Dealing with rough roads

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Anonymous's picture

As a first time road bike rider (ex-MTB/hybrid), and having invested a decent amount of money in my new bike, I find I'm very protective of the equipment when I ride, maybe too much so.

How do most of you cope with rough roads - e.g. small potholes, cracks, small rocks, etc...? If I tried to avoid everything, I'd be weaving in and out of traffic and probably wouldn't average more than 5mph. The situation that really gets to me is when you're cruising down a hill at 25mph+, it's almost impossible to miss a wide rough patch, and avoiding craters seems like potluck.

I know it's a tough question, but how paranoid should you be of rough road surfaces?

Anonymous's picture
Hank Schiffman (not verified)

If you are in a paceline and the road surface is bad but avoidable, bring the paceline out and around the problem. If obsticles are unavoidable you should call out and/or point out the problems. If you are riding solo you must use your own judgement. A pinch flat, crash or broken wheel will certainly change your day; use your judgement in your response to the problem. If in doubt take evassive action. 700 tires and wheels are less forgiving than ABT equiptment. Standing on your pedals while going over rough terrain helps to lighten the shock to your bike. Pedaling through a rough patch of pavement or sand will give you more traction. If it gets really hairy, try to make contact with your top tube with the inside of one of your legs to dampen vibrations. But riding the bike off your saddle gives you more control. Braking early is essential if you are going into trouble, espeially if you have to turn.
Minimal equiptment of a light road bike requires constant vigilance. Always be aware of traffic behind you if you begin to weave.

Anonymous's picture
Yogi (not verified)
Chorus of holes and rough roads

"I also agree with HS in differentiating your options when riding solo or in a group ride.

It’s bad form to serpentine all over the road when people are behind you.

>700 tires and wheels are less forgiving than ABT equipment. Standing on your pedals while going over rough terrain helps to lighten the shock to your bike.

When riding solo, you do have a lot more options. You can use a lot of the same skills of MTB’in on your RB. I find at moderate high speeds, the bunny (squirrel) hop works well in traffic for wide but short craters. With a lighter bike you can go for a softer landing. You don’t need much vertical lift, just enough speed to clear the far lip of the hole. Of course practice makes perfect, I’ve seen people on RBs hop up 8"" curbs at speed going parallel to the sidewalk. (Don’t try this at home kids. If the front wheel don’t clear the top, it’ll be a mess to clean up).

I would also like to add while standing on your pedals decreases the beating on your bike, it could also reduce the pounding on your body and joints. Rather than standing on the pedals, I like to come off the saddle but keeping my butt back so the center of gravity is not moved forward. Bending your knees/ elbows and actually bringing your torso closer to the top tube for better handling.

Most RBs that are not crazy light can take some beating (your own mass is a factor also). The bone shaking, teeth rattling, bottle tossing, b*ll busting, head snapping and butt launching road conditions might cause your body to malfunction first.

Did anybody see the moon like surface just north of GWB on the southbound side of Fort Washington Ave? There are gaping potholes inside the pothole fills!

Pete: Where is a decent place to get a good used bike? ( :-)


Anonymous's picture
Peter Storey (not verified)
Hank's comments are spot-on . . .

"but no, you don't have to be paranoid.

Many MTBers assume that since the road bikes look so light they must be fragile. In fact, there's a lot of strength there, even though you still don't want to slam one around like an MTB.

I'm assuming that a ""decent"" amount of money got you a 105 or Ultegra level bike with traditional wheels (or maybe Ksyrium Elites)-- no carbon parts, no ""race-day"" wheels. If so, you don't need to baby the bike. Cultivate finesse over time, but if your spokes are appropriately tensioned and wheels are true, you're unlikely to break anything. Pinch flats? Who knows. So fix it -- no big deal. If you get a lot of pinch flats, step up to the next larger tire size.

Obviously, I'm talking about breakage and equipment failure here. Keeping control of the bike and crash-avoidance is up to you.

Anonymous's picture
"Chainwheel" (not verified)
Wider tires

"""How do most of you cope with rough roads - e.g. small potholes, cracks, small rocks, etc...?""

The ""racer image"" marketing strategy has put most recreational riders on 700c x 23 (or narrower) tires. Most recreational riders would benefit from somewhat wider tires and lower pressures. Running 700c x 25 (or 28) tires will give a more comfortable and stable ride. But many frames don't provide adequate clearance for them.


Anonymous's picture
fendergal (not verified)

"Before I did the A-SIG (this was when there was just one SIG, no SIG-lite, SIG sans caffeine, and SIG with lime), I was expressing my extreme anxiety about riding in a paceline and the possibility of crashing or hitting potholes. My soon-to-be-spouse comforted me by saying, ""Your bike can ride over a lot of crap."" What wise words!

You say that you'd never average more than 5 mph by having to maneuver around all these obstacles. You'll have much more control over the bike if you ride faster; momentum will carry you through most things, as long as it's not a crater. A faster speed does require that you look further up the road to anticipate what's coming up. If cars are in front of you, look and listen.

However, sometimes you won't see something and you'll have to deal with it. Sometimes things just appear; holes open up in the dead of night; rocks and branches get pushed into the shoulder. Learn to ride over them: Get your butt off the saddle. Steer with your hips, not your handlebars. Less swerving. Learn to bunnyhop--but that's not something you can do all the time, esp. if you're in a paceline. If it's sand or gravel, keep pedaling. If it's a giant metal plate, hit it at a perpendicular angle.

Keep those tires pumped up to a high pressure (at least 120 psi), and make sure all your frame attachments are secure (seat bag, bottle cages, frame pump, blinkie light, and fender of course!), so nothing bounces off.

Road bikes are not delicate flowers. If you ding up the paint job, then at least it'll look like you've ridden the damn thing.

Ride safe!"

Anonymous's picture
Et Tu Shrdlu? (not verified)
Avoiding bumps and cracks with a road bike

"""How do most of you cope with rough roads - e.g. small potholes, cracks, small rocks, etc...?""

There is an ancient Montenegrin saying, ""If you don't want to get totaled by a rock in the road, don't ride over it."" Similar folk wisdom applies to cracks, bumps, bricks, glass and dead squirrels.

P.S., I'm my way, atop my Colnago, to Kennebunklump, or however it's spelled, Maine, to see the childhood summer cabin of our President, Cowboy George Bush. Was rather disappointed by his college in New Haven. Yale something. Not a trace of sagebrush anywhere, and I couldn't find a single lump of bullstuff to kick, except in the library, filed under the Dewey Decimal System.

Your Pal,
Etoain Shrdlu."

Anonymous's picture
"Chainwheel" (not verified)

"""Similar folk wisdom applies to cracks, bumps, bricks, glass and dead squirrels.""

How about live squirrels? I rode over one of them once, but I think he got the worst of it!


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