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Ritchey Roads Like These - Brian Biggs

Roads Like These

What is a road, exactly? Is it that paved ribbon of lovely asphalt heading over the horizon? Is it that sketchy dirt lane that peels off the highway and goes down into that valley?

Words and photos by Brian Biggs

I spend a lot of time sitting on bicycles thinking about roads. Like, what exactly is a road? And, inevitably, what exactly is a road bike?

Ritchey Roads Like These - Brian Biggs

When I was growing up in the 1970s and 80s, my grandparents owned a farm near Fayetteville, Arkansas. It sat at the end of a two-mile long dirt road surrounded by miles and miles of other dirt roads. My brother and sisters and I would spend a good chunk of our summers getting lost and found on those roads, and trails, and paths, following them into woods and over hills, down gulleys and across creeks. Our lives as adults are richer for those long summer days in the hills of northwest Arkansas.

We lived the rest of the year in the suburban neighborhoods of Little Rock, and later, Pasadena, Texas. Getting to the farm meant hours in the family station wagon on boring and tedious interstates and highways. This was long before phones or iPads or even portable cassette players; and reading books in the car often meant puking on the side of the road.

So, when we weren’t passing the time fighting across the back seats, I would stare out the window. I watched for dirt roads and trails and paths that led off into the woods, over the hills, and down gulleys – wherever those roads went had to be more interesting than the station wagon back seat. As a kid, I was resigned to never knowing where those roads led. It was always going to be more important to get to where we were heading than to peel off onto some unknown mystery-road adventure. My parents weren’t the impulsive types. It was all about point A to point B, and the fewer interruptions to that straight line, the better.

Ritchey Roads Like These - Brian Biggs

As an adult, my life on bicycles has more or less mirrored those experiences.

I came into bikes through mountain biking the local trails here in Philadelphia. Riding those loops is a joy, but they don’t really go anywhere. The ride ends where it started, usually in a parking lot. To see something new, to ride into the unknown on my mountain bike takes a car and usually a long drive on paved roads to get me out there.

My road and gravel bikes get me out there, at least, but come with some limitations. My road bike, a mid 90s Lemond, was designed with racing in mind. I liked it for this reason. It was light, and quick, and was a joy on a perfectly paved road. But what made it so good on pavement, like lightweight steel tubes and 25mm tires, made it an unhappy camper for me on a steep cobblestone climb or a rutty farm road. Like my parents, the bike just didn’t want to take that turn onto the road to the unknown. It wanted to get from here to there, with no surprises. Believe me, I tried, but in the end, there was no getting around that the Lemond was just a road bike.

Ritchey Roads Like These - Brian Biggs

Over the years I was riding my road bike less and less. From 2019 to 2021 I took it out only twice — both times for charity rides from Philadelphia to Atlantic City on perfectly paved roads. Last year, I sold it. I’d had the epiphany that my gravel bike could fill this role. I’ve put more miles on my gravel bike than any of my other bikes combined — miles on old logging roads at gravel events in central Pennsylvania, bikepacking to campgrounds in New Jersey, and racing in Scotland and Utah. Gravel bikes are “all-road” bikes after all, aren’t they?

So, I built a set of wheels with 40mm slick tires, and for a while this worked. I put a thousand miles on the bike this way, and even rode it on that charity ride to Atlantic City last year. But something was missing. It was more like driving a big, loaded SUV than a light and quick rally car. Furthermore, the tires made the bike less fun on the things it had previously been really good at, like muddy trails and climbing old logging paths in the Poconos. I missed my road bike, and I started looking for a new one.

Ritchey Roads Like These - Brian Biggs

This story isn’t about some mythical search for a perfect bike. There is no such thing. There are bikes that are really good at some things. There are other bikes that are designed for other things. There are bikes that might overlap one thing with another and do it surprisingly well. But nothing is going to do everything, and I just wanted a road bike. Light, fast, tight geometry.

Something that makes even long stretches of boring pavement pretty fun. But roads aren’t always paved, and I didn’t want to have to stop where the pavement ends. I wanted to take that unknown dirt road down into that gulley, around that muddy lake, and over that hill to the next stretch of highway that will get me home again. I wanted disc brakes that stopped when and where I wanted them to. I wanted thru-axles and a modern threadless headset that didn’t make the bike feel like a noodle as I motored up a cobblestone hill. I wanted a steel frame because I like steel frames. And most importantly I wanted clearance for at least 30mm tires. I didn’t need 38 or 40 — again, I just wanted a road bike.

I could have gone custom. I like custom bikes. I have a custom bike, a singlespeed gravel/trail bike I had built for my 50th birthday a few years ago. But with a kid in college and the financial havoc of the pandemic, this wasn’t going to be a custom frame. My conversations with friends and my Google searches kept bringing back to Ritchey. Ritchey knows road bikes, and Tom certainly never stopped where the pavement ended. So, this I placed the order and collected my curated list of desired components, the big box containing my Ritchey Road Logic Disc frame soon arrived.

Shortly after that, I found myself thinking again about roads, and road bikes. I was nearly halfway into a ride called Lu Lacka Wyco Hundo, an event that takes place every April (barring acts of God and pandemics) north of Scranton. I’d just turned off a perfectly fine, perfectly paved highway onto this red, rocky, mess of dirt and ruts that passed a few cows before pointing nearly straight up for half a mile. To get here, I’d ridden 48 miles of mostly pavement, but I’d also traversed at least two gravel roads that were actually closed, crossed a few broken railroad intersections, and even ridden a mile of some of the worst single track I’d ever seen.

Ritchey Roads Like These - Brian Biggs

Lu Lacka was created by local hero Pat Engleman and it connects roads and paths he rode while growing up in nearby Pittston. Pat estimates that it’s about 60% paved, and I estimate that about half that pavement is crap. It’s out there, but it’s not a gravel ride, and it’s definitely not a road ride. It’s the closest thing I know that makes me feel how I felt as a kid, riding in that station wagon, looking out the window for dirt roads leading off the highway into the hills and woods and who-knows-where.

So, what is a road, exactly? Is it that paved ribbon of lovely asphalt heading over the horizon?

Yes, of course.

Is it that sketchy dirt lane that peels off the highway and goes down into that valley?


Is it that muddy gravel path that you didn’t even know was there, that follows this creek for a bit before it disappears behind those trees? Is that a road?


My new Ritchey is happy on all of this. And it’s just a road bike.

See you out there.

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