How to Ride Off Pavement
A Primer by the Ride Studio Cafe Dirt/Gravel/Rock/Mud Specialists
This is a handy guide to help you navigate every type of terrain and obstacle you can encounter on a fun all-terrain bike ride. This is a compilation of tips to ride better off-pavement and to stay as safe as possible. Start slow and as you feel more comfortable, your speed and enjoyment will increase significantly.
In this area, the vast majority of off-pavement riding is fun single track and fire roads. However, there are sections that are more mountain bike-ish than road bike-like due to rocks and roots. Most off-pavement riding isn't particularly well-known, but there are miles upon miles of great areas to ride that are accessible from our front door. Here are some tips for keeping your ride safe and fun.
These are narrow sections of trail that are similar to hiking trails. These trails have lots of tight turns where you may not be able to see what’s around the bend; be careful. Take your time and enjoy these sections.
Descents with Loose Grapefruit Sized Rocks
Fortunately there aren't too many of these. But, if you’ve not ridden this type of descent before, “caution” is a good word to keep in mind. Go slow and pick a safe line. Walk the descent if that’s the best way to stay within your abilities.
These can cause flats, but more important they are deceptively slippery. Morning dew loves exposed roots. Any mud on your tires will suddenly appear between you and the root, making for slick and treacherous passage. We have three recommendations:
- Ride perpendicular to the root. Treat them sort of like train tracks.
- Avoid riding off-camber roots; if the root isn’t pretty much level to the ground, avoid it.
- Lift your rear-end off your saddle and don’t pedal while your rear wheel is going over the root.
Similar to roots, wood boardwalks are deceptively slippery. There’s a reason they’re called boardWALKs. If you’re going to try riding one:
- Keep your speed steady; braking or accelerating will cause your wheels to lose traction, resulting in sliding.
- Roll very slowly because if you get into trouble you want to have as much time to react as possible.
- Steer with your handlebars; don’t steer by leaning. Keep your bike as perpendicular to the boardwalk as possible; even a few degrees of leaning can cause you to lose tire traction.
- Don't Dabble: If you put your foot down, do so very carefully. Don’t stop short. Don’t put your foot down heavily; cycling cleats are very slippery on wet wood.
You will find these around. Waterbars cross the trail to help minimize trail erosion. They can be difficult and dangerous to ride. They are often off-camber and made of slick wood. Usually there is a disproportionate drop-off on the down-side of the bar. Simply approach them slowly, with respect, and scoot your rear-end off the back of the saddle in order to keep your weight off your front wheel.
You'll quickly learn that there are many types and varieties of mud. Hopefully you don't end up wearing too much of it! Nearly-dried muddy sections can be tricky. This mud acts more like grease rather than sticky mud. These sections are fairly easy to ride but it’s worth keeping in mind if you’re rolling over roots or a boardwalk just after pedaling through mud that the muddy remnants on your tires will make any wood underfoot deceptively treacherous. Proceed with caution.
Steep & Short Climbs
These aren’t dangerous but they can be frustrating – and not something you’ll find on the road. Here are a few tricks to getting up short steep dirt climbs:
- Low gears are your friends: Get into the gear you think you’ll want in order to crest the top of the climb, not the gear you’re in now.
- Momentum is your friend: Increase your speed as you come to the climb.
- Traction is another friend: You’re likely to lose rear wheel traction. Keep your weight on your rear wheel. This is the number one cause of not getting up a short steep climb. Of course, this can be difficult because sometimes you’ll need to get your weight onto the front wheel to keep it on the ground, too.
Tires: 28c minimum width to minimize pinch flats and punctures. Slick, durable tires will work, but knobby cyclocross tires will offer you more traction and confidence, in general. Ask us for our recommendations for tires that fit in your bike and offer you the qualities you desire. Our go-to tires for road bikes are Continental Gatorskin 28c (slicks). For cyclocross bikes, we highly recommend Schwalbe knobby cyclocross tires such as their Racing Ralph 33c tires. Gears: 1:1 gear would be appreciated by most. A 34/28t gear will get you through most of the climbs found around here typically. Brakes: Make sure they are in good condition; you’ll be using them more than not. Some brakes work better than others depending on the conditions and terrain. If you are building a bike for off-road riding, ask us for our recommendations. Fenders: Good to use when it's wet and you have riding buddies you want to keep as friends. When the trails are dry, sticks are likely to get caught in the fenders so it's best to not have them on the bike.
Riding on Mixed Surfaces with Others
If you're riding with others, there are a few things to keep in mind for safety and maximizing the fun:
- Ride within your abilities. ‘First to finish’ means foregoing the fun.
- Always be ready for a sudden turn, and ride single file on the road when stringing together dirt sections. Many turns into the woods are not readily apparent from the road. Be careful when riding behind. No half-wheeling. No three riders abreast.
- Follow the leader. If you ride ahead of the leader you will get lost.
- Off-pavement leave space: Leave a couple bike lengths between you and the person in front of you.
- Be aware of people walking and parking. Most off-pavement sections and trails in the area are designated for walkers. There are times when you'll be skirting a parking lot or a school sports field. Ride defensively and expect these people to not be on the lookout for cyclists. These areas are the most dangerous sections. Ride slowly and predictably.
The Fun If you haven’t discovered the whole other world of off-pavement riding yet, we think you're in for a very pleasant surprise. If you regularly ride trails, we hope you keep your eyes out for new ones as they are everywhere. If you're up for it and feel comfortable, another "kind" of off-road riding entails taking a friend or two, getting adequate front and tail lights and going off-road after the sun sets. It's one-on-one quality time with nature. There are places you'll see and experience virtually impossible to reach otherwise!
We enjoy leading these sorts of rides. Make sure you're on our newsletter distribution list so you'll hear about our future escapes into the wilds of Lexington and beyond!