Monday, May 16, 2016

Call us butter 'cause we are on a roll. (Stuart Scott)

When you live in a rural area as we did for a couple of decades, cycling on unpaved roads and tracks isn't that big a deal. You do it all the time. I will admit I never expected to be going off pavement on a bicycle, with friends no less, after we moved to Miami.

When more and more of our Miami cycling friends started buying bikes to ride off pavement, we had to give the matter some thought. It turns out there are lots of gravel trails suitable for biking around Miami. Coastal Florida has a substantial system of canals needed for water control. Atop the low dikes that border the canals is double track for use by the people and vehicles that tend the system,  manage wildfires, and do, well, whatever else needs doing. Which means miles and miles and miles of gravel riding opportunities.

Some routes aren't double track; they are full-blown gravel roads. Other routes are more like wide hiking trails. Lots of different moods to choose from.

When we are riding by ourselves, we treat off-pavement riding as the cycling equivalent of hiking. Enjoy the quiet. Frequent pauses for nature watching or taking photographs. In other words, a ramble. We've done several rambles by ourselves and several with friends. When you do an off-pavement ramble, the route frequently determines the distance. Speed? Whatever. Time? Depends what time you absolutely need to get back. A few hours? More? Whatever.
Note the bicycle road sign.

Many of our cycling friends aren't fans of rambles. They want a more energetic experience. They want to ride faster than a ramble. Breaks are at designated intervals. Time and distance are factors, not "whatevers". In other words, a gravel grinder ride. Because these rides do gravel with some speed, they rattle and shake your joints and bones. The right bike and the right gear make a big difference in enjoyment of this kind of gravel riding. So does gradually acclimating yourself to it.

Our friends are enthusiastic about riding off pavement. We are too, but our little studio condominium simply cannot hold more bikes. Al and I each have road bikes, and we each have 90s-era hard-tail mountain bikes, now rigged for city riding and touring. So we are tweeking our old hard-tail mountain bikes for gravel riding. We did lots of mountain biking and off-road riding on these bikes years ago. They can do gravel just fine. But we are making changes to the old bikes to make gravel riding on them more enjoyable. New handlebars and grips for vibration damping. Slightly wider semi-slick tires to replace their current 1.5 inch slick tires.

Our hearts are with gravel rambles: enjoying nature, taking photographs, spending time with a few cycling friends. But we like the variety of more energetic group rides on gravel, too. We'll just watch the length and speed.

We're on a roll...
Gravel riding at dawn with the West Side Sunset Bandits (WSSB) in Miami-Dade (Photograph by Alex Pruna)