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Gravel, Dirt, vs Paved? Slope?

Old 04-23-15, 03:23 AM
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Gravel, Dirt, vs Paved? Slope?

I've been hoping to develop improved routes from Eugene, Oregon to Sisters, Oregon that don't go on a very busy, and frequently narrow 2-lane road, with high speed trucks.

I've been browsing maps. Then I contacted the State to discuss ideas, hoping they would be interested in converting some dirt roads into bike paths, and developing some connector paths.

I got a response back suggesting that they are wanting to develop and document new gravel routes around the state.

I have occasionally hit gravel on rides before, but tended to prefer low volume paved roads.

Anyway, I'll try to get connected to explore and publish some of the gravel roads around here.

However, I guess my question is. For touring (100+ miles), do you prefer paved, gravel, a mix, or perhaps mostly paved with a few short gravel connections?

If you were given a choice of a very busy 2 lane highway vs a bit longer and hillier route that was 50% paved, 50% gravel (reasonably good condition). Would you take the alternate route with gravel?

Oh, and is there a maximum slope for gravel or paved?

My driveway hits about 17%, and it can be a challenge with a very heavy load, or just hard work with a moderate load.
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Old 04-23-15, 03:43 AM
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Originally Posted by CliffordK
However, I guess my question is. For touring (100+ miles), do you prefer paved, gravel, a mix, or perhaps mostly paved with a few short gravel connections?
My preference for touring ...

-- paved
-- paved, with perhaps a few short gravel connections

And the smoother the better.


Originally Posted by CliffordK
If you were given a choice of a very busy 2 lane highway vs a bit longer and hillier route that was 50% paved, 50% gravel (reasonably good condition). Would you take the alternate route with gravel?
My preference ... probably the highway. If it had shoulders, definitely the highway.

Hilly + gravel would be a last resort. If there were absolutely no other way to get where I'm going.


Originally Posted by CliffordK
Oh, and is there a maximum slope for gravel or paved?
Gravel = flat

Paved = well, I prefer flat, but will occasionally take on a short hill less than 10% if my bicycle is unloaded. If it is loaded, probably only 6%.


Originally Posted by CliffordK
My driveway hits about 17%, and it can be a challenge with a very heavy load, or just hard work with a moderate load.
The road in front of our place is 14%, and I've yet to ride up it without a load. I can get partway up, and then I'm off and walking. 10% is my limit.


My suggestion next ...
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Old 04-23-15, 03:50 AM
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My suggestion ... have your State create rail trails using disused track.

Check out Victoria's rail trails:
https://www.railtrails.org.au/trail-...tions/victoria


We lived in Victoria for several years, right on the longest one of those trails. It's decent ... would be fine for touring. The surface is mostly chert which is a bit rough, but not terrible.

But our favourite was the Murray to Mountains trail which is largely paved ... really nice!





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Old 04-23-15, 03:50 AM
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Originally Posted by Machka
Gravel = flat
I rode a gravel canal access path a couple of days ago...
A bit of a slop to get up to it (spinning tires are a problem for me).
Then FFFFFLLLLLAAAATTTTT
I think there was hardly 5 feet of elevation change for the entire 3 1/2 miles.

I have another gravel ride in mind along a reservoir that is also generally flat for quite a few miles.

Many of the "rails to trails" projects are also quite flat. Apparently the trains selected the flattest routes, and sometimes tunnelled to avoid inclines.
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Old 04-23-15, 03:56 AM
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Originally Posted by Machka
My suggestion ... have your State create rail trails using disused track.
There are a couple short chunks of urban rails to trails that I regularly hit.

I suppose I should try to figure out where some of them go beyond the end of the developed trails, although hopefully they haven't been abandoned so long that they've been lost.
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Old 04-23-15, 06:28 AM
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Originally Posted by CliffordK
There are a couple short chunks of urban rails to trails that I regularly hit.

