The century I rode over the weekend was well planned and well supported. But compared to two years ago when I first rode it, some of the roads had deteriorated — mostly on the back half of the course.
Suddenly, the little county road we were on changed from pocked-up asphalt to gravel.
Now, I have some friends who like gravel. They ride mountain bikes with wide tires, and can take advantage of the more remote countryside they get to travel on those less-improved roads. But those are mountain bikers.
Even some road bikes with wider tires can probably do well on gravel. Some like a Surly Long Haul Trucker with 28 or 32 mm tires should be able to handle gravel with no trouble.
But that’s not necessarily true of a road bike with skinny tires. I run 25 mm tires on my Specialized Allez, and I was all over the road, trying to find the more tamped-down sections. I can imagine that people riding 23s had a rougher go of it than I did.
After the gravel ended, I stopped to attend to a hot spot on my shoe. Bikers who were behind us passed by, and every one of them made a remark about the gravel.
As it turned out, I had good reason to be concerned with the rough surface. I discovered low pressure in my front tire at the next rest stop. I pumped it up with the mini-pump I carry, but ten miles farther down the road, at another rest stop, the tire was soft again. A sag vehicle was at the stop, waiting to haul a hapless rider back to the start, and he had a big floor pump. I pumped up the tire again.
At the final rest stop, it was soft again. I was getting ready to pull out the mini-pump when a Bicycle Sports Shop van pulled up. The bike mechanic pumped the tire up for me. I finished the century without any other mechanical problem.
When I got home from work today, I pushed the bike out of the garage to get ready for a short ride. The front tire was completely flat. Once I took off the tire and carefully inspected it, I found a small gouge like a sharp-edged pebble would make. I had to pump up the tube and submerge it in the kitchen sink to find the slow leak. I found no debris inside the tire, so I put in a replacement tube and took a one-hour ride.
Gravel roads and road bikes — they just don’t mix very well. Or is it just me? Do you ride gravel on skinny tires?