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Think I found the "off road" limits of my CX bike.

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Think I found the "off road" limits of my CX bike.

Old 09-02-17, 06:44 PM
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Think I found the "off road" limits of my CX bike.

I've been wanting to try to "gravel riding" with my Giant TCX, which I normally use for commuting, and finally got out to my local national park (Ku-ring-gai, to the north of Sydney) to try some trails in the region.

Despite doing a fair bit of research and even doing a recon visit of two of the trails on foot, I found the reality of riding these trails to be much harder and less fun than expected.

At first glance, or from photos, the trails appear to be mostly 3-4 meter wide undulating paths of hard packed dirt with a few "large gravel sized" stones, and some flat rocky areas. I thought "I could ride this on my CX bike pretty easily" - even when I was walking along it.

The reality is that going over rocky ground of varying surface material & quality, particularly where there are fairly steep, albeit short, ascents and descents is a lot harder than I thought. Choosing a line between bigger stones or rocks, avoiding ruts and watching out for patches of sand (where I almost lost my front wheel a few times), is hard work. I could only manage about 10-15kmh for most of the way and I doubt I exceeded 20kmh (14mph) very often, if at all.

All in all, it was a jarring, uncomfortable, slow experience that took a lot of concentration and considerable strength to control the bike. I only went about 17km in these conditions, on two different trails, and then moved back to the road. The trails I tried might be quite pleasant on a mountain bike, however, and a few MTB riders passed me (probably shaking their heads at my choice of bike).

I had imagined that I would find some relatively rideable packed dirt or fine gravel straight roads that I could cover some distance on, but I clearly chose the wrong place. I believe there are such roads further inland where the terrain is less rocky, so I'll just have to search for them.

I think I've learnt from the experience and have found at least my personal limit for comfort. A few observations:

1) Sand is really hard to cycle through! I'll try to find a safe sandy area to practice my handling skills.

2) Slick tires, even fat ones, are hard work on dirt/sand and often lose traction, particularly up hill. I had read that for gravel, width is more important than tread, but where the surface is so variable (dirt, stones, flat rock, mud, sand), I think a more agressive tire tread would be helpful.

3) On long descents, I was braking nearly 100% of the time, and my disc brakes got really hot, so I stopped a few times to avoid doing any permanent damage.

4) A long-stemmed road bike geometry is quite hard to steer through technical terrain that need lots of fast adjustments to line. What works on the road isn't ideal on the trail.

5) My 1x11 40T/11-32 could barely get me up some slopes, and I spent 80% of the time in my lowest gear. For this terrain you really need lower gears.

I'll have to look further afield if I want want to try my hand at "US style" gravel riding, or learn how to ride an MTB - better get some baggy clothes first, though, so I'm not laughed at for wearing my bib-shorts and Lycra :-)

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Old 09-02-17, 07:00 PM
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I wear bibs and trail shirts when mountain biking and I know a ton of people who wear bibs with tight fitted cycling jerseys while doing it. You're good on the kit. lol

I know exactly what you are talking about with regard to your route. I get into that stuff sometimes on my cross bike but luckily have a 36x32 as a low gear...still, it isn't really enough and I wind up grinding up stuff. Basically you are riding under-biked, which in a lot of ways makes it more fun. IMHO, of course. You will go slower, but as you found out it is really challenging.

If you ever ride a single speed mountain bike, you will realize you stop stressing over your gearing and just stand and grunt up the stuff.

good job!
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Old 09-02-17, 08:36 PM
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Sometimes you just need a mountain bike.
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Old 09-02-17, 09:08 PM
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Start off easy and work your way up to the more difficult trails.

Trails I could not ride at first are now enjoyable after only six months.

It will become more fun as you gain experience and strength and the specific type or brand bike will matter less.


-Tim-
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Old 09-02-17, 09:37 PM
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I find my MTB a lot more fun on singletrack. Which is too bad, because there is one trail that would be really nice to ride to gravel. I might try it again. I agree on the gears, I have 28-32 low gear and I use it a lot on a trail. I don't worry much about how fast I go, that's not what I find fun.
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Old 09-02-17, 09:43 PM
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I have found the same as the OP, especially on steep gravel downhills. I can fly on the same hills riding one of my MTB's. My CX brakes get a real workout and I don't think the rotors will last very long. What I do really like about the CX is that I can take shortcuts or just take a different route off of the blacktop and take to the gravel. We don't have the nice groomed gravel roads around these parts, so speed is not expected.
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Old 09-03-17, 02:20 AM
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I hear what you're saying on all points.

Gravel and I means only one thing: exploring around at a generally slow pace.

Had a bit of a read about the TCX this morning, mentioning the fork seemed rather compliant.

If I had your bike for those conditions I'd put at least 45mm tires on with small side knobs, and consider a ShockStop up front.
Can't remember if the seat post is proprietary, but a VCLS2.0 would be nice.

