Further to my recent post about the “G” word, one reader suggested that its popularity can at least in part be attributed to the fact that many people prefer not to ride on the road due to fear. I do think there’s something to that, and I certainly can’t blame anybody who prefers not to expose themselves to the mayhem that occurs on our paved arterials. And it’s not just the cars, either, which is something I had the opportunity to consider this past Friday when I found myself in Fred mode:
I was descending a steep hill on the bicycle you see above when I ran over a bit of debris in the road, most likely a stick or something similar that had fallen from the tree canopy above. I felt my front wheel lose contact with the road surface and start to go out from under me, and for a brief second I was certain that I was going down. However, thanks to either instinct or dumb luck I managed to right myself and completed the descent with my heart still in my throat.
While no cars were involved, my close call still underscores the risks of riding on the road, in that it was the result of piloting a bicycle with drop bars and narrow high-pressure tires on a hard paved surface. Granted, my road bike setup is somewhat dated, and the wider, lower-pressure road tires currently in vogue would probably have mitigated the effect of the road debris somewhat. Also, there’s plenty to undermine you on an unpaved surface, and front-wheel washouts and the like are certainly liable to fell you on your Instagram-friendly gravel adventure. Still, between the higher speeds you’re likely to be traveling, and the lower cockpit you’re likely to be running, and of course the unyielding nature of the road surface, I’d posit that even a traffic-free Fred ride comes with enhanced risk versus riding on dirt and gravel and all the rest of it.
As I spend more and more time riding bicycles with higher-volume tires, a longer wheelbase, and an upright seating position (namely my Rivendells and my Jones) I’ve come to appreciate the fact that these attributes reduce the likelihood of my being thrown from the bike, even when riding the road. Of course, this increased preference for comfort and safety can more succinctly be described as “getting old.” Either way, on Saturday I did employ Rivendell A to ride on a variety of surfaces, including those one might characterize as “gravel:”
Another reader recently raised the question (I’m paraphrasing), “What’s the difference between a gravel bike and a touring bike?” The flip answer is of course, “The length of the rider’s beard.” But the real answer is, “Gravel bikes have skinwall tires and touring bikes don’t,” and by that definition Rivendell A is a touring bike. I remain quite happy with the Schwalbe Marathon Supremes, which are acceptably light and fast-feeling while at the same time considerably more flat-resistant than the Gravel Kings they replaced–and while the latter tire did feel grippier on the surface for which it was named I still had no trouble using the Schwalbes on “roads” like this:
After my ride, I also paid some overdue attention to Rivendell B. First, I finally cut the kickstand and kickstand bolt to length with a hacksaw and replaced the flimsy one I’d put on there out of laziness:
I also wanted to be able to move my artisanal luggage between Rivendell A and Rivendell B, and to that end I needed to fit Rivendell B with some sort of rack to keep the bag off the rear tire. So, in the spirit of trying to reuse stuff, I fitted this budget Planet Bike number I’d been using on my fixie or something:
The rack lacks the many points of adjustment of its Nitto counterparts, and in order to make it work with the bag I had no choice but to install it at an angle–which, together with the angled top tube, makes the bike look as though it’s collapsing on itself like the balsa wood tower I had to build in shop class. Nevertheless, it does the job, and you can’t tell when the bag’s on there:
I’m sure I’ll cave one of these days and get something nicer, but the basket-and-bag setup worked extremely well when we rode down to Central Park for a picnic yesterday:
By way of bragging, I’ll note my older son and his friend also rode there and back with me, meaning they both put in like a 25-mile day:
That’s nothing to sneeze at for a couple kids who haven’t started middle school yet.
Overall the city showed itself rather well and it was a pleasurable outing, though there’s always at least one doofus on the bike path:
His reaction was particularly vexing as the rider we were helping had only recently bought a bicycle and was quite frustrated, and the other rider and I were reassuring her that she shouldn’t be discouraged, that bicycle flat repair is an easy skill to learn, and that we’d soon have her back on her way.
Next time Captain Doofus sees someone fixing a bike he should feel free to stop and lend a hand.