Instead of rubber hitting the road, cyclists are gravitating toward gravel and mountain biking trails. Tight-fitting and brightly colored Lycra has become something of a fashion dinosaur as more concealing than revealing bike shorts and loose fitting flannel shirts have joined the landscape.
Sales of gravel and adventure-type bikes are on the upswing. Technological advancements make for better, and more comfortable off-road rigs.
So, is road cycling dead?
Though steeped in tradition and history in both sport and transportation, road cycling also has a perceived air of elitism to it with its shaved legs riders on carbon fiber machines taking over the roads in a sense of entitlement.
Cheating scandals haven’t helped either — thanks Lance Armstrong — with the controversy even coming to the valley when Armstrong’s Tour de France Postal teammate and four-time Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb winner Tyler Hamilton and Canadian Jeannie Longo had their record times in the competition invalidated due to their admissions of using performance enhancing drugs during their careers.
Fear certainly is a contributing factor in keeping cyclists off the road as safety is paramount. Motorists are more distracted than ever with rampant cell phone and GPS use. Many roadways are crumbling and in need of repaving. Excessive speed puts cyclists and pedestrians at risk.
Next door in Maine, the Bicycle Coalition of Maine reports speeding was a factor in 26 percent of all traffic fatalities in the country in 2018, killing 9,378 people —an average of more than 25 deaths a day.
That statistic was brought home in May when respected and well-liked Jackson cyclist Dick Devellian was struck from behind by a motorist as he was riding his bicycle in Intervale. When cyclists can personalize a tragedy, road bikes get left in the barn forever.
Here in the valley, off-road options are exploding. Gravel worshippers are discovering dirt roads that have been plain sight for generations in towns like Tamworth and Sandwich.
Thanks to the newly formed White Mountain Bike Coalition, the North Conway trail system is growing. Rail trails are rolling along with Fryeburg’s Mountain Division Trail now a valley staple and the planned Mount Washington Valley Rec Path on the horizon.
Let’s face it, road riding isn’t always family friendly, especially with young groms. Moms will likely steer the clan to mountain biking or rail trails for safety.
Dirt roads and trails also play up to a sense of adventure. After working in the city or burbs all week, wouldn’t you want to head to the mountains for some off-road bikepacking or mountain biking?
But road biking also offers adventure from the thrill of riding in a pack during a race to doing a long-distance bike tour.
Though there is no Tour de France this year, watching it and other competitions like it can be more exciting than the final two minutes of an NBA game. The concentration, discipline and team work is found during the cat-and-mouse chases and peloton. The tour and events like the Olympics often can entice young riders into the sport.
Education is key to getting people to ride safely on the road, for both cyclists and motorists — and let’s not forget more cyclists are motorists than motorists are cyclists.
Cyclists must adhere to the rules of the road for their own safety and that of others. Bicycle Coalition of Maine recently unveiled a Slow Maine Down campaign encouraging motorists to keep their speed at or below the posted speed limit as a way to save lives.
Road riding is all about the miles. Thin-tired rigs shine during finite blocks of time. Efficient, economic and energizing, cyclists can put down their heads and grind out those miles.
On a more leisurely spin, roadies have greater pedaling access to accoutrements like coffee shops and restaurants.
Just as mountain biking has its ebbs and flows, road biking is seeing its’ roller coaster time. Life’s trendy pendulum swings back and forth, so it shouldn’t be surprising when gravel see its’ day too. Don’t forget that thin-tired road bikes can also be ridden on dirt, though with care and awareness.
Although wide tires and suspension systems make for some cushy fun on the dirt, the body can only take so much jarring over time.
When it does, there’s nothing like rolling down a scenic backroad on freshly placed pavement on a road bike.