“Get off the road!”
“Get off the pavement!”
But not too far off. The trees schooled me Saturday. Mountain bike racing on a technical single track exactly once a year can be painful. Trees kept jumping out in front of me and knocking me down.
Whose idea was it to put all those trees out in the woods anyway?
I much preferred the gravel road segment of the Ruby Gravel 50. Higher speeds and fewer bruises feel a lot better. And gravel roads are cool.
That’s the message John Osgood wants to deliver. He did much better in Saturday’s Ruby Gravel 50. I got bruises. He got second place. Obviously, he trains and competes at a high level. But he also just likes bike riding and the things — nature, seclusion, peace, wildlife and fitness — it leads him to on the gravel roads of St. Clair County.
He lives a few minutes’ ride from the Wadhams-to-Avoca Trail. He wants you to get off it.
“There is a whole lot more out there if you just turn down one of those gravel roads,” he said. Wadhams-to-Avoca is nice, he said, “But it doesn’t change. I don’t turn. I never see anything new.”
But the converted rail-trail does connect to a world of little-traveled gravel roads that are well worth exploring.
“There is a whole other world on the gravel side that you can explore in your own back yard,” Osgood said.
Gravel road riding and racing is one of the fastest-growing elements of citizen bike racing.
The Barry-Roubaix ride in the spring, in Barry County between Battle Creek and Grand Rapids, may be one of the most popular in the country. Michigan Mountain Mayhem, in the northwest Lower Peninsula, has a gravel-road version this year that’s sold out.
But it’s not all racing.
Osgood likes gravel roads because they’re nice.
Soccer moms in mini-vans don’t roll down the window to scream at bicyclists on gravel roads.
“I can get on the gravel roads and see maybe 10 cars all day,” Osgood said. “And I can go hundreds of miles anywhere I want.”
St. Clair County has two advantages. The Wadhams-to-Avoca Trail connects where most of us are to where most of us should go. And our gravel roads are better. Really. Imlay City and Beard roads, which we raced on Saturday, might be smoother and flatter than a lot of paved roads in the region.
Osgood recommends you begin your exploration at Rynn Road. Beyond that, go north or west and the sky is the limit.
Mountain bikes are the tool of choice. You want something with a little more bounce and a little more traction than a road bike. Geeks will fly down dirt roads on specialized gravel-racing bikes or cyclocross bikes. But lots of other riders are having just as much fun exploring the dirt on comfort and cruising bikes.
So are you ready to color outside the lines?
Let’s go for a gravel road ride.
Meet me at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Imlay City Road trailhead of the Wadhams-to-Avoca Trail. The trailhead is just east of Duce Road. Bring a bike, some water and your sense of adventure. I’ll be wearing a helmet, and suggest you do, too.
We’ll cross the trestle, turn onto a gravel road, ride a nice-and-easy 8-mile loop through parts of the Blue Water Area you’ve maybe never seen before.