Friday, 8 July 2011

Talk to Me About 'Off Road'...

Gravel Path, Rockport MA
Almost every cyclist I'm friendly with loves to ride off road. And when I admit that I don't love it so much, the reaction is that of dismay. "What? But you like Rivendell! But you write about randonneuring! But you showed so much promise cycling on those scenic beach trails!" Well yes... And yet I prefer pavement.

Of course, everyone has their own ideas of what "off road" is. For some, anything that's not paved qualifies. For others, only the really treacherous, narrow trails are worthy of the label. I tend to use the former definition, but often get corrected ("Oh, well that's not off road; that's just dirt roads!") - which of course only makes me feel more of a sissy. I can handle fire trails if they are packed dirt with occasional pebbles and roots, but I draw the line at loose gravel that slips out from under my tires, and trails fraught with large rocks and ditches that I need to navigate around at speed. It feels unsafe, and when I feel unsafe no amount of romantic photos or assurances that "it'll be fine!" from ride companions can induce me to go on. Maybe it'll be fine for them, but I need to think for myself and my brain screams "don't do it; you'll perish!"

Gravel Path, Rockport MA
But maybe I exaggerate. When we were in Rockport last weekend, the Co-Habitant lured me onto some trails ("we'll walk our bikes to the water") and I ended up riding on 23mm tires over dirt and gravel.  I've also found myself intentionally taking my bikes on unpaved parts of local trails lately, maybe to test the waters.

As August approaches, people are talking about the D2R2 (Deerfield Dirt-Road Randonnée) - a notoriously hilly, strenuous ride through Western Massachusetts and Vermont, held entirely on winding dirt roads. I considered trying to do the "easy" (40 mile) route, but based on the stories I hear even that might be out of my league. It would be good to read a ride report from someone whose comfort zone is similar to mine, to get an accurate idea of what it is really like.

But wait a minute, why would I even want to go to something like the D2R2 if I don't enjoy cycling off road? Maybe because I want to like it, or keep hoping that I'll like it if I just give it another chance. There is so much beauty that can't be seen from paved roads, and it's a shame to miss it. Now if only I could learn to climb and descend on loose gravel without panicking and getting off my bike immediately!


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