Wednesday, May 12, 2021

B.O.G. Series: Riding "Right" (Basic Gravel Road Riding Rules)

Evidence of traffic: Dust trails can aid you in being traffic aware.
 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! 

As we get toward the final post of the series it is time now to run through some basic gravel road riding tips concerning your safety. This can be summed up in the saying, "Ride Right". 

It's pretty basic really. When climbing any hill steep enough that you cannot see the road on the other side, you should bear to the right side as you approach the crest of the hill. This is basic, unwritten form for any driver raised in rural areas where roads do not have a marked centerline. Traffic- be that automobile, truck, farm implement, or horse and buggy all know this tenet of rural road travel. So remember: Always Crest Hills On The Right Side! 

I've seen this Rule of the Road save lives. It was during a ride I was in charge of for beginners where we had some pretty steep rollers. I made sure to strictly inform all the riders that day that cresting hills on the right side was expected. Good thing I did! There were about ten of us and just as we were about to crest a hill a big Dodge Ram truck came over the top going at a very high rate of speed. It was scary as it was, but had we had riders on the left side of the road they would have gotten blasted and would probably have died and certainly would have been severely injured. 

Along with this rule I would also caution riders to not get lulled to sleep, in a manner of speaking, and let your guard down so much due to there being so little traffic, that you don't pay attention to your surroundings. You still need to be aware and keep checking for movements. It could be the tell-tale roost of dust heading your way. It could even be an animal coming out of a ditch or wooded area. (I'll speak to dogs at the end here, by the way) Just don't think that because the roads are seemingly empty that traffic won't happen.

It's best to give farm equipment a very wide berth.
Next, it can be tough at times to hear traffic coming from behind in windy situations. Sounds can be pushed by the wind, and rushing wind by the ears can create enough 'white noise' that you almost become deaf to anything else around you. As an example, I couldn't hear a semi tractor-trailer rig coming up from behind me due to the fact that I was riding into a pretty stiff headwind the other day. Only a short blast from the driver's air horn alerted me to his presence so I could move aside to allow him to pass me. My bad! I should have been more aware. 

In groups of riders use general group ride etiquette mixed with the "Ride Right" idea and the tips outlined here. While it is fun and enjoyable to ride two and even three abreast, be very careful and watch out for traffic,because it will happen. Also, drafting can be a handful on gravel and only the most experienced cyclists should even attempt this. I would dissuade the practice myself outside of racing, because gravel surfaces can be very unpredictable. It just is not worth the increased risk to rider safety. Especially for beginners. 

Descending can be dangerous and my advice is to space yourself out, if in a group setting, and allow other riders lots of space. Things can happen pretty fast at 30mph or more, so it is best to not ride closely to other riders, if at all possible. Sudden changes in another rider's line would put you into a bind if you are too close to them. This is because making sudden reductions in your speed, or your direction of travel, in order to avoid another rider, will likely result in your losing control and crashing. This is because gravel is unforgiving and has little traction for sudden braking and maneuvering for riders trying to take avoidance measures. You just have little chance of pulling off such a move on gravel, so don't put yourself into a situation where you might get taken out. 

Likewise, if you are descending hold your line if at all possible so you do not put another rider at risk of having to try to avoid you if you were to suddenly change your line. As outlined in an earlier post in this series, it is okay to drag and feather your brakes, reduce speed, look ahead down the hill where you want to go, and be cautious. While it is fun to "grip it and rip it" at times, you should not put yourself or other riders at an unnecessary risk of crashing. 

What do you do when a dog gives chase?
A Word Or Two About Dogs: If you ride a bicycle long enough, at some point you will come across a dog or two, (or more!) that wants to bark, chase, hunt, or try to bite you. Be prepared! My best advice in the shortest form I can make this in would be to do the following. If a dog chases you out on the road:

  • Assess the situation quickly. Can you outrun this dog, (most times if it is a medium sized dog or larger, the answer is no) If you cannot, prepare to stop. Yes- Stop. 
  • Put your bike between you and the dog. 
  • Next, there are two schools of thought here- Tell the dog(s) "GO HOME!!" in a commanding voice, or talk to the dog until it calms down. 
  • If the owner comes out let them call the dog(s) off because at that point whatever you say to the dog will be a moot point- The dog will try to protect its owner unless it is called off. 
  • If you are bitten, or harassed by an out-of-control dog, REPORT THE INCIDENT TO THE AUTHORITIES. Dog owners are responsible for the control of their dogs if you are on public property (the roadway)
  • BE AWARE THAT IF YOU GO ONTO A PROPERTY YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR ACTIONS IF YOU GET BIT.  Be very careful if you need to ask for help while out for a ride and you decide to approach a residence in a rural area. I know of a few incidents where riders have been attacked and bitten by dogs when doing this. When getting attacked and/or bitten happens, and you are on another's property, the owner may not be responsible for your injuries. 

This could be a huge article, but these very basic points should be remembered and practiced for your encounter with a rural dog. (If you've never had a dog chase you while you are riding, just hold on, it will happen someday)

Okay folks! That's a brief review of the basic riding rules and some things to think about concerning dogs. By no means is this an exhaustive list or a comprehensive article on the subjects, but in order to keep it brief and easy, this is what I have for you. 

Next week I conclude the series with a Final Send-Off!


NY Roll said...

Honestly probably the shortest and most concise dog handling scenario I have read. I will add at least you did not bring up the water bottle squirting. I never understood that one. If you have time to grab a bottle, you had time to sprint it out, also you are slowing down and exposing a new point of attack. While also lowering your throat to the ground. Let's think about how dogs like to kill. If I do anything else to a dog, I talk to them and say how they are a good boy or other positive words. That sometimes disarms them enough for a better sprint. But if the pursuit is on, that tactic is too late. I want people to understand a simple thing, assume the violent dog is a rafelection of their owner. The dog has been given permission for this conduct. So if you are bitten, DO NOT GO ON THE PROPERTY TO CONFRONT THE OWNER. Just call the sheriff and wait around the next corner.

Nooge said...

I see (and warn) experienced riders violating the ride right time all the time. It’s important not just for hills, but turns also (my gravel roads have their fair share of turns). Really there’s no time that you shouldn’t keep to the right half of the road except for short stints to avoid a specific obstacle.

matt said...

It is implied in your article with the comment on steeper hills on gravel roads how quickly one can get to 30+ mph just coasting down hills. Even if you're in a flat area a steep hill into a creek bottom will get you going very fast in seconds whether or not you're pedaling so be prepared for possible loose gravel, etc. at the bottom.

Ben said...

NY Roll - I've always kind of thought the same about the often-mentioned water bottle squirt, and have never tried it. I figure in a volatile situation like that, if I have one hand on the bars and the rest of my focus on trying to squirt a dog, I'm probably about as likely to wreck as I am to hit the dog in the face.