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Help me suck less at riding on dirt/gravel

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Cyclocross and Gravelbiking (Recreational) This has to be the most physically intense sport ever invented. It's high speed bicycle racing on a short off road course or riding the off pavement rides on gravel like : "Unbound Gravel". We also have a dedicated Racing forum for the Cyclocross Hard Core Racers.

Help me suck less at riding on dirt/gravel

Old 12-16-16, 06:06 AM
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I'll add that I don't think you need a different bike for what you want to do. But as mentioned, experiment with lower pressures on bad surfaces.
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Old 12-16-16, 07:46 AM
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does your bike fit you? have you had a knowledgeable person adjust everything on the bike so it fits you? if not, start there.

otherwise, just ride more. you get better at riding your bike by riding more. riding on gravel roads should be only slightly more difficult than riding on paved roads. if that's a problem, your bike does not fit you or you just need to spend less time typing and more time riding.
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Old 12-16-16, 08:03 AM
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Originally Posted by stevelewis
Thanks for the wisdom and encouragement everyone! Just gotta be patient and put in the miles to get the hang of it.

To answer dgodave: I got the gravel bike because that's what most of the people around here ride those roads on. I actually considered a hardtail MTB but everyone advised that I just get the crossbike instead. Of course, they have years of experience riding gravel/dirt on cx bikes!
Ah, then youre probly on the right bike in the long run. I'd just ride the biggest tires the bike will accept, with a little grip, and keep em a bit soft.
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Old 12-16-16, 01:11 PM
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Originally Posted by 12strings
I would say first thing, go to a road like that and practice skidding your rear wheel on purpose. First going straight, then while turning. You will learn to be comfortable with a skid, but also you'll realize when it actually stops skidding and bites again. Knowing that feeling will give you confidence.
solid advice with the added benefit of extra fun having!
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Old 12-17-16, 03:44 PM
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Originally Posted by stevelewis
So I've been a road biker for 2 years now. Never owned a MTB. I wanted to start riding the great gravel/fire roads in my area.... so many picturesque and challenging gravel rides around here. (Santa Barbara, CA)

So I got a nice bike, the Niner RLT 9 with 40c wtb nano gravel tires. Running tubeless @ 40psi. My problem: I suck at riding on anything other than smooth tarmac. These fire roads and gravel roads are strewn with small rocks and stones and I basically feel like I'm going to lose control and crash every ten seconds. I have no traction, rocks make the bike skip around. The rear wheel spins out sometimes, cornering is.... unpleasant. I feel like I'm going to tip over whenever I hit a patch of loose dirt or rocks.

How can I get comfortable with riding off-road? Any bike handling tips? Thanks
I live in your neck of the woods, SY Valley, what roads are you riding out of curiosity?
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Old 12-18-16, 07:04 PM
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Yes, in sure bike fits because I got a pro bike fit done on road bike and transferred it over.

Roads are: Arroyo burro, Angostura, West Camino Cielo, Romero Canyon.
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Old 12-19-16, 11:35 AM
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Originally Posted by stevelewis
Yes, in sure bike fits because I got a pro bike fit done on road bike and transferred it over.

Roads are: Arroyo burro, Angostura, West Camino Cielo, Romero Canyon.
For what it's worth, I like my gravel bikes set up with a slightly higher and closer handlebar position than on my paved road bikes.
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Old 12-20-16, 08:30 AM
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even after riding for almost 4 decades, I sometimes have to remind myself that the bike knows where to go. Or rather, it will stay up better than I can force it to stay up. Deep gravel is disconcerting while descending. Slipping the rear tire is annoying uphill, but it doesn't really hurt much. Now that I ride a lot of gravel, I almost never stand up on a climb.

After a while you get used to just letting the bike do its thing when things get squirrelly. The problems happen when the front wheel gets steered by something on the ground, like a deep rut. The back wheel can be all over the place and you will never go down. I'm sure it will take you some time to get used to it. Maybe practice doing back wheel skids.

As far as downhill turns, there is no shame in going slowly.
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Old 12-20-16, 09:56 AM
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Originally Posted by stevelewis
Yes, in sure bike fits because I got a pro bike fit done on road bike and transferred it over.

Roads are: Arroyo burro, Angostura, West Camino Cielo, Romero Canyon.
Hard to beat the views on any of those roads. The only thing I can add is try lowering your tire pressure a bit, possibly in the low to mid 30s for more traction.

Maybe experiment with different tires, I'd give the 38c G Ones a try at some point.
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Old 12-20-16, 10:29 AM
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Originally Posted by stevelewis
Yes, in sure bike fits because I got a pro bike fit done on road bike and transferred it over.

Roads are: Arroyo burro, Angostura, West Camino Cielo, Romero Canyon.


