Road Cycling the Blue Ridge High Country
Your Bike and Gear
Whatever type of bike you ride, be sure it's in good condition before you hit the hills. Steep terrain isn't just rough on riders; it's brutal for bikes, too.
The mountains ask a lot of your brakes
. On steep switchbacks, sheer stopping power is important. So's your ability to modulate your brakes. Check cables, calipers and pads for smooth, even brake operation. But don't go overboard with the cable tension; the last thing you want on a grinding uphill is a binding brake.
Gravel, potholes and some really fast descents are inevitable in the mountains. Don't push your luck. Good tires
properly inflated will not only prevent punctures, they'll keep you safe as you push your bike to the limit.
Shifters, derailleurs, cranks, cassettes and chains all get a workout. You'll shift a lot
in the mountains. It's not uncommon to go all the way from your top gear (as you scream down a long hill) to your lowest gear (as you chug your way up the next grade). When you're slogging up a steep slope, a skipping, stubborn, slow shifting drivetrain can be extremely irritating. Tune your drivetrain
and save your annoyance for the Rottweilers and the road hogs.
And speaking of gearing: Just how low a gear will you need to cycle successfully in the High Country? The answer depends on your own level of cycling power.
Super fit, 5,000 mile-a-year riders can get by with rear cassettes the size of corncobs. These titans of the tarmac can power up any hill, albeit with tremendous pressure on the knees. Then there are the well-fed desk jockeys who pedal for fun and fitness. No one will confuse these average Joes and Jills for Lance Armstrong, but with lower gearing, they can slowly spin up hills where their super-fit buddies may have to grind. Be realistic in your reckoning of your own fitness. It's frustrating to run out of gears before you run out of hill.
If you're just visiting the mountains, retrofitting your road bike with a triple crank just to get a few lower gears isn't the way to go. It's an expensive modification and complicates your shifting patterns. Going with a wider range cassette is a simpler and less costly option. Shimano makes road cassettes up to 27 teeth and Campagnolo cassettes are available with 29.
If, on the other hand, you are (or aspire to be) a frequent Blue Ridge biker, a triple crank may be for you. A triple crank (or "granny gear") is a third, smaller-sized front chainring. A triple gives you knee-friendly "bail out" gears for those truly wicked ascents. The ultra-fit purists on their high-geared pure racing rigs will look at you disdainfully, but let's face it, they were probably looking at you like that anyway. A triple will give you the option to climb almost anything. If you decide to use a triple crank or a wide-range cassette, don't worry; we won't tell anyone.
Many road routes in the Blue Ridge High Country will take you miles from civilization, so be a good scout and bring a pump, tube, patches and a multi-tool. An LED flasher comes in handy when fog or mist is likely. Just don't go overboard stuffing the bike bag. Bulky bikes are crummy climbers.
If you plan to mix hiking with your biking, bring a lock. There are plenty of opportunities to stretch your legs off the bike, if you're so inclined. Some High Country road riders run mountain bike pedals on their road bikes because it's easier to walk in mountain bike shoes.
As for clothing, keep the High Country's famously variable weather in mind as you plan. If you're traveling to the mountains to ride, stuff your duffel with all your riding duds and make your final clothing decisions after you arrive. A perfectly balmy spring day in the Piedmont can be cool and blustery on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Layers are good. Find some riders starting a High Country ride early on a frosty fall morning and you'll see precious little exposed skin. But follow those riders as the sun gets high and you'll see so much stripping, you'll think it's happy hour at the Kit-Kat Klub. Polypropylene skullcaps, glove liners, leg warmers and arm warmers are functional and easy to carry, making them handy pieces for riding in the transitional seasons.
One must-wear apparel item no matter the weather: a properly fitted bicycle helmet.
If you need bike equipment or repairs while you're in the High Country, help's not far away...there are several area bike shops
ready to serve you.