The routes chosen for the Elevation Challenge include two sections of gravel road – River Road in Woodstock (and actually Pomfret AND Hartford as well) and Stage Road in Pomfret. Is it OK to ride them on skinny-tired road bikes? Absolutely.
Local cyclists regularly ride these roads and many other gravel roads in the area on their road bikes. It is an important part of riding through rural Vermont. You are not going to ruin your nice road bike by riding on gravel roads. I used to think that, but time has proved me wrong.
A couple of things to keep in mind when riding on gravel roads:
1. Don’t ride them during mud season on a road bike. Mud season is the 5th official season in Vermont and occurs in March and April. It varies from 3 to 6 weeks depending on the winter snow fall, the depth of the frost and the amount of rain in the spring. You don’t want to be on a road bike on a gravel/dirt road during mud season. It is best to use a fat-tire bike or mountain bike then.
2. Avoid roads that have been recently graded. The road crews do a great job of maintaining the gravel roads, but that requires that they re-grade the roads using some pretty hefty machinery. In the process they kick up some good-sized rocks and the road is pretty soft in places. Not only is it really bumpy but it is also like riding on the beach. When you discover that the road you about to ride has been freshly graded you have two choices: a. turn around, and b. grin and bear it. In no instance should you complain or whine. It is just the way it is.
3. Ride 25mm diameter or larger tires. I ride 23mm tires and they hold up well, but there are some times I wish I had thicker tires for a smoother ride and more control in the loose stuff. Cross bikes have tires better suited for gravel roads, but they have more friction when riding pavement.
4. Pay extra attention to the road. Potholes and ruts are common on any gravel road. Be prepared to adjust your speed and your line.
So that is it. Get out and ride!