I suppose I should try to figure out where some of them go beyond the end of the developed trails, although hopefully they haven't been abandoned so long that they've been lost.
One of the benefits of rail trails is that if they climb, they won't be steep. Trains were limited to a certain, relatively low percentage ... they couldn't get up anything steep. So some of the climbs might be long, but they'll be gradual.
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Old 04-23-15, 07:23 AM
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Depends on the nature of the unpaved sections. Constant washboards and potholes for prolonged stretches are no fun. Deep sand and larger stones are also a pain.

During my MT tour last year I chose to ride several unpaved sections. You can see some of the surfaces here:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/davez2...7645062932708/




The roughest unpaved road was about 23 miles with some steep grades and some gradual climbing and descending. The road surface varied. Washboards made it very jarring in places. Some sandy/lose dirt spots made it hard to get traction on some up the up grades. I knew this going in as I had ridden the road a few years before. I took the road anyway because the scenery (or lack thereof, depending on how you look at it) is nice and the paved alternative would have taken me way out of my way and put me on a stretch of road with high speeds, some trucks and no shoulder. I encountered only one vehicle the entire time.

One unpaved section was chosen to avoid several miles of riding on I-90. Two others I chose because they are more scenic than the paved options. Those options would have had only light to moderate traffic with good shoulders. The final unpaved section I rode was not only scenic, it was the only option between two points. Even if there had been a paved option I would have still taken the same route.
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Old 04-23-15, 07:32 AM
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Unless I am doing an off-road mountain bike tour, my strong preference is paved.
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Old 04-23-15, 07:49 AM
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A good gravel road is my preference, keeps the riff-raff away.

Last edited by gerryl; 04-23-15 at 11:24 AM.
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Old 04-23-15, 07:53 AM
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On our way through western New York last summer we rode on the Erie Canal towpath which is gravel for part of a day until we figured out it was much easier and faster to jump on NY Bike route 5 on the nice wide highway shoulder. I think for short stretches gravel, dirt is fine for a change of pace, but I would not want to be on it all day unless it is your only option.
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Old 04-23-15, 08:01 AM
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For me touring is travel-adventure and outdoor-adventure. I'm primarily looking for roads or paths that pass through more natural settings. Packed gravel or dirt roads are great for my touring preference. Low volume paved country roads or paved paths are great too. If I'm on a busy road full of cars & strip malls it's for resupply or as a connector, I don't care how big the bike lane is.

My preferred roads:





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Old 04-23-15, 08:03 AM
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Gravel or unpaved roads are fine if you have the right tires. I rode 400 miles from Pittsburgh to Washington DC last summer on the GAP-C&O Canal trails, and probably more than 90% of our route was unpaved. My bike had Panaracer Pasela 32s and they were fine except for muddy spots. We are riding the GAP-C&O again in May, and I plan to use Clement LAS 33s, which have some tread and actually measure closer to 36 mm wide. The wider tires and tread should make the ride much more pleasant. Speed is not an issue, and we only averaged about 12 mph on the trip. That is probably the biggest difference from touring on paved roads. It is generally much harder to maintain a given speed on unpaved surfaces, unless you are trying to ride on dirt or gravel with skinny road tires.
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Old 04-23-15, 08:25 AM
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For me, one of the biggest negative factors of gravel is the roughness ... the constant vibration through the bicycle and up the arms into the shoulders. I feel so much more tired after a gravel ride than after a paved road ride.

And as I mentioned, I would take a paved road in most circumstances, especially one with a shoulder, but I'll go with narrow low-traffic roads too.

That said, we rode a 100 km route here last Oct/Nov ... once to see how it was, once as a randonneuring event. It included two stretches of gravel and it wasn't too bad, although I would have preferred if the gravel sections had been a little bit shorter (one was about 5 km, the other about 10 km or so). They leave these stretches unpaved to keep the traffic down (or at least, that's one reason), so they were very quiet ... and that was a plus.
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Old 04-23-15, 09:20 AM
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My preference is to be away from motor vehicles regardless of the road conditions. I also prefer hilly to flat.
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Old 04-23-15, 10:19 AM
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Originally Posted by BigAura
For me touring is travel-adventure and outdoor-adventure. I'm primarily looking for roads or paths that pass through more natural settings. Packed gravel or dirt roads are great for my touring preference. Low volume paved country roads or paved paths are great too. If I'm on a busy road full of cars & strip malls it's for resupply or as a connector, I don't care how big the bike lane is.

