Wednesday, September 10, 2008

On riding and gravel...

Gravel... To most riders out there, the sight of this material anywhere along a curve or corner, will cause the audible, instantaneous and hermetic sealing of one's sphincter. Almost as fast as upon hearing the sound of dropping soap, in a federal penitentiary shower stall...

Let's face it, gravel is not our friend! The same can be said for sand, dirt, wet leaves and manure. Anything that will compromise the solid contact between tire tread and asphalt. Still, for as much as we loathe gravel we should all be able to ride on it, while maintaining a certain sense of comfort and confidence. Okay, to some folks, this might sound like a contradiction in terms. To those who will never ride outside the confines of their town or city, you might be able to get away with this. Just like those riders who believe that you can't ride at night and will do anything to make it home before sunset. No, you can't ride the same way that you do during daylight hours, but it can be every bit as enjoyable, if not more so. I will go on record as saying that I have had some of my most enjoyable rides at night.

When travelling far from our home turf (the very reason for owning a bike, in my humble opinion...), we will absolutely find ourselves in situations where we will have a choice to make. You hit a detour and all of a sudden it's either ride 5 or 10 miles down this country dirt and gravel road, or double back some 200 miles and find an alternate route to get where you're going. The American Mid-West is primo territory for this type of scenario.

Every now and then, I will find a gravel road and I will voluntarily take it. Our bikes are totally capable of doing this in all safety. Again, it's a matter of remembering that we can't ride the same way we would on asphalt. Once you get over your initial trepidation, there are simply a couple of things to remember and abide by:

a) Watch your speed! Keep the speed down and maintain a light touch on the controls. If you're pingin' gravel off your paint and chrome, odds are you're going a bit fast for the conditions. Slow it down... Anticipate any stopping or course alterations way ahead of time. Use the throttle and your brakes sparingly. Where possible, avoid using the front brake.

b) Relax and remember to breathe. A relaxed, neutral position in the saddle will keep your centre of gravity low and will aid in the smoothness of your other actions. Keep your feet on the pegs/boards. Learn to enjoy this part of the ride, just as you would any other.

You'll be surprised by how quickly you become accustomed to the feel of the ride and how much control you actually have. This will add to your skills and experience as a rider and will make you a more confident one to boot. Gravel on the roadside and in corners will always be a menace, but there is no reason why you cannot become comfortable riding on it, on your own terms. By doing so you will increase your confidence and become a more well-rounded rider.

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