It’s a mind-set. You can be an adventure road-biker on any kind of road bike, although you may wish to exclude using your top of the range Pinarello (should you be lucky enough to own one)! It is about focusing on going somewhere you have never gone before, on road surfaces that challenge your bike handling skills; it’s about accepting a higher level of risk and uncertainty, and enjoying that aspect of it. The level of adventure is in your hands and can be anything from cycling across Asia to exploring your local canal tow-path, and the specifics of the bike you do it on are far less important than you might think.
There will always be trails that can only be ridden on a mountain bike, but adventure road-biking is not ‘mountain biking on a road bike’, it’s about incorporating off-road sections that are rideable and fun. If you have to dismount for long sections you’ve probably been over ambitious, or unlucky with the weather!
There are a multitude of different tracks and surfaces that do not require the tire width, stability and suspension of a mountain bike, and with the advent of disc brakes and a trend for wider tires on high-end road bikes, the amount of trails suitable for road-bikes has expanded considerably, so what are you waiting for?
Taking your bike off-road requires confident bike handling skills. It’s not about doing bunny hops, endo-pivots and controlled back-wheel skids, but more about applying the principles of good road-riding; like balance, keeping your upper body loose, looking at least 3 metres ahead of the front wheel, anticipation and perhaps most of all, having faith in the bike and keeping a cool head. If you have any bad road-riding habits, the off-road section will amplify them, which is why it improves your on-road riding skills.
It can also require a greater amount of self-sufficiency in bike maintenance, and the ability to plan and follow a route, whether it be on paper or by GPS. Both these challenges can be over-come by going with someone who is more experienced than you, but if you get the bug, you will find yourself learning these skills as you go along. Discovering if your pre-ride assumptions were correct is part of what makes it an adventure.
Not necessarily. The difference between some adventure road bikes and an average sports bike is very little. If you are a relative beginner to road-riding and you think your off-road experience would be enhanced by riding an ‘adventure road bike’, the chances are that an increase in skill level would put a bigger smile on your face. For experienced road-riders, who get a taste for the gravel, there are an increasingly exciting, but very expensive range of bikes you can indulge in. For someone who rides a lot of tracks in hilly terrain, wider tires and hydraulic disc brakes are an obvious starting point. The much lambasted Evans Cycles has a well written introduction to Adventure Road Bikes and in their opening paragraph describe them as ‘simply a tag to describe a light drop (handle) bar bike for adventure-minded riders’. Couldn’t have put it better myself. Click here to read what they have to say.