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Old 09-03-17, 05:16 AM
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What tires and pressure?
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Old 09-03-17, 10:13 AM
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Switching out to a 10-42t cassette and long-Cage derailleur wouldn't hurt either.
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Old 09-03-17, 06:42 PM
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Originally Posted by Spoonrobot
What tires and pressure?
Schwalbe Marathon Supreme 35mm @60psi. They inflate to about 37-38mm.

I could go wider on this bike - maybe up to 45mm. I have some Clement X'Plor MSO 40mm to try later, and I think these would have been better on this ride. Not sure if I can run these tubeless, which is another option to get a lower pressure.
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Old 09-03-17, 06:45 PM
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Originally Posted by ATPAH
Switching out to a 10-42t cassette and long-Cage derailleur wouldn't hurt either.
Yes, I have thought about this as a long-term project when my current cassette needs replacing. I think I'd need the XD driver to convert the hub to allow the larger cassette - or so I've read!
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Old 09-03-17, 07:12 PM
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You've run into a skill limitation more than an equipment limitation. But really, get yourself a full suspension MTB and have some real fun on those trails. N+1 is your friend.
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Old 09-03-17, 09:59 PM
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Originally Posted by BluesDawg
You've run into a skill limitation more than an equipment limitation. But really, get yourself a full suspension MTB and have some real fun on those trails. N+1 is your friend.
I'd certainly agree that I was limited by my skills and "comfort zone" - the bike could have taken more punishment that I could :-)

I'll try to my hand with a borrowed hard-tail first before I launch into the world of MTBs....don't think my significant other would tolerate another $$$ bike!
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Old 09-03-17, 10:05 PM
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Thanks for the reply, under-40 tires are a spot I could never get right off-road. They always required too fine a pressure to ride well or keep from pinch-flatting at my weight/skill level. That said I bet you could have dropped the pressure and had a little bit better ride. I like to play with sag as a function of tire pressure and sometimes take it to 25-30% sag (@30-40 psi) on my narrower tires and they feel really great as long as I keep up with my body position/speed and can avoid rim strikes.

I found some video of Ku-ring-gai and saw some pics of the trail - looks pretty rough as you described!
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Old 09-04-17, 03:57 PM
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Found some vidoe of the trail...

Here's a GoPro video from an MTB-er on the same trail. At first it looks pretty smooth packed dirt (first 3-4 minutes), but it was actually a lot rougher and rockier than the video makes it look. Doing this on slick tires was a bit sketchy!

https://youtu.be/dcv5eRGAJlw

From about 7m30s in the terrain seemed more typical of what I experienced for a lot of the way :-)
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Old 09-05-17, 11:11 AM
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My limit, when riding a CX type bike, is when it turns to "work" and not "fun" while navigating up and down rough/rock terrain. Getting beat up while trying not to get out of control and taking a spill could be fun but only for a while then it becomes a grudge.

But then again it might depend on my frame of mind at the time. If I'm not in a rush and wanted to build up my skills then it might be fun to try and get down some of these trails with my bike. That would then be worth the pain and suffering...
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Old 09-05-17, 01:10 PM
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I had a similar experience this past weekend exploring a utility/access road.

My gravel bike was in road mode (semislick, 80psi). Alternately sinking into the sand and bucking me out of the saddle on bumps/rocks.

It probably would have been fine earlier in the year, but this time of year, it was very dry, very dusty, very sandy. And probably would have helped a ton if I had dropped the pressure below 50psi.
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Old 09-05-17, 04:22 PM
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For me I think it comes down to how much abuse my body can suffer. I have an older rigid MTB and did a couple local trail rides here that are not too tough, some people do them on cross/adventure bikes. I mounted my 26 x 2.0 knobbies and ran them at pretty low pressure. Still, I felt pretty beat up at the end of the ride. My back was bothering me, some general aches and pains plus sore hands from braking.

Decided that if I do more of this riding I should get at least front suspension and hydraulic discs.

I like the idea of a gravel/adventure bike too, but knowing how my body doesn't appreciate the jarring and bucking that a rigid bike imparts to the rider, I've held off on this.
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Old 09-05-17, 08:23 PM
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I might as well pull out Chris Kostman's classic heretical article from the Feb. 1993 issue of Bicycle Guide magazine.
Chris Kostman's Rough Riders Blog: Any Bike, Anywhere / Classic Cyclist: Mountain Bikes: Who Needs Them?

I happened to have been riding the same 1992 Bridgestone RB-1 as Chris was riding at the time and he inspired me to take my 28mm tires out on lots of dirt roads, a few doubletrack and even a couple of singletrack trails.

