Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Rough Ride

Just came back in from a very pleasant 60K ride. Some of it was on gravel and dirt roads. In fact, to access some of the really nice roads on this ride, I needed to ride along the un-paved roads.

I find that many triathletes and cyclists tend to panic, when the pavement ends or the pavement gets a bit rough. I was on a large group ride a few years ago and the entire group voted to back-track about 30K to avoid riding about one kilometer on what I knew was a good gravel road!Then at Ironman Hawaii last year, there was about a 200m section of the bike course on the Queen K highway that had been roughened as they do prior to putting on the final layer of asphalt. Unfortunately they were not going to be able to get this finished in time before the race. I was surprised that this caused quite a bit of consternation and questions at both the Pro meeting and the Age- Group meeting. Some Age-Groupers, seem terrified about this stretch of slightly rougher pavement, saying they might have to dismount and walk it!!

There really is no need to panic. Riding on rougher pavement or even gravel or dirt roads should be a skill that triathletes and cyclists should master. You never know when you'll encounter rough pavement when racing and in training, and as I pointed out, sometimes the gravel and dirt roads can open up whole new places to ride.

Some things to keep in mind when hitting the rough stuff:

1. Don't panic - being relaxed is the most important thing.

2. Shift to a bigger gear on rough pavmement. This may seem counter intuitive, but by shifting to a bigger gear more weight/pressure is shifted to your legs and they are far better shock absorbers than your butt is! Pedal RPM's may drop but that is OK.

2A. On loose gravel and dirt, a higher pedal RPM may be required - so shifting to a smaller gear may be needed. The gyroscopic effect of the legs and wheels turning over will help keep you up-right.

3. Keep the weight rear-wards on the bike by riding as far back on the saddle as you can. This will improve traction in the rear and better balance the weight on the bike for rough riding.

4. Don't have a death-grip on the handle bars. Again counter-intuitive, a lighter grip is better. Let the front end of the bike do it's own thing and steer with a light touch and with very subtle movements.

5. For the really big bumps and hits, get out of the saddle slightly and let the legs fully absorb the shock.

6. On gravel and dirt roads, there is often a smooth groove - either where the car tires have been running the most, or at the fringe in the loose, fine gravel and dirt. It's often a substantially smoother in these areas.

7. If standing to climb on gravel or dirt, try and keep the weight back over the rear wheel, other wise you will spin it out and risk going down. Generally, you are better seated, and as noted in 2A - riding in a smaller gear, and keeping pedal RPM high on gravel and dirt.

8. When descending a hill on gravel or dirt - keep weight back and, using the brakes sparingly and subtly - heavy braking will cause either front or back wheel to lock-up and slide, and that's never a good thing.

9. I know that lots of triathletes like to carry lots of stuff on their bikes. If you know you'll be hitting rough pavement or gravel or dirt roads try and minimize this - if it get really rough there is a good chance it's going to come flying off.

10. Don't panic!

Hope this helps.

Picture at the top is of part of the Paris- Roubaix road race course in France/Belgium. Now that is a rough ride!

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