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Old 08-04-04, 10:11 AM   #1
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Trail vs. Road Riding

I was just wondering how much harder it is to ride on a smoothly graveled bike trail compared to riding on a blacktop road. I have never ridden a ‘century’, just 80 miles on a smoothly graveled rail-trail with a mountain bike with aggressive tire treads. Do you think this would be comparable to riding a ‘century’ with a road bike on equally level blacktop terrain? It seems to me you work significantly harder on gravel compared to blacktop.
Would a change to a less aggressive tire make a significant difference in my speed? Since I primarily ride on rail-trails with some road riding I bought a Cannondale mountain bike (for durability-5600 miles without a flat so far), though the trails I ride are pretty smooth. I would like to improve my speed, so I guess the tires would make the biggest change to my riding. I'm sure changing to a road bike to ride the trails would make a big difference, since the bike would be a lot lighter than what I have now. Can I get a reasonable increase in speed with just swapping tires?
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Old 08-04-04, 10:53 AM   #2
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I don't know about gravel, but ON the road you'll go significantly faster with slicks than with knobby tires. I run 1.5" semi-slicks on my rigid MTB and I can do 20mph pretty easily.
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Old 08-04-04, 11:10 AM   #3
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I've done a couple solo centuries on the local rails-to-trails (Katy Trail). I notice a difference between fresh, smooth blacktop and anything else. The Katy trail, while relatively hard-surfaced, has a very irregular finish to it, and seems to slow me down significantly. I don't know if a smoother tire would make much difference on this type of surface, but a lighter, higher-pressure tire would help a little. An ultra narrow tire could increase handling problems in areas of loose gravel or areas of erosion.
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Old 08-04-04, 01:28 PM   #4
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On asphalt, high pressure slicks have much less friction, hence allow you to go faster. On hard packed gravel, it depends.

I have ridden a few with my usual touring tires: 700x32 or 700x37 slicks (Top Touring 2000)
- With a very hard packed trail, it may be almost as easy as on asphalt. On Le petit train du Nord, I might loose 1-2 km/h (i.e. 18 instead of 20 km/h average).
Wetness has a more drastic effect on packed gravel than on asphalt, however.

- It doesn't take much smoothness to slow down the rider by an extra 2-3 km/h.

- On medium-hard gravel, wide slick tires (700x37) allow a decent speed, whereas narrow tires (700x28 or less) dig their way in.

One aspect where asphalt may be problematic : when there is a poor base and the asphalt has lifted, cracked, etc., cracks in the asphalt may slow you down more than ondulations on hard packed gravel dust.
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