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Commuting on Dirt?

Old 11-09-05, 02:40 PM
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Old Dirt Hill
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Commuting on Dirt?

So I've been slowly but surely increasing the distance of my commute. My goal is for a 20 mile ride to and from work. I've been scoping out the gmap website and trying to come up with a couple good possibilities and I think I'm close.

One of the routes that I trial rode the other day is pretty cool, with a good balance of hills/flats and car free for probably 80% of it. The only problem is that about 3-4 miles of it is on dirt roads. I didn't even know there were dirt roads out here in my neck of the woods, but this route is about as far out in the boonies as I've ridden.

What is your opinion of riding on dirt roads? Should I do it (assuming they're dry), or should I look for a different route?

Last edited by Old Dirt Hill; 06-17-06 at 07:47 PM.
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Old 11-09-05, 03:02 PM
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About 3 or 4 miles of my commute is dirt roads or trails. If it's dry I don't think it would be a problem, unless it's real rough. But wet is a different thing. And if cars use that road then mud becomes a bigger problem. I've been riding this one section that no cars use for months with no problems. Then the city or state sent these spray trucks and in one week chewed up the surface so much that I had to change routes. I don't know what they were doing. Looked like they were fertilizing the forrest though.

Crushed gravel holds well with traffic and rain. There are so many different dirt types around the country that this could be a hard question to answer. You'll really learn to appreciate fenders on dirt. And if it's rough, you will appreciate thread lock too. Anyways, I like my dirt section because there are no cars and I can turn on the ipod for 20 minutes.
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Old 11-09-05, 03:21 PM
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One of my commute routes is 10 miles, 8 of that dirt, some single track, some jeep trails, and some very quiet roads. Rather flat. Then I have another route 24 miles, which takes me up about 1000’ elevation gain, and of course back down. Usually used only for the way home when there is time. I really enjoy the quietness of the commute. When I am pressed for time, I have a 8.5 mile shot that has a lot of traffic, but saves me about 15 minutes, staying on pavement.
I don’t have to worry much about the rain, here along the Colorado River in AZ, we probably on see rain about 20 days a year, and it quickly soaks in.
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Old 11-09-05, 04:30 PM
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During my trial run I found the dirt to be packed pretty hard and not too difficult to ride on if I paid attention to what I was doing. It hadn't rained in a couple weeks at the time, so I'm not sure how bad it would be one/two days after a good dousing.

I noticed that I had quite a bit of dirt getting stuck in the little bit of tread I do have, although since it was during the first half of the commute, most of the dirt was long gone by the time I got home. My bike is a Trek 7200, so I'm sure it can physically handle the dirt road, I just don't want to gunk up my bike too much or screw something up because of all that dirt.

It was an extremely peaceful commute and I am looking forward to trying it again. Whether or not I'll still look for an a different non-dirt route is still up in the air. There are so many country roads in my neck of the woods that I wouldn't really be giving up the traffic free'ness of the route as much as I'd be giving up on some pretty interesting scenery.
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Old 11-09-05, 04:33 PM
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Originally Posted by unkchunk
Looked like they were fertilizing the forrest though.
When I was growing up we lived on a dirt road and the county did this a couple times each year. If I remember correctly, it's a type of chlorine they put down to limit the amount of dust that gets kicked up by cars. I wouldn't recommend riding on a road that is freshly sprayed with the stuff, although I can't tell you for sure that it's actually bad for the bike.

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Old 11-09-05, 06:48 PM
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Originally Posted by wmgardner
When I was growing up we lived on a dirt road in Michigan and the county did this a couple times each year. If I remember correctly, it's a type of chlorine they put down to limit the amount of dust that gets kicked up by cars.
I remember here in Canada the roads being sprayed a few times a year also. The chemical was and still being used to this day is liquid calcium chloride.
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Old 11-09-05, 07:11 PM
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Originally Posted by wmgardner
One of the routes that I trial rode the other day is pretty cool, with a good balance of hills/flats and car free for probably 80% of it. The only problem is that about 3-4 miles of it is on dirt roads. I didn't even know there were dirt roads out here in my part of Minnesota, but this route is about as far out in the boonies as I've ridden.

What is your opinion of riding on dirt roads? Should I do it (assuming they're dry), or should I look for a different route?
I assume you mean gravel. There are very few dirt roads anymore, not even dirt driveways.

It depends on how the road is maintained, and what kind of material they use. I ride on 4 miles of gravel road every day, and it's not bad. Sure, it's not as good as pavement, but the road commission uses gravel with clay and crushed fines, and aside from spring thaw, it can get almost as smooth as pavement. The clay+fines tire-smoothed surface can get a bit slick in the rain, so watch that.

It's rough on uphills after turns because people accellerate up them and washboard them. Also if they grade the gravel, it pulls the pebbles to the top and it's miserable to ride on for a few days until the roads push the rocks back down into the road. But OTOH in the winter most of the time there's a solid few inches of snow pack over the top and it's very smooth, though you need studs to get up the hills.

I've also seen some gravel roads that are miserable at all times.
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Old 11-09-05, 08:36 PM
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Here's another angle on dirt roads: During the dry, dust will be thrown onto your chain and wear will accelerate. You may have to wash your chain more often, and just lubing it on the bike may be detrimental by washing dust into the links.
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Old 11-09-05, 09:44 PM
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Use the route that YOU ENJOY THE MOST!

The good thing about bike commuting is that you also get to have FUN.

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Old 11-09-05, 11:30 PM
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Originally Posted by ItsJustMe
I assume you mean gravel. There are very few dirt roads anymore, not even dirt driveways.
Believe it or not, I believe these roads to be dirt. I mispoke when I said I lived on a dirt road growing up, it was gravel. These roads look like dirt to me, although perhaps they're just washed out gravel ones. I'll take a closer look this week and report back my findings.
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Old 12-19-05, 11:31 PM
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Chlorine like the stuff used in WWI or Calcium Chloride which would be bad for your skin and the bike? If someone IS using Calcium chloride for dust control (it is hydroscopic which means it attracts water which wets the dust) please let the local Sierra Clubbers know about it.
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Old 12-19-05, 11:38 PM
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Get some tires with deeper thread and have fun. It is about not using the car at this point of your project. Performance will come later. Then gears will go away too (well, I am partial for having the least amount of moving parts that is safely possible).
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Old 12-20-05, 01:30 AM
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I recently found a dirt road for my meager 3 mile commute. I haven't fallen off a bike since I was about 7 years old (I'm 29). In the past 3 days I've eaten dirt 3 times on this road. Will that cause me to change routes? No way. None of the falls have resulted in more than a small bruise so far and it's so nice not to have any cars around. I'm sure I'll learn to get through this road safely sooner or later. Of course, riding slicks isn't helping...

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