Gravel’s Gridlock: Riding the country rush hour

This blog’s gravelly focus belies the fact that a big hunk of the unmentioned miles we ride are of the paved flavor. And for every joyful weekend gravel jaunt, there are six or eight urban yawners where I’m just a guy on his way to or from the office.

I love swinging my Long Haul Trucker inside my bookish little office in the morning and switching from playing bikes to playing writer.

Most of these commutes are indistinguishable from one another. They’re lovely, but forgettable—so long as I’m cautious, drivers are cautious and the infrastructure’s decent.

Go three for three on these counts—safe cyclist, safe drivers, safe streets—and virtually nothing can go wrong. But when you take even one of those guardrails away, your risks go up. And it takes a little luck to make it home with all your bones properly stowed in their unbroken positions.

And every time I ride my way into some kind of urban scrape—every time I get in the way of a driver’s text, or I fail to predict someone else’s failure to yield—I think the thought of: “Jesus Buckets, I wish I was riding gravel right now.”

Whenever a van accelerates to race you to a crosswalk, it’s OK to win and it’s OK to lose. You just don’t want to tie. (Photo,

We talk a lot here about what’s made gravel cycling so popular in the last decade. And I believe a big part of it is this: As drivers become more distracted, enjoying a bike has come to require getting the hell away from them.

That’s the stuff. (Photo, Bohemian Sto Mil)

I’m sappy about this safe-place stuff right now because this is the time of year when we need to do just a little bit more to keep it that way.

You see, the corn’s about to come out.

Corn harvest in Illinois - September
It’s payday, race fans! (Photo, Illinois Farm Bureau)

This is the time of year when “our” roads get their busiest. The people we share them with—men and women driving pickups, combines, grain trucks, tractors and semis—are working crazy hours with a lot on the line.

And we are in their way.

Share the dirt. A wide pass, properly executed. (Photo, Pirate Cycling League)

They accommodate us well year round. The “angriest” exchange I’ve ever had with a farmer while on my bike involved his polite request that we steer clear of a particular road for a couple weeks, until his skittish calves could settle in, so he wouldn’t have to mend fence again. (Meanwhile, the angriest altercations I’ve had with city drivers have involved thrown bottles and death threats.)

Farmers and ranchers get why we want to be out here. They love the same things we do.

It’s good to remember we’ve got a good thing going here with them. We keep it that way with extra deference through harvest. Expect more vehicles and machinery out there. Stay to the right on hills. Pull over—especially for those wide combines and semis. Predict that they’re tired and under stress. (They are.)

On race days, they cheer us on. Well, now’s their race season. Maybe it’s our turn to cheer.

I don’t know whether Schmidty’s ever actually thrown anybody out of Gravel Worlds for not riding on the right, but I love how adamant they are about it—how often they remind us. I’m sure it’s saved somebody’s goat by now. Maybe mine. Maybe yours. (Photo, Pirate Cycling League)





















2 thoughts on “Gravel’s Gridlock: Riding the country rush hour

  1. Always ride right is really good advice. It’s easy to let your guard down on gravel and with the wind and the cruch of the road under your tires, motor vehicles have a way of sneaking before you hear them.


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