I am new to cycling. I did Ragbrai last year and trained mostly on bike paths.. Experienced cyclists tell me bike paths are dangerous due to the volume and prefer street bike lanes. Just wanted to get opinions of other Ragbrai alum.
Get out on the roads. You can’t train for hill on bike paths. You can’t as easily learn about holding a line on the path unless you ride with a group. You don’t learn about seeing all around you as well as the road does for you since it’s more life and death with the cars! You’ll get more variety on the roads. You don’t say where you live, but here in Iowa, we have tons of paved county roads to choose from that don’t have as much trafic which is nice.
Finally….DON’T EVER TRAIN! It’s just an ugly word. Ride! A lot! Riding is fun and training is, well, training. I know it’s semantics, but you get my drift.
Bike trails are better than nothing, but since most bicycle trails are generally constructed on old railroad rights-of-way they are usually flat as a billiard table and for that reason alone are not all that good for RAGBRAI preparation. RAGBRAI is not run on bike trails; it is run mostly on the back county roads that Dan referred to above. And the terrain varies wildly; you’re going to run into rolling hills, steep climbs, long twisty downhills, and more bicycles alongside of you than you can imagine. That’s what you need to get used to more than anything.
The other thing to remember is that when you are riding by yourself you are able to ride at your own pace. It is a rare day when this occurs on RAGBRAI; there are going to be people in front of you, people behind you, and people on both sides of you, and all of them are going to be riding at different speeds. You will need to learn how to use your brakes as much as you need to know how to shift your gears.
So find a group of friends to ride with, or join your local bike club if you have one. Get used to having someone riding close enough to you so that you could shake hands with each other. Get used to catching up behind someone and slowing down so as not to run into them. Get used to looking over both your shoulders for people coming up from behind you, because you don’t want to pull out in front of them either.
And get as many miles under your wheels as you can. There is nothing that will substitute for saddle time and for that even bike trails will do. -”BB”-
Bike paths are interesting in winter. Katy trail in MO is snow crusted, but during the day it warms up to 35F. Limestone chat is soggy and thin ties dig in, where frozen in shade it’s great. Snow cover is also great as the chat is hard underneath. Tire tracks and footprints can be treacherous as the half frozen masses are bumpy or the crown of tire tracks can throw the wheels sideways, not to mention the buildup of snow in the derailier and brakes. Did 25 miles yesterday, but only could go 6 mph and the clear roads near by were calling out to me!
IMO multi use trails are more dangerous than than the highway or city streets. You just can’t out guess people on a path. Long dog leashes, little kids running back n forth. Kids on bmx bikes popping out of the woods. On coming traffic hogging the whole path. The list goes on. I had an eight year old boy. Riding a bike on coming. Turn right in front of me. I did an endo avoiding him. But spent 6.5 hours in the ER. 5 years later I still have issues from that splat. So I use an indoor trainer for winter. As soon as the temps are up a bit in the spring. I take these old bones back to the street. I still ride trails. But I choose my time better. I ride in the morning when traffic on the trails is very light.
Side paths (as opposed to bike paths)and sidewalks are more dangerous than riding on streets because motorists are generally not watching the side path when turning onto side streets or into driveways and they also have pedestrians, etc. Bike paths have a different set of challenges because they are also used by pedestrians, and sometimes horses, even if designated to be bike paths and not general use trails. There are over 200 miles of trails in the next county just a few miles from my home and I go there because there is no safe way to ride east, west or south out of my town. Plus, 90% of these trails on are abandoned rail beds so road riding is the only way to get real hills.
usual 50 mile ride is 5 miles on city strete, 10 on bike lane along county road, 10 miles of tral the turn around and repete. Sometimes add another 5 miles out and back on county road before turning around to make it 60. And that rout has a bar about every 5 miles.The usual 20 mile Wednesday night ride is city streets and county roads, avoiding the “shared use” paths in town. Too many blind driveways, walkers, joggers, dogs and kids too.
It really depends upon the nature of the bike path(s) you have available. The multi-use path I ride is much better than the roads for hard training. No cars. No road crossings. Plenty of wind for building strength. Low enough activity that you seldom have to slow down. (Well, except for the occasional dog leash or the rare person walking or running against the normal flow.) The only thing it doesn’t have is hills. I ride the roads during organized rides. I ride the path to train. And I ride limestone trails for fun and miles.
Overall the path I use is much safer than the roads. But if YOUR path is “slow” or busy or has a lot of street/road crossings,I’d ride the roads.
I’d suggest both. Find a group road ride when you want to go far and fast to increase your level of fitness. You’ll be distracted by the camaraderie and probably pushed a little if you get the right group. It’s good Ragbrai training. You’ll also be more visible in a group and even if you are hit by some distracted texting jerk there will be somebody with you to call 911. Use the trails when you’re by yourself. Plenty of hills on my bicycle paths.
One other thing to consider; try to work in some “organized” rides too when preparing for RAGBRAI. While no other ride I’ve been on compares in numbers, its nice to have ridden rides with larger groups of riders. It’s also a fun way to rack up some miles!
I also agree with Michrider if you rode last year you must be doing something right and you already know how overwhelming the number of riders can be, especially Day 1.