Saturday, November 6, 2010

Switching Styles

This post is in honor of Mike Weaver, a former Chrysler inmate. Mike grew up on dirt bikes and is a natural at riding them. He once told me that it took a very different style to ride a dirt bike and a road bike. He tried a road bike for a while, but he said he just couldn't adapt his riding style and felt like he was always doing the wrong thing. In the end, he sold the road bike before he hurt himself.

I spent a couple of nights in Tellico Plains, TN and a couple of days riding around that part of the Smokie Mountains. This area is famous to road bikers for the "Tail of the Dragon" and the Cherohala Parkway, both of which cross the mountains in a nice combination of curves. Frankly speaking, I found the "Dragon" to be far over-rated, a case of good marketing over a good road, but then the 4 radar cops, the 30 mph speed limit, and the line of bikes all in a row probably colored my opinion. The Cherohala on the other hand is just grand.

The same area is famous to dual sport bikers for the large network of gravel forest service roads, mixed in with a few single tracks, that cover the mountains. Even more interesting, are the roads that go back and forth between paved and dirt. These roads left a wonderful impression.

A Matter of Style

On a road bike, you lean into the corner. The faster you go around the corner, the more you lean. As you go faster yet, you shift your body off the inside of the bike so that the bike is at a little less lean angle while the combination of you and the bike remain balanced.

On a dirt bike, you don't have enough grip to lean into the corner, yet you need to lean the bike to turn efficiently. The result is that you stand up, lean the bike into the corner, while keeping your center of gravity somewhat over the tire patch.

The problem is that when you have been used to riding pavement and you come to some dirt, your instincts are all wrong. I had been riding twisty paved roads for 3 or 4 days when I came to my first long section of dirt road. Boy did I feel like a klutz. It took 20 minutes riding on dirt to get even a little comfortable. Then, switching back to pavement took another 5 minutes or so to remember the right thing to do. However, by the end of a couple of days of switching back and forth between pavement and gravel, I was switching styles with the best of them.

My advise to Mike is to get a dual sport bike next time, the bikes response will be more familiar to you. Most of them are hell on wheels on a twisty paved road with good mixed surface tires. Although they are too heavy to be much good off-road in sand and mud, give them hardpack and they are still a lot of fun. Then get on a road like Citigo Creek where you can practice, practice, practice.

The obligitory photo of a rock strewn creek, this time Citigo Creek, TN. This shot is fairly far up the road where the road has changed to gravel again.

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