Who says a road bike belongs only on pavement? Whether you venture onto the dirt or the pavé, taking skinny tires off-road can turn a regular ride into something far more memorable. (Search: What are the best road bikes to take off-road?) Plus, you'll improve your handling skills along with your fitness, says Michael Gibbons, a coach at Cadence Cycling & Multisport Centers in Philadelphia. Use his tips to prep your bike and body, then go find some of the rough stuff.
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Wheels and Tires Forget the carbon clinchers: A more durable alloy box-section rim will dampen vibration from the uneven surface. To maximize comfort and traction, use the widest tires your frame will permit—at least 25mm. Allow a little space between the tire and the frame in case your wheel goes slightly out of true.
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Clothing A cycling cap and sunglasses protect eyes from dust and debris. Consider adding spandex booties to keep kicked-up grit from lodging in shoes.
Extra Food You burn more calories off-road because of the increased demands on your body. Aim to take in at least 250 calories an hour.
Perfect Your Form
Eyes Look where you want to ride and your bike will follow—don't fixate on ruts and other obstacles.
Upper Body Keep hands, arms, shoulders, and neck relaxed. Visualize the bike bouncing around while your core remains motionless. Bend your elbows slightly more than usual for additional shock absorption.
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Hands Experiment with hand positions: Move from the brake hoods to the bar top to the drops and find where you feel most comfortable. For extra control when things get really rough, use the drops.
Lower Body Hover over the saddle to let the bike flow beneath you (and reduce the impact on your sensitive spots). Peek down at your toes once in a while to make sure they're pointed straight: Where the ankles go, the knees follow, and flailing knees waste energy, send the bike off line, and may even set you up for injury. But don't lock your knees or ankles—this will make the bike harder to control.
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