Lucky you. I was in Goleta on vacation and did Gibraltar, wanted to take East CC over to Romeo Cyn but was on a heavy rental bike with 23c tires so stuck on roads. Someday I need to go back with a proper bike.
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Old 01-31-17, 10:37 AM
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Sorry to resurrect a previous thread, but, along similar lines the the original poster, I'm trying gravel racing this year, after riding some road races last year. One of the first things I noticed in south Kansas, the gravel has wash boarding. This shakes the heck out of me, such that I've nearly lost grip on the the bars and the severe shaking actually gave me a headache. I feel concussed after riding fast down these roads. The country side is beautiful, but the pave is terrible. I have new respect for those Tour de France riders on that Paris Roubaix leg. I'm using a flexy steel bike with 26 x 2.1, soft tires. Still, the ride is a challenge. I'm signed up for 5 races, including the DK50, so we'll see if I get used to it. If not, I'll go back to smooth-road riding.
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Old 01-31-17, 11:03 AM
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Washboarding is no fun, but it's very common on Kansas dirt roads. I'm not sure what the solution is, except to seek out roads that don't washboard. I lived in Pratt County for 10 years and my wife grew up in the Derby / Rose Hill areas. It seemed to me that when north/south roads washboarded, the east/west roads weren't bad, and vice versa.
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Old 01-31-17, 11:56 AM
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On my rigid bike I deal with washboarding by getting my weight off the bars and back behind the saddle. Helps make my body a spring so I absorb more than if I stay up front. I also try to brake before the washboarding and ride let my intertia or gravity guide me through at a comfortable speed if it's downhill.

But really I rarely see any washboarding on my rigid bike is mainly for flatter events/routes. For events/routes with significant elevation and subsequent washboarding that is common there I ride my drop-bar hardtail MTB. Probably not a helpful solution but have a front suspension fork really helps with dealing with it!
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Old 01-31-17, 12:00 PM
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Our local MUP has quite a bit of gravel/chat trail alongside the paved trail. I enjoy riding most of it but there are some washboard ruts and diagonal ruts on a camber that can feel rough and sketchy, especially when filled with loose sand and pea gravel.

On my 1990s rigid fork mountain bike I find myself choosing lines more carefully to minimize plowing when those sand/pea gravel ruts grab the wheel. Even with 700x42 tires at lower pressure it still demands full attention. And I often end up with an aching neck (old C2 vertebrae injury from a car wreck).

So occasionally I prefer my heavier comfort hybrid with long wheelbase and spring suspension fork. Besides the wide, soft tires, that simple spring suspension forks handles washboard ruts beautifully and with less stress on my neck and back. The bike is heavier but I'm not going that fast anyway and there are only a few hills steep enough to feel the weight.
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Old 01-31-17, 12:42 PM
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Tour Divide winner Josh Kato has some comments about washboarding and using a Lauf fork here:

Josh Kato's 2016 Tour Divide Rig & Gear List - BIKEPACKING.com

I wonder how much better it could be than a regular air fork? I don't really have any issues using my Fox air fork but probably because the washboarding I see is often less than 45 seconds at a time.
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Old 01-31-17, 02:58 PM
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Originally Posted by stevelewis
So I've been a road biker for 2 years now. Never owned a MTB. I wanted to start riding the great gravel/fire roads in my area.... so many picturesque and challenging gravel rides around here. (Santa Barbara, CA)

So I got a nice bike, the Niner RLT 9 with 40c wtb nano gravel tires. Running tubeless @ 40psi. My problem: I suck at riding on anything other than smooth tarmac. These fire roads and gravel roads are strewn with small rocks and stones and I basically feel like I'm going to lose control and crash every ten seconds. I have no traction, rocks make the bike skip around. The rear wheel spins out sometimes, cornering is.... unpleasant. I feel like I'm going to tip over whenever I hit a patch of loose dirt or rocks.

How can I get comfortable with riding off-road? Any bike handling tips? Thanks
Heavy feet loose hands. Relax. Let the bike bounce under you. lift your butt up a bit "float" over obstacles. Get loose and use your legs and arms as built in suspension.

Don't death grip the bike. Its a "saddle" not a "SEAT"
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Old 02-01-17, 04:29 AM
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Originally Posted by Craptacular8
For the most part, I guess I just got use to the wiggly feeling.

Reminds me of the first (group) ski lesson I took. We were all in a line, having practiced getting up off the ground. Down the line, the instructor was talking to a woman. Couldn't hear what she said, but from the instructor:
"Slippy?"
"They're supposed to slide."
"If you don't like the sliding feeling, you might want to try something besides skiing."

