A Different Approach

Nov 29, 2012 View Comments by

Sometimes distilling a problem down to the barest essentials leads to clarity of thought and surprising answers. One problem confronting those who enjoy short rides around home is how to keep these rides on familiar roads enjoyable. Let’s start by asking, what makes a ride enjoyable?

The most common answer to this question would probably be good roads. It’s tough to imagine a great ride without a good road to ride on. Next question: what makes a good road? Common answers to this question would include good scenery, low traffic, challenging terrain such as curves and hills, and possibly the ability to ride a bit aggressively (while exercising good judgment) without undue concern.

For those of us who have lived in the same area for years or even decades, finding roads that meet the above criteria can be tough. Even great roads can lose their luster after they’ve passed under your wheels a couple of hundred times. There may be an answer right under your nose, however, once you look at the problem from a new angle.

Does your area have a network of dirt and gravel roads? Here in southern Ohio, there is an interconnecting maze of such roads that look like a spider web on a county map. Many of the roads are only a mile or two long, and there are dozens of road combinations that will send you to the same destination. I often find myself “lost” a mere fifteen miles from home on a new road in spite of having ridden the area extensively for over thirty years.

It is possible to ride for hours on these roads without seeing another vehicle, all while passing through some of the best scenery in the state. Frequent wildlife sightings add to the fun, and I once had a fox pop out onto the road and trot along behind me for a mile or so. Need an adrenaline rush “fix?” Roll on the throttle while exiting a corner and feel the back end drift a bit or tackle a “no maintenance” section of road with erosion ditches and protruding rocks.

What’s the price of admission to this self-controlled amusement park? A used dual-purpose bike commonly found for two to four thousand dollars will get the job done, and the bargain doesn’t stop with the purchase price of the bike. Insurance and maintenance costs will also be much lower than with typical street bikes. There are other payoffs as well. First and foremost, you’ll quickly improve your overall riding ability by mastering loose-surface riding. Occasional loss of traction on the street is much less intimidating after you’ve been losing it on purpose while riding gravel roads. You’ll also re-energize those afternoon rides, knowing that you’ll probably find new roads on each ride for years to come.

The bottom line is this: giving backroads a chance makes sense for a lot of different reasons, and I’m always at a loss as to why more riders don’t explore this facet of our sport. Although I don’t want my favorite roads to become crowded, they can certainly stand a substantial increase in traffic, especially if it’s of the two-wheeled variety. Anyone care to give it a try?

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