In this day and age, cycles have become more and more specialized for specific disciplines. Consequently, many people assume that road bikes can only be ridden on smooth pavement. However, you can safely ride a road bike over various off-road terrains such as gravel, cobbles, and even some dirt. All you need to do is build-up the necessary skills and be prepared for all scenarios. Throughout this article, we will discuss all the necessary considerations and give you some advice on how to make your off-road adventures with a road bike safe and enjoyable.
Off-road riding on-road bike
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Things to consider in challenging & rough off-road terrains
When it comes to navigating through any sort of terrain on a bike, the performance is mainly determined by the tires being used. For rough off-road trails, wider, knobby tires at low pressures are used. Meanwhile, on smooth pavement, you would use a thinner, smoother tire at high pressures. While you won’t be able to tackle loose dirt or mud, lighter trails such as hardpack, gravel or cobblestone should not be much of a problem.
Road bikes can typically accommodate 23c, 25c, or 28c tires. If you’re going off-road on a road bike, it’s best to fit the widest tires your bike frame will allow. Also, try lowering the tire pressure a bit. This will give you enough traction. You could also try getting tires with more of a tread. The following is some advice on how to take on some of the less-than-smooth terrains that you might encounter.
If you are pedaling down a road at speed and you suddenly notice a pothole in front, the best thing you can do is to face it head-on and do your best to maintain balance. Making a sudden swerve to one side can cause you to lose control, harming yourself and others around you. Some riders are skilled enough to bunny-hop over an obstacle. But don’t try it unless you are a pro.
Make sure to look further ahead and plan out your path in advance as you go along. It is best to try and stick to the smoothest parts of the path. Contrary to what you may think, this will also be the fastest and safest route, even though it is not the shortest. Also, since road bikes have less suspension, you should keep your arms and body relaxed to absorb some of the bumpiness.
3. Washboard gravel
This terrain is even rougher than regular gravel due to the extra bumpiness. Again, you should keep some slack in your arms and legs to act as a suspension while picking out the easiest sections to ride over. Plus, try to keep some weight off the saddle, otherwise, your rear tire will be more prone to pinch flats.
While cycling in many cities, you might frequently encounter cobblestone paths. These can be surprisingly tough to ride over, especially if it has been raining. As with gravel, it is a good strategy to keep your body loose. Additionally, you should run a higher gear and maintain momentum as you push through.
Riding on cobblestone
Tips for off-road riding on a road bike
No matter what kind of off-road terrain you want to ride through, it is useful to keep a few things in mind beforehand. We have already suggested using wider tires. Do not be too worried about having too much-rolling resistance when you are on the road. It has already been proven that wider tires have lower rolling resistance. This is why most road cyclists are switching from 23c tires to 28c tires.
Another major consideration is to stay prepared for flats. Not that you are guaranteed to get a flat, but on dirt and gravel trails you are more likely to pass over sharp objects. There is no need to go tubeless as that would not be suitable if you are riding on pavement most of the time. Simply bring a pump and an extra tube with you. Regardless, here is some advice that will help you ride off-road more confidently.
1. Remain relaxed
It’s a simple technique but you will be amazed at how well it works. Allowing your arms, shoulders, and legs to loosen up will act as natural suspension and put less stress on your bike’s frame. Also, you might feel the front wheel tend to move laterally. Instead of resisting too much, you would be better off going with it. Keep a normal grip, not a death grip.
2. Maintain momentum
Riding at a bit of speed can help you more easily get over lumps and bumps. It is important to keep pedaling as this will assist you in keeping your bike upright. Running a higher gear on the rough ground also helps with control.
3. Speed moderately
While maintaining some speed is good, too much can be dangerous. Gravel and dirt do not offer as much traction as pavement. Moreover, try not to lean on corners. You should keep your weight directly above the wheels to maintain ample traction.
4. Stay on the saddle
Mountain bikers often stand up on the bike and you might be tempted to do the same. However, doing so on a road bike will cause the rear wheel to lose traction. MTB tires are wide and knobby enough to handle it, whereas road wheels cannot. You should stay seated even when climbing.
5. Brake carefully
Make sure to not slam the brakes. This will cause you to skid and possibly crash. Since you will not be riding too fast anyway, there is no need for it. Apply the brakes gently, especially the front wheel brake.
6. Choose the line
Having long vision on off-road tracks is particularly useful. Look out for the path that seems the smoothest and try to stick to it. If you are on a dirt trail, go over the parts that have been compacted by other bikes or cars. In case you have no option but to go through the loose stuff, just keep your wheels as straight as possible and push through it.
7. Be considerate
By this, we mean that you should be aware of other cyclists around you. Even if you feel comfortable on dirt and gravel, others might not. Make sure to give other riders plenty of space while overtaking them.
8. Make sure to keep your derrière cozy
Given that you should stay on the saddle the whole time, your butt will take quite a bit of punishment. If you are riding for more than 30 minutes, you will feel soreness in your rear side. To avoid this and feel comfortable, you should invest in some padded shorts or a cycling bib.
F. A. Q.s
Q1. Does off-road cycling damage a road bike?
Ans.: As long as your tires’ sidewalls do not get cut up on sharp rocks, there is enough tension in your wheels’ spokes, your rims are not the shallow box section kind from over 20 years ago, and you do not crash, you should be alright. For lower rolling resistance, road bike tires are designed to be flexible, often at the cost of durability, especially in the sidewalls that are not touched by debris found on-road. Those sidewalls can get destroyed by sharp objects. But regular gravel multi-use paths are no big deal.
Q2. What if we ride a bike with off-road tires on the road?
Ans.: Technically, you can use off-road tires on the road and vice-versa. However, they are not designed for it and it will be a very inefficient way of getting around. Off-road tires have an aggressive tread pattern which translates to a significantly higher rolling resistance than road tires. Counterintuitively, you actually get less traction with off-road tires on smooth pavement. Plus, the softer rubber compounds used for these tires will wear out much quicker. Therefore, it’s best to use tires according to what they were made for.
Q3. Are road bikes easier to ride uphill?
Ans.: The answer pretty much depends on the gearing of a bike. We know that with a higher gear, it becomes harder to pedal but you can go a lot faster. Conversely, for a lower gear, pedaling becomes easier at the cost of speed. In general, road bikes have higher gearing than mountain bikes. Meaning, climbing on a road bike takes more effort but it will be faster than a mountain bike.
To conclude, you can go off the road on your road bike. However, only for moderate trails. Too much rock, roots, mud, or loose dirt, and your bike and its tires probably won’t be able to handle it. Hopefully, you have read the article thoroughly and found the information useful. If you remember to follow the advice given, there’s absolutely no reason why you cannot enjoy the occasional off-road journey.