TCI Friday

TCI Friday works best when you read and weigh in. Please comment below, so we can get a conversation going. For my sake, please save me from the echo chamber of my own thoughts and ideas. Thanks.

Jeremy said, when he bought his last road bike, he told the builder he’d be using it for 85% road riding, and 15% dirt road riding. Almost immediately, he reported, those numbers flipped, and he both didn’t see it coming, and can’t fathom it being any other way now.

Many of us have fled the roads in the last 5-10 years. What happened? Well, to my eye it looks like a perfect storm broke over the road market circa 2012. Late that year, the USADA’s reasoned decision came out, enumerating the multivariate and stomach-turning ways in which Lance Armstrong and his US Postal/Astana/Radio Shack cohort had been cheating at bike racing. This single, final reckoning effectively ended the Lance-driven-road-era in the US.

My first real road bike had Shimano Ultegra components on it. That’s how I knew it was real.

Simultaneously, people were beginning to ask just how wide a tire they could fit on their road bikes in order to ride not-paved roads. Purpose-built “gravel” bikes followed not too far behind, ushering in disc brakes and all sorts of tires that bridged the gap between 25mm road and 2.3″ mountain rubber.

Here we see both a negative and positive charge enter the equation. Cyclists stopped being inspired by Lance to ride road bikes and started being inspired by the possibility to get the hell out of traffic. I think 2012 was a sort of pivotal time in bike/road infrastructure too, a point at which the previous decade’s pressure to install bike lanes and to include cycling in urban planning projects finally began to pay dividends, although perhaps too late to save road cycling from going into decline.

It’s crazy to me to think that I have a beautiful custom road bike that I love, and yet I’ve been on it twice this calendar year. I was a road bike commuter, and I was a weekend roadie, but apparently my wool was not as darkly dyed as I’d thought. I switched to gravel riding eagerly, and that fueled a big time return to mountain biking too.

Do I miss road riding? Only a little. Occasionally. I guess I think these things always have cycles. I assume my road bike will come back into the mix again someday.

This week’s TCI Friday asks, how much to do you ride road versus what I’ll call “other?” Have you stuck at it, or have you followed a similar path to mine? Looking into the future, what do you think will cause the next road bike boom, or is there not one coming?

Here we are, another Friday. Hopefully, you’re already thinking about the weekend’s riding. I’m glad we all got this far. Before you go, please take a second to leave your comments below and maybe even to share this post with someone else who’s trying not to do anymore work this week. Thanks.

Join the conversation
  1. erikthebald says

    0% road since 2001, nothing at all to do with Lance (douchebag). May start doing a little road on the way to a gravel road. I think road riding, for me at least, is dead and dying due to all the distracted drivers. Autonomous cars will make it even worse as they have been proven to not see motorcycles and pedestrians.

    It’s a shame, too, because I have a beautiful 1985 Serotta Nova Special with a fresh paint job hanging in my shed. With no parts cuz I took them off to build a cyclocross bike back in ’01.

  2. hmlh33 says

    For me it’s kind of weather dependent. I don’t like getting dirty, so when it’s wet or god awful humid, I’m on the road. When it’s been dry or it’s getting cold I’m in the woods. I gravel a little but it’s not really my love and I use an old road bike with 28’s (maybe not the optimal gravel experience).

    This summer has been dry and I’ve been almost only in the woods. Now I’ve decided I could use some road time and I must say that it’s a harder workout with much longer climbs. My woods options are more rolling, the greater distances of road riding entail significant ups and downs. I think for best conditioning heading into winter, I’m going to spend more time on the road this fall.

  3. schlem says

    Does chipseal count as fossilized gravel? That’s what I ride 90% of the time, I reckon. Rural ag roads, lightly travelled. I have a splendid boingy-boingy MTB, and miiiiles of trails a twenty minute ride from home, but those trails don’t GO ANYWHERE. Just bouncy loops. (Did I yawn?)

  4. dr sweets says

    Lets not forget a large factor that’s made the roads a far less desirable place for a bike; America’s insatiable appetite for big ass SUVs . Not to mention the entitlement baked in those who own them. I stopped routinely riding road around ’13-14 for this reason and that there are just too many great places to ride off road here in N GA that are bereft of the aforementioned asshats.

  5. loggengr says

    After 40 plus years I’m still almost 100% road. But I’m blessed to be in a rural mountainous community with many miles of open road and (mostly) courteous drivers. I do have a mountain bike that isn’t seeing much use that I’m thinking will make a great gravel bike conversion so I can start accessing some forest service roads I’ve been itching to explore and maybe join in on some gravel rides….

  6. jlaudolff says

    I just got back from a 3 week self-supported tour in Oregon and Washington. My goal was to stay off highways. I ended up with about 25% gravel. A few of the sections on highways were terrifying. Two-lane high speed roads with semis. Inconsistent shoulders. Some of these sections were established bike routes! I really enjoyed the ranch and forest roads. I’ve started equating gravel roads with washboard, but that is way better than those highways.

  7. ian_christianson says

    Started riding the road more during the early pandemic days as the local woods were packed. Prior to that I was a mountain biker 95% of the time, staying out of the woods for mud season.

    Here in SE MA there really isn’t much gravel, just fire roads and a few easier trails. There may be a way to link up sections of good stuff but I don’t know enough of them. That said, Ride Headquarters’ most recent full moon ride in Ashland was remarkable. Have only done a few of their rides but can’t recommend them enough.

    After 2 wet fixed gear road rides and and an hour in the woods this morning, I’m looking forward to some time on the road tomorrow. When in rhythm and the right roads it does feel like flying low.

  8. mattdwyerva says

    I like dirt roads and lots in Virginia, so I look for routes that include them. But…. I love the Skyline Drive, both the endless climbs and the 50 mph descents. And with multiple old man injuries, I don’t like gravel descents – too sketchy on roads where one week it’s fine and the next week treacherous. Ymmv

  9. Dan Murphy says

    Hey Robot, do you think that maybe you’re avoiding the road because of where you live? Heck, I wouldn’t want to ride in the Arlington area. But, then again, since I moved out to I-495 land 26 years ago, I’ll admit I’m spoiled. I rarely go more than a few miles inside I-495 as the traffic gets noticeably busier.
    Anyways, my default ride is on the road. I have decent options for dirt rides locally on a gravel bike and love to travel to NH and VT for dirt roads. And when it gets cold, I’m on dirt by default, just to stay warm. Haven’t touched the mtb in a looooong time.

    1. Emlyn Lewis says

      Dan, I don’t think it’s where I live. I’m pretty comfortable with the traffic levels ar0und here. For me, I think gravel and MTB riding just speaks more effectively to my love of bike-handling. I’m not that turned on by how fast or far I can pedal. I want to feel the ballet of the bike, and that’s just much more readily accessible off-road. Also, I love the woods.
      Thinking about trying to get a regular road spin in again though.

  10. TominAlbany says

    I’m mostly still a roadie.
    I added gravel a couple of years ago, and CX too.
    I’m a part-time dirtbag as well.

    All bikes good.

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