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I will be doing a 50 mile ride in a few weeks' time, most of which is on tow paths and a disused railway line. The surface will therefore be somewhat rough and loose, but not muddy and no major obstacles.

Obviously I would like to use the bike I have, which I use for commuting every day on smooth tarmac bike paths. It is a hybrid bike (rigid forks, flat handlebars, regular rim brakes), which is obviously not a major problem, but I have replaced the original tires (35mm I think,and a little knobbly) with smooth 28mm tires.

Will my bike be suitable, comfortable and safe (for the bike and for the rider) on off-road tracks?

Edit for more info: The disused railway is fully decommissioned, and is routinely used by walkers and cyclists (it is now a public bridleway). I haven't seen the surface personally but I gather it is fairly level and smooth but covered in a mixture of compacted soil, gravel and stone chippings and grass in some areas

  • "disused railway" could mean deep,large diameter ballast or a dirt path. The latter could be ridden on just about any bike. The former is a problem for all but a very few available tire widths. – Paul H Jul 23 at 15:20
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    You have a couple weeks grace - one weekend can you go ride the first mile or five on your existing tyres to see how it feels ? – Criggie Jul 24 at 3:58
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28mm wide tires are perfectly suitable for riding hard-packed fine gravel trail surfaces. You do have to be more careful when braking and cornering than on tarmac as the top surface is loose. Larger rocks and potholes should be avoided of course.

As the size of the gravel particles gets larger or the depth of the loose gravel top surface gets deeper the less suitable 28mm tires will become.

I personally will ride 28mm tires on deeper, coarser gravel for short sections, but I would not want to do it for 50 miles. As well as increased likelihood of punctures ad discomfort, narrow tires take more power to push through deeper gravel as then tend to sink in rather than floating over the top.

Note that on flat hard-pack fine gravel you can decrease your tire pressure for better grip and comfort, but on deeper coarse gravel higher pressures are needed to avoid pinch-flats.


Update

[The surface] is fairly level and smooth but covered in a mixture of compacted soil, gravel and stone chippings and grass in some areas.

You'll be better off with your original 35mm tires. With the larger tires you will not have to worry about what you will encounter, and you will be able to run lower pressure for better comfort.

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I would switch back the tires to your old 35mm.

Other than that, you should be OK.

Don't forget to have spare tube or two and pump in case of puncture.

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Will my bike be suitable, comfortable and safe (for the bike and for the rider) on off-road tracks?

That depends on the rider. I've watched people hop over 2-ft logs on road bikes. That said, 28 mm tires and flat or drop bars on gravel or dirt roads is typically fine as long you pay attention to your line.

However, I'm how vetted is your route? If the unpaved section is simply an abandoned railway, most bikes might be in for a bit of trouble. However, if it's a properly decommissioned railroad alignment that was regraded for non-motorized use, I wouldn't hesitate to ride it on 28 mm tires, but would likely appreciate the comfort of the wider rubber (provided it's a reasonably supple tire).

  • Thanks - it is a route that is routinely used by cyclists (including an officially organised charity ride every year), so probably falls into your second category. – canardgras Jul 24 at 13:01

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