With South Africa being one of the mountain bike hubs of the world I have met many a mountain biker out training out on their road bikes. At some point the conversation always tends towards the point that road cycling is monotonous and boring and doesn’t hold a candle to the wild singletrack that terrifies all true roadies. Sometimes I agree with them. Riding pan flat, straight roads into a block headwind only to U-turn and ride the same road home is hardly exciting. And mountain biking also gets a point during winter when it’s endless hours on the rollers. However, there is a whole new world of road cycling out there that these guys have never experienced.
South Africa has countless dirt tracks that lace into epic routes and, I have to agree, the South African tar is sometimes lacking, but here in France I have discovered the best of both worlds: Roadie Singletrack. Armed with my essential guide to the Ardeche and the liberty of big training hours, I have found tar roads that are by far the best singletrack I have ever ridden. Gone are the days of out and back rides, this place is all about exploration and new roads. Here in France, it seems that if someone decided to build a solitary house on the side of a mountain out in the middle of nowhere the French Government have provided some epic tar access that would easily excite many a mountain biker.
Granted I have limited experience on mountain bike singletrack—my one multi-stage event where I was well out of my depth and, frankly, terrified most of the time—these roads have all the excitement, risk and variability that singletrack boasts. Tiny narrow roads, barely wide enough for a car. Twisting mountain descents made up of endless hairpins. Pedalling isn’t even an option as you freewheel down at 50km/hr, only braking to slingshot yourself around a 180 degree corner. Roads that remind me of the scalextric tracks I used to build as a kid.
The off-road natural challenges of singletrack are equally present with the roads often covered in stones, roots, grass and leaves and can be bumpy enough to warrant dual suspension. While singletrack has symbols to indicate difficulty, roadie singletrack can be judged by the black altitude signs and the higher the number, the better the ride. The biggest difference is that we have to compete with cars coming from both directions as we bomb down 20km descents, high off the smell of brake pads. Who are the real cycling cowboys now?