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Tips for light trail riding

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Tips for light trail riding

Old 04-10-21, 08:25 PM
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sdimattia
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Tips for light trail riding

I ride exclusively on paved city streets in NYC, however Iím looking to start doing some trail riding on paved and dirt trails. Rail trail type stuff.

Iíd be taking my single speed All City Nature Boy with disc brakes. As my city wet weather/winter bike, itís equipped with 650b x 38c Gravelking slicks and fenders. Iím thinking Iíll take off the fenders and throw on some WTB Resolutes or Teravail Cannonballs. The current gearing is at 67GI, on my daily commuter I ride 70GI.

As far as gearing and being new to trail riding, are there any other things I should keep in mind? The trails wonít be anything super crazy, just some loose dirt and some tiny knobby roots here and there. Since Iíve never done anything other than pavement, Iím looking for advice before my adventures into ďnot-pavementĒ.
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Old 04-10-21, 08:50 PM
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I'm betting the bike is good to go as-is. But a lot depends on how the trails are constructed in your neck of the woods, and the weather. In my region, dry rail-trails are almost as smooth, and sometimes smoother, than the roads. Wet trails can be a mud pit if its been raining a lot. I don't do anything special for trails, just ride my regular bikes, including a single speed with 28mm tires and 65 GI. I see every manner of bike on the trails, including skinny tire road bikes.

The fenders might be your friends if it's not bone dry.
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Old 04-10-21, 09:24 PM
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The trails in cooler weather also can stay wet in spots longer than you would think after a rain. Once summer comes they will dry out faster, but I have been caught several times in spring/fall wishing I had grabbed my fenders. The GK slicks you have should be fine as long as it is nearly all dry.
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Old 04-10-21, 09:46 PM
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Originally Posted by Gresp15C View Post
I'm betting the bike is good to go as-is. But a lot depends on how the trails are constructed in your neck of the woods, and the weather. In my region, dry rail-trails are almost as smooth, and sometimes smoother, than the roads. Wet trails can be a mud pit if its been raining a lot. I don't do anything special for trails, just ride my regular bikes, including a single speed with 28mm tires and 65 GI. I see every manner of bike on the trails, including skinny tire road bikes.

The fenders might be your friends if it's not bone dry.
Originally Posted by scottfsmith View Post
The trails in cooler weather also can stay wet in spots longer than you would think after a rain. Once summer comes they will dry out faster, but I have been caught several times in spring/fall wishing I had grabbed my fenders. The GK slicks you have should be fine as long as it is nearly all dry.
I'll keep the fenders then. They are full length fenders if that makes any difference but I can also swap them out for a set of A** Savers Fender Bender and Speed Mullet if need be. I guess when I think of trails, I figured some tread might be needed but for packed dirt and a path that is 70/30 paved/dirt, as long as the slicks have traction on the dirt bits then I should be good. The trails are pretty clear and well maintained so they shouldn't be too gunky.

I did try riding my daily SS with 25mm slicks through some chunky loose gravel one time - I spent most of that time fishtailing all over the place. It was quite fun.
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Old 04-10-21, 10:04 PM
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Haven't found much in the way of unpaved rail trail around nyc, everyone seems to love their paving. Having ridden extensively on the Erie Canal trail as well as multiple others I wouldn't bother changing tires. I'm not a big fenders person, only used them when commuting by bike and otherwise just avoided intentionally riding in rain. Most rail trail I've ridden in PA which is unpaved your tires would still move you along, same with the greenway trail that ran from Rochester south through about 1/3 of the way into PA.
Now if you want to hit Cunningham, Bethpage or a couple other MTB places that CLIMB keeps in order, you'll want tread but I've run a number of them with 33c cross tires so you don't have to go too nuts.
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Old 04-11-21, 05:55 AM
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Make sure the front fender has breakaway mounting if you jam a stick or something in there.
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Old 04-11-21, 01:09 PM
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Originally Posted by Gresp15C View Post
In my region, dry rail-trails are almost as smooth, and sometimes smoother, than the roads.
Same here too; most trails are hardpacked FA6 limestone screenings and are smooth and fast. I've always used road tires on them.

The exception comes in February or March when the snow melts (or there has been lots of rain) and there is a lot of spray.

The few asphalt rail trails I ride on are usually bumpy. Roots, expansion joints, or something....
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Old 04-11-21, 03:05 PM
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"Crushed stone" rail trails are often hard packed and smooth. The crushed stone packs down hard, with a very thin layer of looser bits on top. It's nothing like gravel or sand.

