Considering the fact that I don’t own a mountain bike, I spend quite a bit of time riding dirt trails. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t consider a ride complete if I haven’t felt dirt under my tires. Sure, maybe I should look into getting a mountain bike, but I’m doing my best to put that off as long as possible. I am a dyed in the wool roadie after all. It’s not as if you need anything more than a road bike to ride off the beaten path.
Even my skinny tired “go fast” bike sees its fair share of off road time. I run a 23c front tire and a 25c rear, and I will admit, it can get a bit sketchy in the dirt with that narrow front tire. I reserve that bike to trails that I know are hard packed and not incredibly technical. My other bike has a 25c front tire and 28c rear. I have taken that bike on terrain that even I was skeptical on riding. This includes fire roads on the switchback canyons here in Southern California. Would I have been better served by a bike built more specifically for off road duty? Absolutely, but I still was able to ride up and down some incredibly steep washboard, and it was a thrill!
I am not going to sit here and tell you I’m the best bike handler in the world. My riding style is rather conservative when it comes to technical sections. Considering my height though (6″, 2″) I think I do pretty good. I ride with guys that put me to shame on descents, but they are willing to take far more risks than I am. Plus, I have a higher center of gravity. One thing I have noticed though is my riding off road has greatly improved my bike handling skills.
Just today I had the misfortune of wedging my front wheel in a road utility access panel. I took a quick look over my shoulder to check for traffic, as I was making a left turn, and the next thing I knew my wheel felt like someone had grabbed a hold of it and wouldn’t let it go. Fortunately I was able to ride out of it. My tire immediately flatted, and the braking surface looks I hit it in multiple places with a heavy file, but I kept the bike up. I can only attribute this the techniques I have learned from riding my bike where I shouldn’t.
My cyclocross bike is great, but it just doesn’t get the use it once did. I have no interest in a gravel bike, because it just seems redundant. I don’t have a mountain bike, yet. So in the meantime, I’ll keep riding my road bike off road. My mishap this morning proved to me that it has helped keep my safe in unsafe situations. Unfortunately, it looks like I’m in the market for a new front wheel sooner than I had hoped. The good news is I didn’t go down. I will gladly sacrifice a front wheel if it means avoiding an injury. After all, like I always say, stay safe out there and keep the rubber side down!