This article is a big part of what made me a gravel cyclist. That said, I think he was trying to be controversial and greatly exaggerated the suitability of normal road bikes for offroading. But he did do quite a bit of what became known at the time as "under-biking". His Rough Riders "Any Bike, Anywhere" website hasn't been updated in quite a while, but there are a few gems to be found there. Chris Kostman's Rough Riders Blog: Any Bike, Anywhere / Classic Cyclist

While I like the concept of doing more with less sometimes, I usually like equipment tailored more for the job at hand. My road bike runs 32mm tubeless tires and I'm happy to take it on smoother dirt roads. For rougher roads and gravel, I prefer bikes designed for that with 40mm or larger tires. For singletrack I usually take a full suspension MTB.
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Old 09-05-17, 08:46 PM
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Originally Posted by RockiesDad
My limit, when riding a CX type bike, is when it turns to "work" and not "fun" while navigating up and down rough/rock terrain. Getting beat up while trying not to get out of control and taking a spill could be fun but only for a while then it becomes a grudge.

I agree. Just because a given bike can "manage" or "handle" certain terrain doesn't mean it's going to be much fun. How many of these folks will be under-biking every weekend for years to come? I've been riding a rigid MTB bike on rocky trails for 10 years and people think I'm weird for it. But there are some gnarly trails I'll only ride with suspension. I think much of the "ride anywhere" mentality stems from marketing, novelty, pride, and journalists writing on behalf of The Industry (which seems to desperately need consecutive fads to sustain itself, and for this I'm grateful!).
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Old 09-05-17, 10:20 PM
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I found the limits of mine a few months ago riding some singletrack right after some rain. Let's just say there was some white knuckle moments that made me get off the trail after under 2 miles and switch to the towpath nearby.
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Old 09-05-17, 10:23 PM
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I had a similar experience, when I decided to ride my gravel bike down an (illegal) single-track where a friend of mine cracked a few cervical vertebrae. I am afraid to ride my mountain bike on it.
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Old 09-06-17, 10:58 AM
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Originally Posted by BluesDawg
I might as well pull out Chris Kostman's classic heretical article from the Feb. 1993 issue of Bicycle Guide magazine.
Chris Kostman's Rough Riders Blog: Any Bike, Anywhere / Classic Cyclist: Mountain Bikes: Who Needs Them?

I happened to have been riding the same 1992 Bridgestone RB-1 as Chris was riding at the time and he inspired me to take my 28mm tires out on lots of dirt roads, a few doubletrack and even a couple of singletrack trails.

This article is a big part of what made me a gravel cyclist. That said, I think he was trying to be controversial and greatly exaggerated the suitability of normal road bikes for offroading. But he did do quite a bit of what became known at the time as "under-biking". His Rough Riders "Any Bike, Anywhere" website hasn't been updated in quite a while, but there are a few gems to be found there. Chris Kostman's Rough Riders Blog: Any Bike, Anywhere / Classic Cyclist

While I like the concept of doing more with less sometimes, I usually like equipment tailored more for the job at hand. My road bike runs 32mm tubeless tires and I'm happy to take it on smoother dirt roads. For rougher roads and gravel, I prefer bikes designed for that with 40mm or larger tires. For singletrack I usually take a full suspension MTB.
This was a good read.

It does make you stop and think for a minute about the equipment you're using and why...
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Old 09-06-17, 02:01 PM
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Originally Posted by johngwheeler
2) Slick tires, even fat ones, are hard work on dirt/sand and often lose traction, particularly up hill. I had read that for gravel, width is more important than tread, but where the surface is so variable (dirt, stones, flat rock, mud, sand), I think a more agressive tire tread would be helpful.
Yeah, Bicycle quarterly – Jan wrote a blog how you don’t need tread.
I don’t agree, and I tend to ride the least amount of tread I can get away with.
When a tire starts to slide, the tread is key for biting in and saving it. My treadles tires all loose traction suddenly (on non-paved routes) and there is no saving them. With tread (especially side knobs) the breakaway is more gradual and I can save a slide.

So yeah, I don’t need tread if I don’t break traction. And, the actual breakaway point is probably the same either way. That much I agree with. A slipping treadles tire handles much differently than a treaded tire though.

Bottom line on CX offroad: there is some terrain where you need suspension. Even on my ridged mountain bike, I can get away with a lot more running 60mm tires at 25psi than I can with 40mm tires. They just take much bigger impacts than a skinny tire.
Put 45mm on the front if you want to take the CX off road; go tubeless at 30-35psi front. Makes a big difference (even if you can’t go big in the rear).
Your cross bike is geared lower than a typical single speed mountain bike. ;-)
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Old 09-06-17, 02:10 PM
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revisit with a layer of hard packed snow & or ice!

but seriously, going down is more fun than up. sometimes you just gotta hoof-it





sounds like a 40mm Riddler aired down would have been helpful


Last edited by rumrunn6; 09-06-17 at 02:26 PM.
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