QUESTION: What is road cycling good for? Some of my friends are telling me that gravel riding is better. Others say mountain bike riding is better. What about road cycling? – Justin C
RBR’S STAN PURDUM REPLIES: Road cycling includes everything from an occasional low-speed neighborhood ride to running errands on a bike to bicycle commuting regularly to work, to touring the country on two wheels, to vigorous pedaling as one’s sport and fitness program, to competitive bike racing — really, any cycling that takes place primarily on hard-surface pavement.
There will always be riders who will argue that either mountain biking or gravel cycling is superior to road cycling, but mostly, they are expressing their preferences. All three types of cycling have benefits and supporters.
But your question is about road cycling, and that form of bike riding is:
Good for your well-being. Most forms of cycling, whether on the road or off, are good exercise and thus are good for you. Cycling contributes to your well-being, physically, mentally and emotionally.
Good for going longer distances. Riding mountain trails and gravel roads requires more physical effort than riding pavement, so you can cover more distance on a road ride for the same amount of energy expended.
Good for great workouts. Speed, distance, hill climbs and wind resistance make it possible to get just as good a workout road riding as doing other types of cycling.
Good for low-impact exercise. Cycling in general is a low-impact activity, which is to say that it causes less strain to your joints and muscles than exercises such as running, tennis or skiing. But since road biking is usually on smoother surfaces, the impact is even lower than what you experience while mountain biking or gravel cycling on irregular surfaces.
Good for adventure. Road cycling shares this attribute with other forms of cycling, but don’t discount that getting to a destination on bicycle that is usually arrived at in a motor vehicle often imparts a sense of adventure, even if the destination is right in your hometown.
Good for getting to anywhere roads go. There are a few exceptions, such as interstate highways and freeways that prohibit bicycles on them, or thoroughfares that are so busy with vehicular traffic that pedaling on them is too high a risk. But mostly, if there’s a paved road leading to a destination you wish to visit, road cycling is a way to get there.
Good for beginning the ride right from your front door. No need to transport the bike to an off-road trailhead.
Good because there are endless miles of potential routes for road bikes. As already mentioned, paved roads go almost everywhere.
Good for riding in “civilization.” If you enjoy riding though places where you are likely to encounter people going about their everyday lives, where coffee shops and food stops are likely, where restrooms and other services are available, then road cycling is the best choice.
Good for getting a reluctant spouse or friend to join you. For many non-cyclists, taking their first rides with you on a paved trail can be a good way to introduce them to the sport. With smooth pavement beneath them, new cyclists can concentrate on learning to operate the gears and developing general bike confidence without having to pay great attention to the ground surface.
Good for starting with the bike you already have. Many people just starting out in cycling have an old bike in the garage that they can begin with. It may not be suitable for off-road riding, but most any bike can be operated on pavement.
Good for thinking and reflection. While some road riding environments require riders to be carefully attentive to traffic and terrain, other settings — like quiet country roads — provide lots of time for thinking and reflection. I’ve sometimes called my road bike “the marvelous thought machine.”
Fellow Roadies: What good aspects of road cycling have I missed? Feel free to mention them in the comments section below.
Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, lives in Ohio. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.