Recreational riding and tyre choices

Gravel road. Photo by Photo Collections on

Fat and off-road tyres can make a city bike better suited for recreational riding in Canberra and its many gravel trails.

Some cyclists will just ride road or single trails. Both require a specialised sports bike. The majority though just want to get from A to B, whether it be for commuting or recreational riding. Recreational riding is like recreational walking – it is done for relaxation and well-being. It is not competitive and not about going fast. It is the normalisation of cycling as something everybody can do. You don’t need to be young or fit to do it.

Cycling around Canberra proves that recreational riding can be a bumpy experience. Many commuters take the road because it is smooth, fast, with low gradients, and with more relatively direct routes. Recreational riding is not direct and roads are not the preferred choice, with most people considering them as unsafe. Canberra has a network of bike and shared paths that are both poorly maintained and patchy, making recreational riding a very bumpy experience.

A typical recreation ride will involve a variety of surfaces and environments and requires a general-purpose and affordable bike. The surfaces could be paved or unpaved. Footpaths – in the ACT community paths – are often very rough. To ride out of the suburb it is often necessary to ride on the road as there are not even footpaths in place. On the edge of the suburb there may be bike paths of varying quality. Ride a little further, and you will reach a nature reserve. We have a pretty good deal with nature reserves in Canberra. You can ride your bike in most of them on formed vehicle trails but don’t expect these to be paved. The better ones may be gravel, but often they are dirt and the maintenance is poor, so there can be washouts to watch out for. These emergency, maintenance and fire trails are often the shortest distance between two suburbs. The alternate route can involve detours of 5-10 km or an unsafe shortcut on the shoulder of a major road.

Therefore, owning a bike that is fit for gravel has many benefits in Canberra as the number of paths that could be considered for a recreational ride are greatly increased, and these areas are usually safe and very scenic. Some pass through natural forest and are popular with Canberra wildlife.

Those that own a mountain bike are ready for gravel. City bikes are well suited for recreational riding thanks to their head-up riding position. Most city bikes have tyres for paved surfaces that slip around on gravel and dirt. The tyres are traditionally quite narrow, and the tyre pressure is typically high. The vibration on bumpy surfaces is uncomfortable and fatiguing. Consequently, better tyres are a good option for recreational riding in Canberra to compensate for the rough path and trail surfaces. Another option are wider tyres, and increasingly the bike stores have both of these.

It is relatively inexpensive to refit a bike with wider tyres that are suitable for dirt and gravel. A fat tyre makes the ride much softer and doesn’t necessarily significantly increase the roll resistance. Mountain bikers know that reducing the tyre pressure makes the grip and ride better on rough surfaces, and increasing the pressure will make the bike roll more easily on paved surfaces, which is valuable to know for city bikers. Whether a city bike is fit for use on paved or gravel tracks may be nothing more than adjusting the tyre pressure.

Below is a fat tyre design for paved surfaces that would perform well on Canberra’s many gravel tracks at lower tyre pressures.

Most are familiar with the chunky tread of a mountain bike tyre. It is now possible to buy tyres for city bike 700 mm rims that have a similar tread.

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