My preferred roads:




^ +1
The further away from automobiles with their drivers texting,calling etc. the better where ever and when ever I am riding, ditto ++ for diesel fumes and noise in general. I don't ride for speed, I ride for pleasure,peace,good for my soul,heart,health and lungs. If I wanted to ride for speed I would take my van

On a bicycle I want to hear birds not engines

Even "townie mode" - I go the long way around for serenity rather than the fast way

Wide cushy tires > make up for dirt roads > and roll better,more effeciantly on them to boot

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Old 04-23-15, 10:45 AM
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I see the word Hoping.. how many meetings of the City Council and the Lane County Commissioners have you gotten on the Meeting Agenda to talk about this

where there are Your Elected Officials able to do anything about it?
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Old 04-23-15, 12:35 PM
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Originally Posted by fietsbob
I see the word Hoping.. how many meetings of the City Council and the Lane County Commissioners have you gotten on the Meeting Agenda to talk about this

where there are Your Elected Officials able to do anything about it?
I haven't gone to local city and county meetings. I'll try to hit them up soon.

TravelOregon and RideOregon are state wide groups that seem interested in bicycles for recreation and touring.

My inquiry got directed to a group that is wanting to document gravel routes on a statewide level, which has, in fact, had some meetings.

Oregon Gravel Riding Working Group - Oregon Tourism CommissionOregon Tourism Commission
Oregon Gravel Rides - Ride Oregon Ride

My contact person, unfortunately, sent me a note then went on vacation.

In the past, I have always avoided long sections of gravel roads, although I took a trip with my parents many years ago that included an unpaved hill as an alternative to taking the freeway, but it wasn't bad.

It may also depend on whether one is on the dry side of the mountains or the wet side of the mountains.

Anyway, as a skinny tire rider (23/25mm), the gravel concept was a bit of a surprise, but I suppose reasonable since I've been considering finding a route that included existing dirt/gravel roads, and one might not expect dozens of miles of new pavement to be laid for a few bicycles.

What I don't know is if there are any plans for cycling specific improvements. For example I was on a gravel road a couple of days ago that had a half dozen gates in a 3 mile stretch, all with paths around the gates. But, hinged bollards would be much more "inviting" tor bicycles. And, it woudl be nice to improve connections between roads that don't quite connect.

With roads appearing on some maps and not others, it would be easy to find roads that would go beyond what ordinary long distance cyclists might be comfortable on.

I suppose my vision is neither gravel nor paved, but choosing bike appropriate routes, and connecting routes that are disconnected.
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Old 04-23-15, 12:49 PM
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FWIW, I took a long gravel Road trip in the early 60's with my parents, up and around the northern bend of the Columbia River ,
before the Canadian Government completed the Trans Canadian high way section between Revelstoke and Golden BC, parallel with the Canadien Rail route.
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Old 04-23-15, 12:49 PM
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It depends. The quality of a dirt or gravel road can be incredibly variable from place to place and depending on the time of year. Here in New England, we tend to have dirt more than gravel roads (though the distinction between dirt and gravel is kind of murky), and while they will have some holes and washboarding, the better-maintained ones don't tend to be much slower or rougher than the paved roads. They seem to get pretty well-packed and smooth around here. I've also ridden gravel roads in Tennessee and Georgia where the road surface is golf ball-sized chunks of gravel embedded in dirt, and they are definitely more uncomfortable. Though I did ride them on 23mm road tires. Most are perfectly rideable. But I've done at least one road on skinny tires where I had to turn around because it was just wasn't rideable, not in a fun way anyway.

