Dirt Trails

Dirt Trail Riding

I like dirt trails. I don’t often have an opportunity to ride on them, but when I do, I always enjoy the experience. There are a couple of dirt detours on my commute that I take during the dry season when I’m in the mood to mix things up and get away from cars, dog walkers, and roller bladers (no offense). Most any commuter bike can be ridden on dirt paths, though if the terrain gets steep or rooted and potholed, fat tires with a good amount of flotation make the experience more enjoyable. Following are a few of the things I like to see on a bike that will be ridden off road:

  • Relatively large cross-section tires that can be ridden at reduced pressures. My favorite cross-over tire for commuting mostly on pavement with a little bit of gravel and dirt thrown in is the Schwalbe Marathon Supreme in 37-622 and 42-622. I run these at around 60psi on my everyday commuter.
  • Stiff racks. Stiff racks are absolutely essential for carrying loads on bumpy terrain. I use a Tubus Cargo in back, and a Pass & Stow porteur up front. Both are made from tubular steel.
  • Well-designed bags. There’s nothing worse than bags that swing and sway when riding on rough terrain. Well-designed bags that securely attach to racks are essential for off road riding.
  • Fenders. Because my trail rides are almost always incorporated into a commute, and I usually ride in my work clothes, full coverage fenders are a must.
  • Durable lights with strong mounts. I’ve had more than one light fall off of the bike when riding on dirt. Lights that are designed for riding in rough terrain are best if you plan to ride off road on a regular basis.

Taking a dirt trail now and again is a nice way to add some spice to a daily commute. Often times I’m on a schedule and mostly concerned about getting to where I need to go, but when I have some extra time to kill, I always enjoy the peace and solitude that comes with going off road.

10 Responses to “Dirt Trails”

  • Jack says:

    love your entries. But you folks get way too much sunshine. Your pictures kill me. They are great, but they always make me think, “where in the hell do these folks live”?

    Be safe

  • Alan says:

    Sorry, Jack… ;-)

    We live in the northern half of Northern California’s Central Valley. According to Wikipedia, the northern Central Valley has a hot Mediterranean climate (Koppen climate classification Csa). It’s a nice place to live, though summers can be a little hot. We get around 20 inches of rain annually, and it can be foggy for long stretches this time of year. Fortunately, we’ve had some nice breaks from the fog this season, hence the nice sunsets lately.


  • Helton says:

    Not dealbreakers, but I’d like to add some notes that happened to me(from a formerly-XC enthusiast now converted to urban commuter, so I like trails a lot and don’t mind put my bike to shake heavily on rough terrain):

    Since I’ve put a Brooks saddle (flyer), my ability to traverse steep terrain (even going down a pair of steps on a stair) has been diminished. So, If one likes to use the same bike for commuting AND trekking, mind this minor disadvantage of broad saddles;

    Since I’ve put a front suspension due to sore wrists (I’m getting old!!), my front fender suffered so much that the fork fixation has been torn apart. I think that, because of the fender going from sprung (by the tire) mass to UNSPRUNG mass (since much of the shock absortion is transfered from the tire to the fork), it gets severely shaken even if you do not change terrain or riding habits (well, speed will increase a lot!). So it would be important to fix it very well, specially avoiding torsion and rattling.

  • tim says:

    Well put Jack. In Minnesota we have had one hell of a winter. I’m ready for some 30 degree days.

  • Lee Trampleasure says:

    Hope not to hijack the thread too much, but the Schwalbe post is so old: So, if the Schwalbe tires are so indestructible, does one need to carry a spare when touring?

    I never tend to carry a spare tire when touring, but I only tour in regions with plenty of bike shops around, and figure if I really destroy a tire I may just have to hitch a ride to the nearest bike shop.

  • Dolan Halbrook says:


    I’ve been commuting on a pair of Marathon Supremes for over 3 years (weekdays, ~10 mi/day) with one flat. Knock on wood.

    That said, I’d at least carry a boot when touring, like a power bar wrapper :)

  • Alan says:


    How much to carry seems to be highly personal; some people like to travel ultralight, others not so much. I tend to play it safe which means a spare tire on tours.


  • Bob B says:

    My Pacific NW neighborhood has an incredible network of unpaved rail-trails, walking trails, & fire-roads that I ride year-around. I’ve had great luck with Kenda tires, specifically the Kross (1.95 knobs with smooth center), Kwest 1.5 (more of a street, but I ride it on trails during the summer) as well as tires for my old Schwinn Varsity 27″ & Collegiate 26″ S6. The Kendas are affordable ($15-ish) and seat easily.

  • Steve Fuller says:

    In my area (central Iowa) we are fortunate to have a large network of low traffic gravel, and the occasional dirt, roads. They are my favorite places to ride due to the beautiful scenery and lack of traffic.

  • Daniel M says:

    I seem to post overly long replies when an entry is getting stale, but here we go again:

    No matter what bike I’m riding, I always seem to end up on a dirt road or trail for some portion or another of many rides. No matter whether it’s touring or a day trip, there is so often a trail to a view, or a section of dirt road that connects two otherwise far-flung paved points for a route that couldn’t be done exclusively on pavement.

    I think the single most important thing is big tires. These can be slick or semi-slick, but the more air they take, the more you can let out if necessary, the better control you have, and the less stress on the wheels, bike, and importantly, the rider. Room for fenders goes without saying among this crowd, I think.

    It’s also worth mentioning that powerful brakes become more important on dirt roads and trails than on pavement, because they often have stretches that are steeper than would be allowed on a paved road.

    I’ve realized that both of my primary bikes need to be all-rounders, whether it’s a graceful, 700c drop-bar bike or a 26″, upright bar, IGH-equipped tank. I’m up to 40mm tires on the former, and am looking into 2″ or above for the latter, which should be hopefully be here in about two weeks.

© 2011 EcoVelo™