Book Review: Dirt Road Washtenaw

 Dirt Road Cycling With Rob Pulicpher
Here in Michigan, the temps are getting lower, the leaves are falling, and before we know it we’re going to start seeing some snow.  Most cyclists are either going to set up the trainer inside, hook up mountain bikes with studded tires, or stop riding altogether until the spring thaw.

Dirt Road WashtenawRob Pulcipher, Author of Dirt Road Washtenaw: Biking the Back Roads, challenges this attitude with his new book, an invaluable resource for local bicyclists. It full is of routes, riding techniques, and histories of the roads most of us have learned to avoid.  There are dozens of routes with detailed maps, photographs, and descriptions illustrating the beauty and varied terrain that the area has to offer.

Though his book is geared towards those in Washtenaw County, his advice and experience is applicable to cyclists throughout the country. I sat down with Rob for a couple minutes last week to discuss riding the dirt roads, and he informed and motivated me to get my knobby bike out on those roads I so often have neglected.

Biking the Back Roads

Why ride dirt roads?  Here’s the deal:

  • There are no traffic issues.  Generally, dirt roads are not paved because there are few cars driving on them.  So if your local paved roads have heavy traffic or the absence of bike lanes or decent shoulder, try exploring your dirt roads.
  • The topography is fantastic.  What’s with all these hills, I thought Michigan was flat!  If you are in Washtenaw, ride the dirt roads for hill work outs.  If you are elsewhere, check out your dirt roads for widely varying terrain.
  • Use the dirt roads for training.  Rob is an experienced mountain bike racer, and uses the dirt roads for his winter training.  “Just getting out helps,” he says, but additionally riding dirt roads strengthens handling ability.  Riding in the snow during the winter months greatly helps steering technique.
  • Get out and explore!  Rob told me: “Sometimes you’ll come off a dirt road on to a paved road, and don’t even know where you are. All of sudden you realize you are on a road you’ve ridden all the time, but you just didn’t look at it the same way.  The more I wandered, the more I found.  The county just kept opening up, and it blew me away how many dirt roads we have.”
  • It’s Beautiful.  Farm land, streams, rivers, hills, and forests all are found within miles from the strip malls and high traffic of the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area.  Find things you didn’t even know were capable of being within your immediate vicinity.  Bring a camera, pack a lunch, and soak it in.  These roads are gorgeous almost all times of the year.
  • Get outside in the winter.  Deep snow is tough to ride in, but within a day after a snowfall, it gets packed down and you can ride on snow just like you ride on anything else.  With knobby tires it’s not really even a challenge.  The snow absorbs sound, everything is quiet; winter riding can be extremely peaceful.  For better stability, use studded tires.

If you don’t live in Washtenaw County

Let Rob’s experiences help you along your way:

  • The Bike.  Road bikes are not that great for the dirt - they are jarring, difficult to control, and wheels can be damaged from potholes and rough terrain.  Cyclocross bikes are ideal for most people, but definitely not necessary.  Mountain bikes will work great, and so will hybrids as long as the tires are knobby enough.
  • Finding the Roads.  Rob started riding the roads with some friends.  Between them they knew the paved roads fairly well, so if they got turned around on the dirt roads, the paved roads that intersected them generally revealed their location.  Realize you will probably get turned around.  Bring maps, some food, a cell phone, and go wandering.
  • Its probably out your back door.   I asked Rob if he has explored much beyond Washtenaw County.  “I’ve wandered beyond the county.  But there are so many close roads here to explore – there’s just so much here already.”  What this means is that you probably don’t need to go driving off in to the country to find these dirt roads and make good routes.  Leave from home, turn off some dirt road, and see where it takes you.

Go out and ride your dirt roads.  Need assistance getting the right gear or just some advice?  Give us a call at 734.484.9999.  For more about Rob Pulcipher, check out his blog.   Purchase Dirt Road Washtenaw: Biking the Back Roads from Tree Fort Bikes.  For more about the book and a book preview, visit the Dirt Road Washtenaw website.

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