A friend and I did a long weekend trip from western Mass up through southern Vermont and back a number of years ago, and at one point in Vermont the main route to get from one little town to the next was a dirt road, for something like 9 miles. It was really well-maintained and very pleasant to ride on.

That friend and I also did a short section of bike trail in Maine on a trip the year before. That had a crushed gravel surface, and it was pretty terrible. The gravel was loose and pretty deep and it really sapped the energy to try and push through it.

Overall, I really like the remoteness and sense of adventure of riding on dirt and gravel, even if the quality of the ride can be unpredictable. But for really eating up the miles, you're just going to be faster and probably more comfortable on paved roads.

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Old 04-23-15, 01:06 PM
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There are different types of gravel and different gradings of it. Smooth river rock that is classified (sieved for size) is different than crushed rock or granite or sandstone or other rock types. Some gravel is smooth, and some has sharp enough edges to cut tires. So I think you might need to clarify the gravel type and then ask the question.

Apart from this input, I will defer to the more experienced long distance riders. Hope this helps a little.
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Old 04-23-15, 04:38 PM
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There is presently an Oregon Scenic Bikeway from Belknap Springs to Sisters over the Old Mckenzie Pass.

While I prefer paved roads, it does not always work out that way. My wife and I encountered over 400 miles of unpaved roads and trails as part of our route on a tour a few years ago. We were both riding "regular" touring bikes with 32 mm tires. There was not any problems except when it rained.

I also think you would be looking at a route that crosses several jurisdictions including private land. A lot of private land access is closed during the fire season. This could be challenging. I have some limited experience developing bike routes, and have found it challenging getting all the local, county, state, and federal agencies to agree on a coordinated effort, especially if it there is a cost involved. Oregon already has a law that provides for the consideration of bicycles any time road improvements are made. I believe they are referring to paved roads. I'm more in favor of widening existing road shoulders, and the intelligent use of rumble strip placement to make existing paved roads more bike friendly, than establishing stand alone bike trails. I've ridden on many surfaced bike trails in a forested environment, and the paving and smoothness often loose out to tree root invasion. It may take a while, but it will happen.

We rode the Covered Bridges Scenic Bike way near Cottage Grove last week, and the older Rails-to-Trails section of the route was heavily impacted from upheaval from tree roots; even through the old railway subgrade.

You might start with Lane County's Road Department. Linn County has a comprehensive transportation plan that includes proposed bike routes. I can't imaging Lane county not having something similar. See what already is being looked at. Also get a map that show state, federal, and private lands. This will save time and energy.

Good luck in your quest.

This puddle looked a little too deep to ride through.


We just planned a 400 mile loop route from Cottage Grove (could easily start in Eugene)over to the North Umpqua Highway, to Crater Lake, South to Bend over Century Drive and back over the Cascades. We are not sure when we will ride it, but it has 29,000 feet of climbing.

Grade of gravel roads is also critical. I could not maintain traction on this hill; luckily it was a short walk.

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Old 04-23-15, 05:03 PM
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Originally Posted by CliffordK
For touring (100+ miles), do you prefer paved, gravel, a mix, or perhaps mostly paved with a few short gravel connections?

If you were given a choice of a very busy 2 lane highway vs a bit longer and hillier route that was 50% paved, 50% gravel (reasonably good condition). Would you take the alternate route with gravel?

Oh, and is there a maximum slope for gravel or paved?