Narrow tires work, but wide smooth tires float over the surface with pretty low rolling resistance. Perfect for these rail trails.
There can be occasional deeper loose spots or gravel temporary repairs. The smooth tires are still okay on those.

Fenders will keep your bike cleaner from dust or a damp surface layer.

From the Pennsylvania GAP trail:

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Old 04-11-21, 05:47 PM
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I have a Salsa Journeyman with 650b tires and found this litmus test to be applicable: if you could drive the road at say residential area speed like 25mph with a normal non off-road car like a Toyota Camry/Honda Accord/Kia Sonata without too much consternation then it will be OK for a novice like you with a gravel bike or gravel tires. The problems occur with roots and rocks. You have to learn how to be the suspension of the bike at that point and not just sit on the seat or you will fall every time you hit a bump, especially downhill. Ask me how I know..... and I ended up buying a mountain bike last year for that reason because we truly have very few roads like on the last post above mine which would be perfect for you but we have tons of trails many of which aren't necessarily technical, but very few are that smooth.

Trail riding is much more complex than asphalt. I fell in love with it but there's a learning curve. For dirt and gravel roads that are smooth as described the learning curve is not that much. Add bumps and yes it will take a while to figure it out. Learn to balance on the two pedals with one foot in front, the other rear both holding your weight and your ass not in the seat. That will reduce the impact and utilize your legs and back as "the suspension". BEWARE bumpy downhills a dropper post becomes very important but once you start thinking that then you need a mountain bike and you're on the wrong trail for you. They sell some stems with bushings that dampen some vibrations, as well as carbon fiber seatposts. I made both upgrades and they help a little with the chatter, say 5-10% and once you get into it can be worth it as they aren't super expensive but this is 90% rider dependent so won't prevent falling on bumps only improving ride quality slightly, barely enough to notice. The only way to learn is by watching a few videos, reading a few blogs, talking to a few people you know that already do it and getting your feet wet. Maybe go with someone who knows the way, helped a lot with me am still learning from much smarter, older, wiser, talented people. Welcome to the jungle city slicker!

I seem to recall in Central Park they closed off all the grass areas now but at times they open up those little fences at the trailsides there. Riding some of those areas might be a good first step too. Also next winter try riding in very light snow; the secret is dropping your tire pressures maybe in the 30s front 40's rear it helps traction and ride quality. If the rear tire slips then let out a little more and keep the pressure same front/rear. Yes counterintuitive but if traction is missing that helps a lot too as a 50% drop in pressure (assuming you're within the expected operating range of the tire and not running it stupid low like 2psi) results in a 50% increase in traction like going from 70psi the max for 650 tires to say 35.
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Old 04-11-21, 06:34 PM
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A few observations:

We have a diverse set of city, county, university and state park trails. Some are rail trails while others arenít. The real rail line conversions are very smooth and flat and pretty easy to manage.

In winter, our crushed stone trails are always saturated, so they are either frozen or muddy. Small knob tires that clear mud well are ideal for that.

I find that riding 2Ē wide tires means things always work out. In particular, 26x2.2 Race King Protection tires are almost unspeakably good for our trails. The bigger sizes (27.5 and 29) are equally great. I keep one on the front mostly and run one in back in winter.

I use clip on fenders (SKS Beavertail) when itís really muddy in winter, which means there is much less of me and the bike needing to be washed off in near freezing temperatures. No stays means no issues with the little sticks and debris that get kicked up.

People ride these trails on skinnier tires. I ride my other bike with 700x32 smooth tires on most of these trails in the summer when things are dry and not flood-damaged like now.

I really enjoy riding the trails. Definitely more than roads these days. I only ride roads to get to or connect to trails. Have fun!

Otto
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Old 04-11-21, 07:39 PM
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Attilio Thank you for your comprehensive advice. I ran 40psi front and rear for the snow we had this past winter. Stupidly, they were Gravelking slicks since I didn't think to get proper winter tires. Suffice to say I had plenty of heart stopping moments of skidding through the ice ruts. Oops . . . I'm definitely not looking to get into anything super technical so I don't think I'll need a dropper post or cushioning on the stem. But I will check out those spots in Central Park you mentioned. Like you said, after 3 years of strict pavement riding, there's definitely going to be a learning curve

Originally Posted by ofajen View Post
A few observations:

We have a diverse set of city, county, university and state park trails. Some are rail trails while others arenít. The real rail line conversions are very smooth and flat and pretty easy to manage.
In winter, our crushed stone trails are always saturated, so they are either frozen or muddy. Small knob tires that clear mud well are ideal for that.
I find that riding 2Ē wide tires means things always work out. In particular, 26x2.2 Race King Protection tires are almost unspeakably good for our trails. The bigger sizes (27.5 and 29) are equally great. I keep one on the front mostly and run one in back in winter.
I use clip on fenders (SKS Beavertail) when itís really muddy in winter, which means there is much less of me and the bike needing to be washed off in near freezing temperatures. No stays means no issues with the little sticks and debris that get kicked up.
People ride these trails on skinnier tires. I ride my other bike with 700x32 smooth tires on most of these trails in the summer when things are dry and not flood-damaged like now.
I really enjoy riding the trails. Definitely more than roads these days. I only ride roads to get to or connect to trails. Have fun!

Otto
Unfortunately, my frame can't clear more than a 42mm tire but it sounds like the 38mm will do just fine. Although general consensus seems to be that I could get away with a road frame for a railtrail type, I'll probably stick with the wide tire cyclocross bike, at least until I know the trails better.

I'm running full length SKS Bluemels with breakaway stays on the front. Good point about the stays though. I appreciate all the input.
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Old 04-11-21, 08:37 PM
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The Rail to Trail conversions in my part of Wisconsin are crushed limestone and once they’ve been “groomed” by the DNR (mid to late April), they are fine for riding with most any tire as long as it hasn’t rained in the previous 2 or 3 days. If I’m going to ride the trails exclusively, I’m likely to use my Scott LAREDO hybrid with 700c x 38 tires. If the trail is only part of the ride (less than 5 miles) my bikes with 27x 1 1/4 or 1 1/8 tires are fine. I’ll even take my bikes with 700c x 25 tires on the trail but I’m always on the lookout for areas that tend to get “sandy” .
Former railroad beds generally have grades less than 3% which should allow for relatively easy riding with pretty much any gear that starts with a “6”! I don’t have any single speed bikes but usually ride the trails in “60-something” gear.
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Old 04-12-21, 01:43 PM
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Originally Posted by sdimattia View Post
I ride exclusively on paved city streets in NYC, however Iím looking to start doing some trail riding on paved and dirt trails. Rail trail type stuff.

Iíd be taking my single speed All City Nature Boy with disc brakes. As my city wet weather/winter bike, itís equipped with 650b x 38c Gravelking slicks and fenders. Iím thinking Iíll take off the fenders and throw on some WTB Resolutes or Teravail Cannonballs. The current gearing is at 67GI, on my daily commuter I ride 70GI.

As far as gearing and being new to trail riding, are there any other things I should keep in mind? The trails wonít be anything super crazy, just some loose dirt and some tiny knobby roots here and there. Since Iíve never done anything other than pavement, Iím looking for advice before my adventures into ďnot-pavementĒ.
that bike is good to go..we have 100 miles of great riding here in NWNJ..i use 28s often on the rail trails
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Old 04-12-21, 01:59 PM
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Originally Posted by rm -rf View Post

From the Pennsylvania GAP trail:

In the area of the continental divide?
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Old 04-13-21, 10:08 AM
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One of the most important elements for hiking is the right choice of footwear.
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Old 04-13-21, 10:13 AM
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Originally Posted by Ayrton980 View Post
One of the most important elements for hiking is the right choice of footwear.
This forum is about cycling.
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Old 04-13-21, 10:24 AM
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Originally Posted by rm -rf View Post
"Crushed stone" rail trails are often hard packed and smooth. The crushed stone packs down hard, with a very thin layer of looser bits on top. It's nothing like gravel or sand.

Narrow tires work, but wide smooth tires float over the surface with pretty low rolling resistance. Perfect for these rail trails.
There can be occasional deeper loose spots or gravel temporary repairs. The smooth tires are still okay on those.

Fenders will keep your bike cleaner from dust or a damp surface layer.

From the Pennsylvania GAP trail:

I would ride my road bike with 25mm tires on that. It looks smoother than your typical NorCal paved road.
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Old 04-13-21, 10:39 AM
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Originally Posted by caloso View Post
I would ride my road bike with 25mm tires on that. It looks smoother than your typical NorCal paved road.
That's a specific, relatively short section of a 150 mile trail. (I've ridden it 5 times so I recognize the area.) Probably the smoothest section of the entire thing, and the wide open area and wind (notice the wind turbine in the background) help dry things out. 25c on a road bike would work there, but not on many other sections.
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