rolled' by some numbskull in a diesel truck. 

Maybe you are just tired of the attitude on the local group ride. Maybe the urban bike trails are getting boring. Perhaps you are in need of a new challenge. If any of that is you, there are a ton of gravel roads waiting for you. 

I used to ride road bikes on the road a LOT. I've toured across four states unsupported, and I've done RAGBRAI and other paved road rides. I LOVED riding paved back roads, but with today's distracted drivers, seeing others getting buzzed, hit, and even dying, I decided that it was more prudent to be on mostly deserted back roads which are not paved. Once I made the commitment to riding gravel, I was hooked. Here are a few of the reasons why:

  • Super low traffic counts, and when you do encounter vehicles, they are more often than not piloted by friendly people. 
  • Beauty and Peacefulness. Gravel and dirt roads take you places you will never see on pavement, plus the peacefulness of the rural areas is beyond description. Need a break from social media madness, your rat-race job, or life in general? Get off-pavement! 
  • Challenging Riding: Generally gravel and dirt roads follow the contours of the land. It is more challenging, but that just means that your riding will be more rewarding. Challenges are good things! 
  • Gravel riding will make you a better bicyclist. The contours, the varied nature of the surfaces, and dealing with various situations which gravel riding brings with it will stretch you as a cyclist and improve your bike handling skills. These things will translate to all areas of cycling you choose to pursue. 
  • You can enjoy riding abreast with others, converse, and not be in the way or potentially become a road hazard. Obviously, you still need to be alert, but gravel riding is a social activity if you want it to be. It lends itself to that in a much better way than paved riding.
  • Flora and Fauna: The rural areas are ripe with animals and plant life you just don't see off paved roads and certainly not in cities. Depending upon where you live, off-pavement riding can open up an entirely new world to you in terms of wildlife and plant specimens. 
  • Lots of Places To Ride: Many states have tons of off-pavement roads to explore. Here where I live we have upwards of 70,000 miles of gravel and dirt roads to ride. While Iowa is one of the top states for off-pavement riding, your state probably has a lot of hidden gems to explore. Elsewhere in the world off-pavement riding can take you to some really interesting places. 

 Obviously gravel riding is one of the hottest trends in cycling right now. That may be a reason as well why you'd want to check it out. Now with all that said, gravel road riding is not for everyone. If you try it, or have tried it, and it just doesn't trip your trigger, well that's perfectly fine. You are not crazy. But good on you for giving it a go. 

Now, if any of the above hits your heart right and seems to be a good idea, the following articles in the series will hopefully get you sent off on the right track. There always are deeper dives into any of the topics I am going to cover, but I'm going to hit the highlights and send you on your way, hopefully, on an adventure that will bring you much joy and growth as a cyclist and as a person.

Next Wednesday: What Bike To Use


NY Roll said...

I think something that is overlooked is how often are the same gravels ever the same experience? NE Iowa always offers a unique experience. You can be riding a super fast stretch of gravel on your usual route, make a turn and hit fresh gravel. Or in the winter, hit a snow drift. Even with a heavily used route, seldom are the route conditions the same. That is pretty cool and offers variation to the experience.

hank said...

GT, Howdy;

As a diesel truck owner and someone that also enjoys a good bike ride when I can I just want to say this, "Rollin' Coal" isn't something responsible diesel drivers like/want to do. Also, most States have the EPA regulations for it to be illegal. That said, after being forced to follow a solo 'cyclist' on a back country road for any amount of time either due to oncoming traffic or the 'cyclist's taking their fair-share in the middle then when the diesel driver accelerates rapidly to 'get around' said 'cyclist' there may be some extra fuel build-up that is expelled during that acceleration. That does not excuse the cloud, just trying to explain part of it. Also when in a State such as mine 4-wheelers are required to give a 3' clearance when passing a bicyclist, it is difficult to do when the bicyclist is riding 4' out on a 8'-10' wide road which only leaves 1-3 feet for a passing 6-7' wide truck to fit in. "Rolled smoke" generally has at least 1 of those components. Of course there are the idiots that do so because they think it's kool. I feel those types shouldn't procreate. Have a nice day, I enjoy your Blog every morning along with the first cuppa coffee.
hank in Southwest N.M.

Guitar Ted said...

@N.Y. Roll - We're getting ahead of ourselves here. Sit up..... :>) This is for the beginners and new-t0-gravel folk. I'll come around to gravel conditions/routes later.

@hank - First of all, Thank You for reading here. I really appreciate that. I've been through the Eastern half of New Mexico and loved it. This from a car as we were traveling to El Paso down Rt 54. And I've been through Clovis and up by Cludcroft as well. Beautiful area! Anyway...

I get that most diesel owners are not "that guy", but as they say, it only takes one bad apple..... Same goes for cyclists that are bad examples. We are not always our own best ambassadors. I'll admit that too.....

Ben said...

Good start to the series and great reasons to ride gravel roads. I look back now and it's kind of funny the reason I started riding gravel roads as an adult (although used to ride them as a farm kid in southern Iowa since other than on foot, that was my only way to roam around for many years) was mainly when doing a shuttle for canoe or kayak float trips on a creek/river. Got to enjoying that part of the "float" enough that I figured I'd start doing rides like that sometimes without the "boating part".

Skidmark said...

Greets GT, what is the reason vehicle drivers have trouble just getting in the other lane and passing? They pass cars like that all day long.

Chilly Willy said...

@Skidmark Some people just can't seem to deal with other people being happy and enjoying themselves. I really think that seeing someone else having a good time just triggers some people to be the worst that they can be.