What road?

I’ve never been a big fan of gravel. One reason being that the word “gravel” – in Missouri at least – is a relative descriptor. Mind you, I’ve never conducted any type of quantitative analysis of road conditions across the world, but I’ve always felt like the rural roads of Missouri are particularly insidious. Ours are comprised of long sections of bone jarring washboard, huge wheel crushing ruts that are almost gully-like in dimension… and “gravel” itself? From what I’ve read of other areas, gravel pathways are quaint and casual riding affairs of packed, mild mannered chat. Here, our gravel is mean-spirited, loosely distributed and much less like crushed chat and more like… well, like boulders. Lots and lots and lots of fist-sized boulders.
I used to live on a gravel road. We were about five miles from any sort of pavement. Then, as now, my choice of riding tended towards road bikes and not the sturdier framed mountain bikes. The big difference, however, was that back in the day I only rode 23C size road tires. Getting to those paved surfaces chewed up my narrow rubber tires and had my teeth chattering unrelentingly the entire five miles.
So I tend to avoid gravel…which occasionally has me at odds with a natural inclination to wander and explore. The past few days I’ve had a hankering to get off of the familiar routes and do a little meandering. Taking it slow, I wandered off the pavement on Saturday in search of new places. Heading out of town, I found myself with an unexpected urge to climb so I took the hilly route toward the bluffs along the Missouri River.
Some of the structures along the way are dilapidated, yet have the charm of homes that have been well-lived in for many a year. It’s easy to imagine, looking at this building, what the early days of Clay County must have looked like.
Atop one climb, I decided to take a side road to see what was there to see. It’s a pleasant (but short) detour.
The ride down was quick and uneventful, as was the miles of flats through the river bottoms. My Boulder Brevet is sporting a new pair of tires by Compass that have been growing on me as they seem to have settled in on the rims. Rough farm road surfaces seem to be absorbed better than when I’m riding typical road tires. Maybe I’m buying into the hype, or maybe I’m trying to justify to myself having shelled out the extra scratch for the tires – or maybe they’re actually doing what Compass bills them to do. Either way, I’m happy with the ride.
The first gravel road is flat for a couple hundred yards and then begins to ascend steeply back up into the bluffs. The road twists and turns abruptly, but I’m going uphill and slow, so no worries.
I ride my lower gears, but for some reason don’t need to rely on granny at all. The gravel is loose enough that my tires will spin if I shift into the very lowest gears. The line of sight is short and more than once I find myself wondering what might be over the next hill.
At one point, the road comes to a gated end and I have to turn around to look for another junction to explore.
And at another point, the road simply ends. The signs proclaim “Road Closed.”
What road?” I wonder.

10 thoughts on “What road?

  1. A very enjoyable read that captures the romance of the cyclotouriste.

    What width tire are you using and what tire pressure. I weigh ~155 lb. and ride 42 mm X 650B Hetre tires – 60 psi (R ) and 50-55 psi (F)?

  2. Rod, my Boulder is built for 700c tires with a maximum recommended tire size (with fenders) of, as I recall, 30mm. I’m currently running 700 x 28 Compass Chinook Pass tires that mic out at 29mm on my rims. Just eyeballing things, I feel like I could pretty easily go up to 32mm.) I weigh 185 and run about 90psi (R) and 85psi (F). A little different arrangement than your Boulder 650B. I’ve never had an opportunity to test ride 650B. I wonder if the advantage is still apparent on the larger frame sizes that I ride?

    • The big difference we notice between a 700 X 28 mm and a 650 X 42 mm tire is acceleration. The other difference is comfort. Lenora now rides a Georgena Terry Randonneuse with 650 X 42 mm Hetre tires. This weekend we had the opportunity to ride two other Georgena Terry bikes. Both bikes were fitted with 26″ X 28 mm tires. Although they accelerated faster than our bikes, our bikes seem easier to pedal and were more comfortable to ride. The tires on the two Terry’s we rode are belted, whereas the Hetre’s are not hence the Hetre is a more supple.

      Lenora’s first bike is a Specialized Vita Pro road bike with flat bars (designed for flat bars). The wheels are Mavic Aksium’s fitted with Hutchinson Secteur 28 tires (700 X 28). As with the Hetre tires, these were setup tubeless (Stans Notube). Lenora has comment several times the Vita Pro accelerates much faster than her Randonneuse 650B but the Randonneuse climbs better, requires less effort and is more comfortable than the Vita Pro.

      Side Note: One of the Terry’s was too small for Lenora but the other Terry was a close fit. Both were too small for me. One Terry was a Coto Denana Tour and the other was a Coto Denana Vagabond.

      • If I recall correctly, the Terry bikes specialize in smaller frames, right?

        I admit to being intrigued by the 650B mythos. I love the idea of big tires on a road bike, low pressures, supple casing, etc. I also “get it” about the feeling of acceleration loss.

        I’m curious: do you feel that the bigger tires/wider rims make a heavier bike, in general?

      • I don’t believe the wide tires make the bike any heavier than a bike with 700C wheels. My Boulder All-Road 650B weighs about 24 lb. Lenora’s bike weighs about the same. Both bikes have Brooks leather saddles, Berthoud stainless steel 50 mm fenders and generator hubs. The Pacenti PL23 650B rim spec. weight is 412 g and the Hetre spec. weight is 404. The rim and tire weight is not much different than that of a 700C rim and tire.

        Georgena Terry started designing and building bikes for women in the 70’s before the bicycle industry knew women rode bikes. The company she founded became Terry Bicycles. In 2009, Georgena sold her majority interest in the company to her partner. Today she only designs and builds custom steel bikes for women. We rode with Georgena over the weekend. Despite the fact she had polio as a kid and needs crutches to walk, GT celebrated her 64th birthday this weekend by riding 64 miles.

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