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7 Tips for Riding a Road Bike on Dirt

September 01, 2015

7 Tips for Riding a Road Bike on Dirt

No need to stop having fun when the pavement ends!

Many riders, especially those who are new to cycling, have a misconception that road bikes should only be ridden on pavement. But the truth is, road bikes can be safely ridden on all kinds of road surfaces, including cobblestone, dirt and gravel.

Plus…not only is riding on dirt fun, but it will enhance your overall bike handling skills. 

Here’s a few tips to help you build skills and confidence:

1. Relax – The most important technique is the simplest. When riding on gravel or dirt you’ll likely experience some lateral movement, and feel your front wheel wander slightly from side to side. This is completely normal. The easiest way to control lateral flow is to relax and ride with it. Make sure to keep your shoulders, arms and hands loose and maintain a normal grip on your bars.

2. Maintain Momentum – Keep pedaling and maintain enough speed and forward momentum to allow your front wheel to glide over the gravel and bumps in the road. A little speed makes it much easier to keep a two-wheeled vehicle upright, because the wheels act as gyroscopes. Similarly, pushing a bigger gear in rough terrain can keep you from bouncing around and help with overall control. 

3. Moderate Speed – Avoid excessive speed, particularly when descending. Gravel roads offer less traction than pavement. Brake early and often enough to maintain control.

4. Brake Carefully – Brake gently to prevent your wheels from skidding. Be especially gentle with your front brake. If you feel your front wheel begin to skid, release your front brake immediately.

5. Choose Your Line – Look for the spots where cars or other bikes have packed the gravel or dirt more tightly. It’s typically much easier to ride in those areas. However, if other riders or oncoming traffic make that impractical, don’t hesitate to head for the loose stuff—just keep you wheels straight and pedal through it.

6. Be Considerate – Even if you are completely comfortable riding on gravel, be aware that other riders might not feel the same. When passing, give others plenty of room (even if it means slowing down).

7. Keep Your Butt Happy – If you’re planning a day ahead on dirt or gravel, you’ll want to wear bibs or shorts with a premium pad. Riding on dirt is very different in that you will probably spend the entire time in the saddle. Remaining seated makes it easier to maintain a more upright and stable center of gravity. But,it also means your rear end will take some additional punishment. Choosing bibs or shorts with an endurance chamois will make a huge difference when it comes to comfort. We recommend our Summit Raptor Bibs with the triple density CyTech Endurance Anatomic Carbonium chamois. They have been designed to provide ultimate comfort in your riding position for 6+ hours in the saddle. 

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About the Author

Tony KelseyTony Kelsey has nearly 20 years marketing experience, previously serving as global vice president of creative for an international, $1B IT solutions consultancy. Although a self-proclaimed “mediocre” racer in high school, his intense passion for cycling and bicycles in general has never waned. Today he is marketing director at Pactimo and frequently writes about cycling as a sport and hobby. @tonykelsey


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