Maybe the answer is to embrace the wiggliness, but as always, keep your eyes down the trail. I don't have a cross bike yet, and have only been on dirt trails a couple of times, but my first experience was on a fixed gear bike. I think that actually helped, because with fixed, you WILL keep pedaling and keep rolling. It's not tentative, it's sink or swim, and the evenness of it sort of calms the nerves. It only got unnerving when the riders in front slowed down. and I wasn't prepared to
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Old 02-01-17, 07:37 AM
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Originally Posted by kbarch

Reminds me of the first (group) ski lesson I took. We were all in a line, having practiced getting up off the ground. Down the line, the instructor was talking to a woman. Couldn't hear what she said, but from the instructor:
"Slippy?"
"They're supposed to slide."
"If you don't like the sliding feeling, you might want to try something besides skiing."

Maybe the answer is to embrace the wiggliness, but as always, keep your eyes down the trail. I don't have a cross bike yet, and have only been on dirt trails a couple of times, but my first experience was on a fixed gear bike. I think that actually helped, because with fixed, you WILL keep pedaling and keep rolling. It's not tentative, it's sink or swim, and the evenness of it sort of calms the nerves. It only got unnerving when the riders in front slowed down. and I wasn't prepared to

Haha, good analogy. I started out on a hard tail mtb, which probably helped me embrace the wiggles. Not sure I even notice them anymore. I am however gun shy on ice....I think I'm putting studs on the mtb next winter for my icey rutted commute, as the light duty studded 35's are not confidence inspiring.
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Old 02-01-17, 03:07 PM
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I've found that most of the time the washboarding is only for short sections. Every once in a while I'll hit a road where the washboard is seemingly endless, but that's uncommon.

However, I'm in northeast Kansas and I have no idea what the roads gravel around Andover is like. But maybe you're just on the wrong roads?

Originally Posted by Vortac180
Sorry to resurrect a previous thread, but, along similar lines the the original poster, I'm trying gravel racing this year, after riding some road races last year. One of the first things I noticed in south Kansas, the gravel has wash boarding. This shakes the heck out of me, such that I've nearly lost grip on the the bars and the severe shaking actually gave me a headache. I feel concussed after riding fast down these roads. The country side is beautiful, but the pave is terrible. I have new respect for those Tour de France riders on that Paris Roubaix leg. I'm using a flexy steel bike with 26 x 2.1, soft tires. Still, the ride is a challenge. I'm signed up for 5 races, including the DK50, so we'll see if I get used to it. If not, I'll go back to smooth-road riding.
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Old 02-01-17, 05:19 PM
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Originally Posted by kbarch

Reminds me of the first (group) ski lesson I took. We were all in a line, having practiced getting up off the ground. Down the line, the instructor was talking to a woman. Couldn't hear what she said, but from the instructor:
"Slippy?"
"They're supposed to slide."
"If you don't like the sliding feeling, you might want to try something besides skiing."

Maybe the answer is to embrace the wiggliness, but as always, keep your eyes down the trail. I don't have a cross bike yet, and have only been on dirt trails a couple of times, but my first experience was on a fixed gear bike. I think that actually helped, because with fixed, you WILL keep pedaling and keep rolling. It's not tentative, it's sink or swim, and the evenness of it sort of calms the nerves. It only got unnerving when the riders in front slowed down. and I wasn't prepared to
Yep, that's what I finally learned to enjoy about gravel. The exhilarating skittish feeling, and the vibration. It *feels* faster, even when loafers on city bikes are passing me on the adjacent smooth paved path. I don't push quite to the edge of losing control, but I can see why younger and more experienced riders do.
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Old 02-01-17, 06:25 PM
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I rode again yesterday, using some of the above advice. Better.
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Old 02-01-17, 06:46 PM
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I was told by some experienced riders that you should ride a heavier gear than normal on washboard. Higher chain tension makes it less likely to throw the chain. It has worked for me.
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Old 02-01-17, 07:28 PM
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I think I might bargain for a section of old spike harrow in some farmers trees and make a groomer to pull behind the pickup. But then again I guess it might get eaten up pretty fast pulling it 25 miles down a gravel road.
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Old 02-01-17, 07:36 PM
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If you're not already convert your wheels to tubeless and get the psi below 50.

For me I feel the washboards worse when I slow down. I actually try and accelerate over them if I can. Don't get me wrong there are some washboards out there that will take you down.

You also need to be constantly looking down the road for the optimum line in the gravel. Rarely is the entire road a washboard but, you need to recognize where the line is plenty far in advance.

Finally, if your ready for ride some gravel at night, its scary at times but it does help you get used to gravel.

Washboards don't bother me near as much as the chunky monkey stuff or the occasional hidden soft spot.

Last edited by Planemaker; 02-01-17 at 07:40 PM.
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Old 02-01-17, 11:13 PM
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Pro tip:

Ride the edge of your tire and lean into the corner instead of steering. For a left turn you want to 1) put your right foot down and apply weight 2) put weight into your left hand equally 3) Put the saddle into your left inner thigh. And reverse for the right turnů.
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