Thierry Crouzet

Automatic translation from french

Gandhi said "Be the change you want to see in the world. We cyclists can either hope that motorists will behave better with us, or follow Gandhi's advice and change the way we ride a bike.

At first there is the road, the macadamized road I mean, dark, impervious, fruit of petroleum products, expensive, unsustainable, a road that is an ecological nonsense, one of the factors of global warming in the same way as cars who ride on it.

Maintaining a vast road network has less and less meaning, especially since tomorrow most of the traffic will be done by drone (it's no longer fiction). Already some roads are redone only because the Tour de France borrows them. Our asphalted roads, and first the small quiet and rural communal roads, will continue to deteriorate and disappear in favor of major roads, sort of vacuuming traffic, rivers attracting rivers around and all the dodges on wheels.

We have all experienced this form of gravity. When we leave at random on an unknown territory, we have beautiful forking on the small roads, we finish after having encountered multiple impasses to join a flood abundantly equipped in noisy, dangerous, stinking, stressful cars.

The road network has been designed for this form of drainage. When I analyze Strava traces of pure road, I discover that they almost all succumb to this gravity. They may say that they know all the roads in their area, they run a tiny portion, forgetting tiny ways, perhaps on the pretext that they are not impeccable, or more surely because they have no signage, no destination displayed, simple accessories accessories whose capillary wealth can only be discovered by scrutinizing the territory from the sky, or with a patient trying one by one every detour.

Déplier le territoire
Unfold the territory

Without a meticulous work on the map, without exploiting all the possibilities of GPS , we morally repeat some routes, victims of a network that has two major weaknesses:

  • He takes part in ecological problems (we can deny them, continue as before, make the round back, do not change anything, hoping that others will do it for us).
  • This vacuum reduces our freedom (when we are less free, we are less able to follow the advice of Gandhi and be the change we want to see in the world, we are less able to react to environmental problems, and not only).

It is time to blow up the asphalt network, to hack it, to break its limits. An example. By my home, in the South, I know little sublime roads zigzagging through vineyards and pine groves, climb the hillside, then stop suddenly after serving a few farms and hovels. On the opposite slopes, there are other similar impasses, suddenly interrupted after completing their drainage work. But between these symmetrical roads, there are often paths. Why not take these short circuits? Why not go where roads do not go or do not go anymore?

Luckily, there is an adequate bike: the gravel. Almost as lively on the road as a road bike, from which he is inspired by geometry, he knows how to play paths and even single-handed machines as long as they are not too rough. Gravel is certainly a fashion because everyone is talking about it and because all the manufacturers are proposing it, but it is explained because it answers a vital need to escape the constraints of the network and to imagine cycling as a sustainable activity. Able to go far and fast, much farther and much faster than an ATV, it can like him to take the ways of cross, thus to extend the territory, to unfold it, to reveal the hidden beauties.

Now a friend passes an ad to sell his race bike. I joke that he leaves the ship before it sinks. He tells me that race bikes will always exist, because they do not have the same performance as a gravel on the Galibier (it is necessary to look for commercial arguments to resell at an exorbitant price limited machines in their possibilities).

How to say ? If you are pro without cars to get into your nose or take you behind, yes, in theory, you can ride faster with a bike lighter and more aerodynamic shod with optimal tires. Moreover, the pros change their bike almost every step of the way (when it's not several times a step). There is the race bike for the plain, the time trial, the mountain, the sprint ... There is not even an optimal race bike for the road.

I am not pro and I do not care to gain a few minutes in the climb of Galibier. And if I win because I have a lighter bike, I do not have to brag about beating my less equipped friends. The race for performance, the KOM on Strava, is a bit like continuing to over-consume, to want to eat up the explosion, to want to earn more to spend more (especially as this game is rigged). It is ultimately in the logic of the network, designed for a blind development whose function was to drive vehicles everywhere.

The gravel proceeds from another logic. It uses the roads to better escape the cars that invade them, to go where they do not go and where suddenly the air is breathable, the perspectives silent and peaceful. Nothing prevents you from getting the flush, quite the opposite. All that is possible on road is possible in gravel, but the impossible becomes possible (like to support the cars for a moment because after one frees them). With his next gravel, my boyfriend may climb a bit faster the Galibier, but he will climb anyway. What will change for him? To be less efficient than before in absolute terms, but was he not already a dunce compared to a super-trained pro?

Facing himself, facing the only opponent worthy of name, my friend can always fight, try to improve, and even in front of us equipped with bikes comparable to hers. Where the racing bike is made to race, the gravel offers exceptional versatility. A shame: there are even races in gravel like the famous Dirty Kanza .

What's left of the race bike except the asphalt race, when on a given field, and highly artificial, you have to go as fast as possible? The lightness, the glide, the reactivity of a machine to 6.8 kg UCI or less for fans who do not weight theirs. The sensation is exhilarating. The lightning accelerations. Minimum efforts at equal speed.

Am I far from that with my gravel 9 kg with its tubeless tires clamped 42 mm? A difference in weight of 25% can seem huge, but when we go below 10 kg this difference is more and more imperceptible, except when we grapple seconds or wants to hurt his friends in the climbs (and say that there are already 6.8 kg gravels). For the rest, it's kif-kif, especially since I can always put on road tires, go briskly under the bar of 9 kg, find more speed on pure macadam. I just bought some Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL in 28 mm to get on my gravel and go out with drivers, see where I stand in relation to them. But I already know that spending more time in the company of cars and giving up all dead ends that are not me will quickly frustrate (I did a lot of road when I was young).

I roll certainly to play sports and find my friends, but also to extend my playground, to unfold the folds, to appropriate my territory. The more I drive without limiting myself to the roads, the more I am impressed by the beauties that hide in the valleys where cars do not go. There is a world more bearable, a world that tells us how tomorrow the planet must be to make us feel good about it. Instead of staying away from these nooks, I can be there, I want to spend time there, I want to ride there.

Race bike enthusiasts must swear intolerant or even pretentious. I have to make them think of moralists who advise to quit because smoking kills. There is truth. Driving on asphalt road kills, because the asphalt network is a machine to destroy the world (the network has swelled to give more space to cars, and more numerous, they demanded that it swells more into a deleterious chain reaction - bikes are just unwelcome squatters). Cycling is a bit like smoking in public places.

I exaggerate. Still seems to me that we must now live differently, more respectfully. With our bikes, we're just starting to step aside. Rather than always asking drivers to change, we can start by changing ourselves. Going to gravel, or mountain biking for that matter, is a positive gesture, abandon an old logic to try to participate in a new way of life. It is a choice almost as much political as sports.

PS1: In 2019, we were entitled to 1 km of gravel on the Tour de France. I have no doubt that these distances will increase from year to year, simply because the road network is a twentieth century concept (and that tubeless tires offer the possibility for all bicycles to leave the asphalt).

PS2: When I was in Florida, I blamed my gravel for killing my shoulders. Strangely, since my return to the South, while I often ride on difficult and technical roads, I no longer feel the slightest pain. I can see only one explanation: the long straight lines of Florida where during leadings one does not change position made me suffer, triggering contractures.