Cycling is one of life’s outdoor pleasures, especially on a sunny spring day. Feeling the breeze blow past you as you get some energy out is simply thrilling. But, sometimes, a ride on the road goes different than planned.
Is it bad to ride a road bike on grass? Yes. While a little bit of grass should be fine, it is unsafe to ride in the grass for long distances. Road bikes are meant for the road, both physically and legally. Riding on the grassy shoulder or a grassy trail with a road bike is unsafe. Grass hides obstacles that a road bike and its tires are not made for.
While this may be frustrating to hear, road bikes are incredibly good at what they are made for – road riding. So, let’s go through a few reasons why we need to keep them there.
Safety & The Road: Don’t Ride on the Grass
Most commonly, riders who ride on the grass with their road bike are doing it for one of two reasons.
- First, the rider does not want to ride on the road for some reason.
- Second, the rider wants to take a grassy shortcut to get to their destination quicker.
The first of these reasons should be avoided, while the second is okay in certain instances.
Where to Ride on the Road to Avoid the Grassy Shoulder
When road riding, cyclists are considered another vehicle on the road. Because of this, they need to be on the road to be as safe as possible. If they choose to ride close to the edge or on the grassy shoulder, it encourages cars to keep their speed when passing. When this occurs on 45 mph or higher roads, cars will continue to speed by, making it much more dangerous for both cars and cyclists.
So, when riding on a two-lane road without a bike line, the furthest right you should be is where a car’s right tire typically lies when driving. This is usually two to three feet from the outer line. Riding in the middle of the lane is also acceptable, while any further left is unnecessary as cars will pass you when they safely can on the left. (Source: NCSL)
At first, riding this confidently alongside vehicles may seem a bit intimidating. But it is much safer than riding in the grass. By choosing to ride in the road, you achieve the following:
- You encourage cars to follow legal road rules of passing a vehicle, which is the safest way to ride.
- You also avoid any hidden obstacles and ditches that are often in the grass off the road.
Using Grassy Shortcuts Around Town
Sometimes cyclists need to ride on small patches of grass or gravel to get to their destination more quickly. That is okay! If you live in a more rural spot, you may need to ride on a bit of grass, whether a local park or your yard, to make it to the road. While a road bike is not made for it, road bikes are quite sturdy and can manage for a little bit on the grass.
Keep in mind, though, that road bikes and their tires are not made for this kind of terrain, so you will be expending more energy and have less traction when riding on grass.
Road Bikes are Made for the Road
Most road bikes have their riders in an engaged, forward position. This is the most aerodynamic position for both bike and rider, but it does not prepare you well for any bumps along the way. When coming upon bumps, roots, and ditches, mountain bicyclists can stand up to help absorb the shock. A road bike simply does not prepare the rider or the bike for the kind of rough and jolty riding found in grassy areas.
Additionally, traditional road bikes do not have room for larger tires that are helpful on the grass. If you do think you will be on grass often, consider a hybrid, cyclocross, or touring bike. These bikes can fit both skinny road tires or larger tires for more diverse riding surface conditions.
All About Road Bike Tires
Road bike tires tend to be skinny with slick, smooth tread. This allows for a large amount of surface area contact, which provides plenty of grip. However, with thin lines of tread, there is much less room for water or mud to be shed. Grass takes much longer than the road to dry. So, if you find yourself riding in the grass with road tires, it is highly likely you will slip and slide much more than on the road. This can be quite dangerous if you are near a high-speed road. (Source: REI Co-Op)
If you do find yourself needing to ride rocky or grassy spots, adjusting tire pressure can help you do this well. High tire pressure is best for smooth roads. Generally, only small amounts of deformation will occur on a flat road, so the high pressure allows you to put all your energy into going forward, rather than absorbing bumps through your tires and frame.
Lower tire pressure can be helpful, though, if you find yourself on bumpy surfaces, including grass. By lowering tire pressure, your tire absorbs more of the bumps and lumps, keeping your movement horizontal instead of vertical.
When riding on the grass, a wider tire will also be more helpful. Skinny tires sink more easily into the grass, while a wider tire will spread the rider’s weight out more, sinking less into the grass. Most road bikes do not fit tires wider than 28mm. If you do find yourself often off-road though, you will want a tire wider than that, preferably between 32mm and 35mm wide.
Tips if You Must Ride on the Grass
We understand that some grass riding is inevitable. So, here are some handy tips if you find yourself riding your road bike on grass:
- Avoid wet grass. Road bike tires are not made to have great traction on wet grass; they are made for the road.
- Keep your weight centered above the bike. With many hidden obstacles, it is easy to get thrown off balance while riding on the grass. Keep your weight centered as much as possible to avoid falling over.
- Do not lean your bike on turns. On the road, you want to lean your bike during turns, but on the grass, this makes you much more likely to slide out. So, keep that habit at bay when riding on grass.
- Ride standing up in rough grass. This allows you to absorb the bumps along the way, as road bikes do not have suspension to do this.
- Go easy on the brakes. If you work the brakes hard on the grass, you are much more likely to skid out with the lessened traction. So, decrease your speed and apply the brakes slowly to stay upright.
With these few tips, you should be able to conquer a bit of grass when needed.
Grass, Roads, and Mud: Road Bikes Are Only Meant for One
Road bicycling is a spectacular workout when done safely. You can enjoy some of the beautiful countrysides around where you live while getting some cardio in. While it is safest to keep your road bike on the road, you may have moments it is best to ride on the grass. Either way, we wish you safe and happy rides!