How to ride a road bike over a mountain pass

Cycling on a road bike over a mountain pass is becoming more or less commonplace, when not so long ago it might have seemed really strange. Competitions such as the Strade Bianche, for example, have made it completely clear that it is possible to cycle on dirt roads even when cycling on a road bike.

Moreover, if we think of the champions of the past, when asphalt was practically a mirage, we will understand perfectly well how absolutely possible it is to face a dirt road with a road bike.

But to do so, we have to take some precautions and slightly modify the riding style of the bike, to avoid unpleasant sensations. We have to think that the grip is totally different to what we find on tarmac and we have to adapt to this.

1. The trajectory

The first thing to keep in mind when cycling on a dirt road with your road bike is that it is important to plan your trajectory and stick to it as much as possible. As you can imagine, a sudden change of direction can cause you to “lose the front wheel”, with the imaginable consequences.

So: any change of direction has to be done progressively.

2. Downhill curves

If we have already said that it is important to maintain the trajectory, when we are in descent it is even more important. On descents, the possibility of losing the front wheel is even greater than on the flat and uphill, so we must be extremely cautious.

If the correct line of a curve on asphalt is to open up as much as possible at the beginning of the curve and then fold and cut back in order to get out as fast as possible; on gravel the technique changes completely and on gravel it is not at all advisable to fold on the bike. So, in sterrato, the advice for cornering when descending is to first slow down to a speed that allows you to maintain your trajectory while keeping your bike straight.

3. Uphill sections

The climbs on dirt roads with a road bike deserve a separate chapter. As we have already pointed out, on this type of surface the grip is minimal, so the moment we stand on the pedals we totally lose traction and the rear wheel can slip. That is why it is important to keep the weight on the rear wheel when riding on a hill. The secret, then, is to remain seated.

It is also important to bear this in mind when you want to launch the bike on the flat.

4. Braking

Braking on an unpaved road should be light and progressive. When braking on this type of terrain we have to be very careful. It is therefore advisable not to “brake” too hard with the front brake, but to modulate the braking by using both brakes. What is the risk of not doing so? The usual… You end up on the floor.

5. Relaxed attitude

Just as an earthquake-proof building has to sway to stay upright, so too when we pedal on dirt, we have to have a relaxed attitude that allows us to cushion ourselves. So, keep your arms and back relaxed and avoid stiffness as much as possible.

6. The tyres

While a 25mm tyre is fine, a 28mm tyre will be even better. To increase comfort when riding on this type of terrain, we recommend inflating the tyre to a slightly lower pressure than recommended. But be careful, as this increases the risk of punctures, especially in the case of road tyres road tyres and inner tubes.

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Stefano Francescutti

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