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Cyclocross/Gravel limits - do you recce trails on an MTB?

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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.

Cyclocross/Gravel limits - do you recce trails on an MTB?

Old 03-12-17, 03:49 PM
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Cyclocross/Gravel limits - do you recce trails on an MTB?

I've just bought a Cyclocross bike (Giant TCX) and have tried taking it on a couple of trails that I saw on local maps of my area. These aren't marked as specific for any kind of bike, and I assume they are walking trails.

What I've found about 3 times now, is that often these trails have far too many rocks, tree roots or other obstacles (stairs, tree trunks etc.) to be rideable on a CX or gravel bike. Probably an MTB would handle it, but the rock gardens were just really bumpy and uncontrollable on my CX.

I'm after a nice gravel or hard-packed dirt trail, but my geography seems to be very rocky! (near Sydney, Australia).

I was wondering whether CX/Gravel riders regularly recce unknown trails on an MTB, before deciding whether to bring their other bikes?

I'm talking about terrain a bit like this:

Mt.-Balagbags-Rock-Garden.jpg


Thanks!

John
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Old 03-12-17, 07:02 PM
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I'm not saying that can't be ridden on a CX/gravel bike, but to me that seems a bit beyond and definitely in fat bike or mtb territory. Unless you're some crazy skilled trials rider, then maybe.
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Old 03-12-17, 07:18 PM
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Yeah...I wouldn't want to ride that. Not worth risking busting up my rims and it wouldn't be fun anyways so no risk/reward.
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Old 03-12-17, 07:50 PM
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1- like others, that road would be no fun for me on a gravel bike.

2- 'recce'...had to look that one up. Learned something new.
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Old 03-13-17, 12:00 PM
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That looks like what a lot of our singletrack is like in Arizona. Tires of 2 inch (50mm) or larger should handle it fine. But it's less an issue of tire width and more an issue of how choppy that stuff gets without suspension; because your tires are constantly bouncing around and leaving the ground. Over terrain like that, I appreciate what 6 inches of suspension does with my mtb, you practically glide and your tires maintain a more steady attachment to the ground.

I would not ride that stuff on a CX bike by choice. My gravel road bike currently has 1.9 inch tires, and I would think twice about it. Because of the lack of suspension and how miserable it is riding that stuff on a rigid frame.

That said, there are a lot of trails I do ride on my gravel bike. It makes for a good 'hard-mode' over regularly easy trails. And really, if your trail are groomed then CX bikes with 32mm tires are fine there too.

Last edited by cellery; 03-13-17 at 12:07 PM.
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Old 03-13-17, 12:43 PM
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There's no way I'd take a cross/gravel bike down that, that wouldn't be a lot of fun on a gravel bike. Gravel around me is mostly farm roads and improved old rail beds, basically dirt roads with sub ping pong ball sized rocks.
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Old 03-13-17, 01:06 PM
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I don't tend to scout out terrain, no. I'll take my cross bike, and if it's genuinely impassable, I'll turn around. It can be difficult to tell from a photo, but the road pictured looks ridable, just challenging and bumpy. An entire trail like that would probably be a bit much. As an occasional challenging section, something like that is fine and can be good for building skills. The Rasputitsa and Vermont Overland Grand Prix gravel races in Vermont both take on sections of Class IV road (i.e. unmaintained tracks suitable for off-roading vehicles) that are of that kind of nature. If the full length of those races took place on such roads, they would be miserable on a cross or gravel bike. As technical sectors interspersed with mostly well-graded gravel roads, they make for a nice challenge.

In general, I'm a believer in challenging myself to get better at bike handling. But it really depends on what I'm trying to do. On a trail like that, it's hard to work on high-speed handling and drifting. It's work just to move along slowly. But sometimes the low-speed hacking is what you need to work on. It's fun in a different way from zooming along on a well-groomed gravel path or road. Cleaning a tough, rocky climb on a cross bike with 33 mm tires gives a great sense of accomplishment.
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Old 03-13-17, 02:35 PM
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^What he said.

I ride my local singletrack on a cross bike but I always do one recon loop so I don't come upon a fallen tree (or whatever) at high speed.

Last edited by 50voltphantom; 03-14-17 at 07:38 AM.
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Old 03-13-17, 06:24 PM
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Get off, pick it up, put it over your shoulder and run with it until rideable terrain is found again, that is what cross is about in part.
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Old 03-13-17, 09:37 PM
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Originally Posted by mstateglfr
1- like others, that road would be no fun for me on a gravel bike.

2- 'recce'...had to look that one up. Learned something new.
Ah yes, maybe "recce" (short for reconnaissance) is a British English term. It's common in the military. Probably "recon" is more usual is US English.

And your're right - trails like that aren't much fun on a CX bike - I learned it the hard way! Think I over-heated my disc brakes trying to negotiate 20% inclines with those surfaces. In the end I walked most of it carrying the bike... a guy on an MTB cruised past me, which was a lesson in selecting the right tool for the conditions.

John.
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Old 03-13-17, 11:08 PM
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Usually no recon beyond what I can gather from online comments or google earth.

Once this almost put a 90 mile mountainous gravel ride out of reach when it began with 6 miles of almost unridable powdery doubletrack.
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Old 03-14-17, 08:18 AM
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Originally Posted by Loose Chain
Get off, pick it up, put it over your shoulder and run with it until rideable terrain is found again, that is what cross is about in part.
Yup. This is what I do.
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Old 03-14-17, 03:39 PM
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Originally Posted by athrowawaynic
Yup. This is what I do.

I ended up doing a lot of carrying - my ride ended up being good training for cyclocross, and I'm glad I bought the carbon frame now :-)
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Old 03-15-17, 09:19 AM
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skip to :50


couldn't find the clip where they were instructed to "recon the hill" & nothing more
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Old 03-15-17, 09:53 AM
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Originally Posted by dgodave
Usually no recon beyond what I can gather from online comments or google earth.

Once this almost put a 90 mile mountainous gravel ride out of reach when it began with 6 miles of almost unridable powdery doubletrack.
Like this:

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Old 03-15-17, 11:16 AM
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this past fall I began exploring trails I had never been on before. for reasons OTHER THAN recon my rides were short so I chalked them up to recon rides. I wound up going back with 1st hand knowledge & enjoying my return trips better prepared. recently saw a trail using google earth that looked like it had been upgraded from just sand to gravel & when I was on location I confirmed it. I will go back with gravel tires specifically for that particular trail. recon trips maybe aren't justified, especially since there are lots of trip reports ppl share. BUT, forewarned is forearmed, right?
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Old 03-15-17, 01:00 PM
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I can ride cross on anything I ride my mountain bike on, just slower and less fun if it is too rough. Mostly, if I can ride a ridged mountain bike on it, I'm happy enough with a cross bike. If the trail really needs a mountain bike with suspension, the cross would be a PITA. Then again, the 19lb cross bike is pretty easy to pick up and carry across downed trees and river crossings.

If I'm really concerned, I would ride it on a mountain bike first, then the cross. Sometimes ya just have to turn around if you are really going to get adventurous.
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