Introduce your road bike to dirt to get a new perspective on your everyday rides. Enjoy miles of low-traffic routes, improve your bike handling skills and learn that the end of the pavement doesn’t mean the end to your ride. Go ahead, let your road bike live a little.
If you prefer leaving the logistics to someone else, organized dirt road rides and races offer scenic, pre-scouted routes complete with support stations and post-ride parties. Your local bike shop can suggest dirt road events near you. Anything with Roubaix in the name is generally a good sign.
» Road bikes are tougher than we give them credit for and a few simple tweaks (see Gear Tips below) can make your road whip eat up the dirt. If your bike can handle the road, it can handle a little dirt.
» Your mileage may vary. Riding dirt generally takes a little longer than the same distance on the paved roads you know and love, so plan accordingly.
» Take a chill pill. Ride with your elbows slightly bent and keep your arms, shoulders and grip relaxed. Loose surfaces require fluid body movements to accommodate changes in traction.
» When it comes to braking, moderation is key. Grabbing a fistful of brake can cause the tires to skid. Instead, gently apply both the front and rear brakes for even, controlled braking.
» To maximize control, follow well-compacted lines in the dirt and make sure you do all of your braking well before entering a corner.
» Don’t harsh your ride with the wrong tire pressure. Lowering your tire pressure increases traction and comfort on loose surfaces. The manufacturer’s recommended PSI printed on sidewalls is only a starting point and will vary depending on terrain and rider weight. In general, experts say 70-90 PSI is a safe range for average road tires.
» Finding the perfect PSI within the manufacturer’s recommend range takes trial and error, so pretend you’re Bill Nye the Science Guy and experiment by slowly dropping the pressure in 5 PSI increments until you find what’s just right for you. If you are getting bounced around on smaller bumps, your pressure is probably too high. If your tires feel squishy and slow or you get a pinch flat (when the rim of your wheel pinches the tube), add more air pressure.
» Mix it up. Since most of a rider’s weight sits over the rear tire, running the rear at a slightly higher pressure (5-10 PSI) than the front can create a balanced feel, making your rear tire less susceptible to flatting while maintaining the handling afforded with a lower pressure in the front.