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The Anatomy of a Perfect Road Ride

Imagine if you could check all of the boxes and design your perfect day on a road bike. Spencer tried to do just that. Here's how he imagines it would go.

Written by: Spencer Powlison

Published on:

Posted in:Features

Bike. Road. Destination. Route. A couple of hours to spare. 

Road riding is beautifully simple, and it translates to locales across the world. But what is the perfect permutation of all those variables? How would we design the Platonic ideal of a road ride, if we could? And should we chase perfection, risking disappointment thereafter? 

I have chased it before, and I won’t stop anytime soon. So here’s my opinion on the ingredients needed for the perfect road ride. 

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Distance must be 30-40 miles. You can do this ride with two bottles and a bit of food. It’s long enough that you don’t feel guilty about stopping at a coffee shop (more on that in a moment). It isn’t so long that you’re destroyed. Anything shorter falls into lunch ride territory. Surely even the best lunch ride couldn’t be considered “perfect.”

Elevation gain can vary more widely, from 1,000 feet to 3,000 feet. However, like the concept of “junk miles” you must avoid “junk feet.” A ride with a single climb that’s perfectly sinuous, traffic-free, and scenic always trumps a ride with unpleasant, monotonous, or unnecessarily steep climbs, no matter how much more elevation they gain you. Look no further than Italy, where the civil engineers have perfected the art of road design. Must help to have experience that dates back to the Roman empire.

The route must be a loop. This is non-negotiable. Out-and-back routes need not apply.

Weather should be 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit, sunny to partly cloudy, little to no wind. I do not want to bundle up for my perfect road ride. I don’t want to melt into a puddle of sweat.

The perfect road ride can be done solo, or it can be done in a small group. This depends on your mood, personality, riding skills, and general chattiness. A group of more than eight people gets stressful, so proceed with caution. Groups must always be even-numbered, so no one is left alone without a companion to ride beside.


There are never mechanicals, flats, close passes, or crashes on the perfect road ride. Obviously.

Dirt roads on the perfect road ride? Maybe. But this is not a gravel ride. If a dirt road helps you fulfill any of the specifications listed above, then yes.

You should stop at a cafe or bakery if … It’s better than anything in your neighborhood. You’re starving or under-caffeinated. You remembered your wallet. You don’t linger longer than 15 minutes. Remember, this quest is for the perfect ride, not the perfect afternoon of sitting on the patio behind a pile of espresso cups.

Spectacular scenery may trump some requirements to achieve the perfect road ride. Ocean or mountain views are prime candidates. See both in one ride, and you’re really onto something.

A workout isn’t part of the perfect road ride. If you’re busy fretting about power zones, interval lengths, or recovery time, it will throw off the rhythm, or worse, lead you onto a route that’s boring. Take in your surroundings — that’s part of what makes it perfect.

If you’re riding with your spouse, partner, child, or parent, it is the perfect road ride. Unless you’re fighting.

If you’re riding in Italy, it is the perfect road ride.

It should be so good that you have to take a photo or two. But the purpose of the ride is not to take photos. 

I don’t care what clothes you wear or what bike you ride. You do you. I will wear something tight, stylish, and expensive, and I’ll ride a handbuilt steel bike with 28mm slick tires.  

New bike day can lead to the perfect road ride. Or not. Remember to do a bolt check!

Fitness is irrelevant. If you are riding within your limits, you can enjoy the perfect road ride. This overrides the distance and elevation gain standards.

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I think that about covers it. Have any critiques or additions to the list? Leave a comment below. But don’t spend too much time on that. The best way to find the perfect road ride is to get out there on the bike!