My driveway hits about 17%, and it can be a challenge with a very heavy load, or just hard work with a moderate load.
A few general comments:
1. The biggest item is predictability. If I know the road is gravel, then I'll take the appropriate bike/tires and that can be as pleasant as paved roads. What isn't as fun is expecting pavement and then having multiple tens of miles of gravel.
2. There can be a pretty big variation in gravel roads. Some when they are wet (some soak in, others become soft mud) but even when dry, there can be loose coarse stuff graded over vs. relatively smooth. Similarly, roads can accumulate a lot of corrugations and be somewhat of a pain to ride. The expectations thing is back at play here, but having relatively smooth, not muddy, uncorrugated gravel isn't really that different from pavement. The others are ok too if I'm prepared for them.
3. More than about 8-10%, I'll occasionally end up walking, particularly loaded. I tend to be a bit cautious, so descending on gravel is a lot worse than climbing on gravel.
4. When it comes to a busier/flatter road that is more direct vs. a quieter/hillier road that is longer - I'll bias towards the more direct roads.
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Old 04-23-15, 05:55 PM
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Originally Posted by Doug64
There is presently an Oregon Scenic Bikeway from Belknap Springs to Sisters over the Old Mckenzie Pass.
I've been up the McKenzie Byway (242) twice this year so far. Hopefully once or twice more before it opens to traffic.

The problem that has often been pointed out is the gaps in the bike path network. So, while the McKenzie pass is nice, and I imagine not too bad even once it is open to cars, getting from here to there is a problem, with the McKenzie Hwy (126) getting slammed with cars and trucks.

Originally Posted by mev
4. When it comes to a busier/flatter road that is more direct vs. a quieter/hillier road that is longer - I'll bias towards the more direct roads.
I do too... but then one has to consider the foolishness of "Touring" specifically choosing a 20 mile hill climb just for the heck of it, then complaining about a route that goes over some short rolling foothills and adds a few extra miles.

I do realize, however, that 100 to 140 miles puts me at my daily limit. Adding an extra 10 or 20 miles to that, and a few extra hills just puts me beyond my limit.

Originally Posted by Doug64
I also think you would be looking at a route that crosses several jurisdictions including private land. This could be challenging. I have some limited experience developing bike routes, and have found it challenging getting all the local, county, state, and federal agencies to agree on a coordinated effort, especially if it there is a cost involved.
Yeah

Also considering perpetual maintenance.

I think EWEB has had an interest in maintaining "parks"... so I am hoping they will be open to improved access through their property.

I can imagine making some bollards in my shop and planting them if I can get the organizations to chip in towards the materials costs. But gravel, paving, and trail/road grooming and maintenance can get expensive.

But I can imagine troubles with State, Local, City, and Federal agencies. As well as multi-use. 4-wheeling vs bikes? Some things like Logging may be a benefit if it opens roads for occasional use. A good website would even post where logging is occurring, or temporary (bicycle) route closures.

Hopefully working with TravelOregon and RideOregon will help with government coordination.

Originally Posted by Doug64
I'm more in favor of widening existing road shoulders, and the intelligent use of rumble strip placement to make existing paved roads more bike friendly, than establishing stand alone bike trails.
The McKenzie Hwy (126) for example is busy, and will always be busy. The sections with a wide shoulder are nicer than those without a shoulder, but still I prefer the tranquillity of less busy roads.

One of the problems with widening that road is that the narrow sections are bound by the river on one side and a mountain on the other, and could be quite expensive to widen. Of course, a wider road would benefit all users, trucks, cars, tractors, whatnot... and bicycles. Which means that the budget is bigger.

However, if there are existing secondary roads, then it may be cheaper to maintain the secondary roads than to widen the current HWY.

Originally Posted by Doug64
I've ridden on many surfaced bike trails in a forested environment, and the paving and smoothness often loose out to tree root invasion. It may take a while, but it will happen.
Yes, some of it is dependent on how the road bed was laid, but the Willamette River bike (and walking) paths in Eugene are a good example, and can get bumpy at times. Not that it wouldn't take much to resurface it once a decade or so, especially if the government invested in the recycling resurfacing equipment. They've been paving around the radio station a bit, but many of those bike paths have been largely unchanged for the last 40 years that I can remember, with lots of roots in places.

Originally Posted by Doug64
Grade of gravel roads is also critical. I could not maintain traction on this hill; luckily it was a short walk.
Yeah, that is one of my concerns. When I was riding along the EWEB canals, I noticed it didn't take much of a climb to spin my tires.

