Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Hitting the Trails

Most of my road biking life has been spent on the smooth tarmac of two lane roads. I've grown very accustomed to riding in close proximity with cars and fairly skilled at finding long stretches of road with wide shoulders. My limited experience with bike paths and trails has come on charity rides where the routes are closed. Over Labor Day Weekend I spent some time in Dallas and had the opportunity to ride a multi-use path known as "White Rock Ramble." As a rider who spends most of his time on the roads, switching over to the MUP was a very interesting experience as there are some marked differences between the two.

The trademark sign of the multi use path

One of the most fun aspects of riding the MUP were the turns you simply can't find on any road. I found myself smiling from ear to ear as I attacked hairpin bends that switch from right to left in just a few feet. Those are the sort of turns you can't experience on any roadway. Interestingly enough I found that I was more comfortable making sharp turns to the right than the left. After some practice I found myself getting much more confident moving to my left.

While it's a lot of fun diving through turns at speed, I found it very difficult to get up to speed because of all the traffic. Dodging walkers, joggers, pet enthusiasts can be quite a challenge on a road that's barely wider than two sets of handlebars. Add in cyclists traveling from the opposite direction and it goes from a challenging to dangerous. I found that many inexperienced cyclists sometimes brake too late and too hard, nearly locking up their brakes and not providing cyclists behind them with hand signals for slowing or stopping. The most dangerous instances stemmed from cyclists who attempted to pass a slower jogger or cyclist without yielding to oncoming cyclists. It creates a situation where three people attempt to ride on a path that's only large enough for two bikes. Is the risk of locking handlebars with an oncoming rider worth adding .01 mph to your average speed on a MUP? Apparently to some it is since it happened to me twice in one day on the White Rock Ramble.

Despite the close calls, I found riding the MUP a welcome change of pace. I don't see it replacing the open road as the staple of my cycling diet. However, I do think it's a great way to add in some variety at times when riding becomes monotonous. What are the advantages and disadvantages to riding MUP's in your eyes?

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