That means that if I have steep connectors linking roads, they will probably have to be paved, or designed so that they aren't steep.
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Old 04-23-15, 06:25 PM
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Originally Posted by mev
A few general comments:
1. The biggest item is predictability. If I know the road is gravel, then I'll take the appropriate bike/tires and that can be as pleasant as paved roads. What isn't as fun is expecting pavement and then having multiple tens of miles of gravel.
2. There can be a pretty big variation in gravel roads. Some when they are wet (some soak in, others become soft mud) but even when dry, there can be loose coarse stuff graded over vs. relatively smooth. Similarly, roads can accumulate a lot of corrugations and be somewhat of a pain to ride. The expectations thing is back at play here, but having relatively smooth, not muddy, uncorrugated gravel isn't really that different from pavement. The others are ok too if I'm prepared for them.
3. More than about 8-10%, I'll occasionally end up walking, particularly loaded. I tend to be a bit cautious, so descending on gravel is a lot worse than climbing on gravel.
4. When it comes to a busier/flatter road that is more direct vs. a quieter/hillier road that is longer - I'll bias towards the more direct roads.
+1

1. Yes, if I know the route is going to be gravel, then I'll prepare for it, or avoid it. Going back to my example of the 100 km route Rowan and I rode last year, I knew there was going to be a bit of gravel. I was OK with it for the first 2 or 3 km, even up to 5 km, but on the second stretch when it just kept going and going, I was less impressed.

2. You are absolutely right about different kinds of gravel.

In Manitoba and parts of Alberta, you wouldn't even consider riding a gravel road when they've freshly re-rocked it. In spring, they take a gravel road which has finally flatted out and has become a possibility for cycling, they dig it all up, and then they lay down a thick layer of small boulders. The rocks are anywhere from golf balls to hardballs in size ... and sharp. I flattened a wide, thick knobby mountain bike tire on those rocks in attempt to ride one of those gravel roads.

Cars drive over it, the weather pounds it, and ever-so-slowly the rocks work their way into the dirt, or shoot off the side into the ditch. Which, incidentally, creates another hazard for the cyclist. There might not be many vehicles, but if there is one, you've got to take evasive action lest you find yourself in a hail storm of these rocks.

Eventually, portions of these gravel roads flatten out enough that you might be able to ride in the tire tracks ... and that's when the Powers-That-Be decide it's time to re-rock the road again.

When it was suggested we ride a gravel road the first time I came to Australia, that's what was firmly lodge in my mind ... but the gravel roads here aren't that bad. They generally use a finer, sandier gravel and seem to pack it down more. Some sections aren't much different to riding on the road. But traffic and weather can create the washboard/corrugated effect, or wash out bits and pieces.

So yes ... it does depend what the gravel road is like. They aren't all created equally.
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Old 04-24-15, 11:10 AM
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I loved that link above to gravel routes in Oregon. As somebody else pointed out though, some are closed during fire season (which starts not long after the weather turns decent!) and I bet this one is:

Hoskins Road - Ride Oregon Ride

Valsetz Road goes from Falls City over to Logsden, and they close it. Not just to motorized vehicles, which I like, but to any public entry.

I'm trying to plan out a route along the crest of the coast range. For now I'm focusing on the areas I can get to in an easy day ride on my Rocky Mountain, between say Grand Ronde/Highway 18 and Highway 34. I don't have the original fat knobbies on my Fargo for now and the Schwalbe Supremes suck on some of that loose gravel, especially on the big climbs.

Maps are crazy. My recently purchased BLM map of the area even shows my skid road through my property, but a few weeks ago I found that a road I was trying to follow up around Riley Peak no longer exists, and the various maps I have on my Android tablet/gps don't show the roads that are up there. My best bet is to download the Google Maps of the area I'm heading for and use the satellite view. The roads are easy to see through all those clear cuts.
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