Home
Dirty Riever organisers host a weekend of gravel riding with Mike Hall and Emily Chappell in Kielder Forest

Unless you’ve had your head in the sand for the past couple of years, you’ll know that gravel riding, the latest import from the US, has become increasingly popular with more new bikes and events being launched all the time. This year saw the first ever Dirty Reiver 200km gravel ride event take place in Kielder Forest, Northumberland, bringing long distance gravel riding to the UK for the first time. 

But just what is gravel riding, how do you prepare for it and what is the best bike setup and tyre choice? These were just some of the questions on the lips of the 50 or so people that made the journey to Kielder Forest last weekend for the first ever running of the Gravel Rocks weekend. 

- What bike for gravel and adventure riding? 13 bikes from the Gravel Rocks weekend in Kielder Forest

Put together by the organisers of the Dirty Reiver, the idea for Gravel Rocks was simply to offer people the chance ride some of gravel roads that will be used in the 2017 edition of the event, and get familiar with the unique challenge of riding gravel, in an informal and friendly environment with evening talks from highly experienced adventure and endurance athletes Mike Hall, Lee Craigie, Rich Rothwell and Emily Chappell. 

You can’t ignore the fact that gravel and adventure riding has become popular in recent years, helped in part by events like the Transcontinental Race and Dirty Reiver, not to mention a large number of new events that appear to be popping up all over the UK and Europe all the time. And even closer to home, people are swapping tarmac roads for gravel tracks, bridleways and dirt paths to get away from congested roads. 

- Cyclocross bikes v gravel/adventure bikes: what's the difference?

Why is gravel riding so popular? Paul Errington, the instigator of the first Dirty Reiver and organiser of the Gravel Rocks weekend, says it's the uniqueness of the format that appeals to him. “Personally I loved the distance and the landscapes the big US gravel grinders offered. The adversity of the distance but combined with the camaraderie of the riders really sold me on the format," he says.

Riding by the reservoir.jpg

“It’s genuinely a style of event where the lines between mountain biking, cyclocross and road biking blur so it attracts a very diverse field of riders and I think people looking for a challenge just outside their usual events find it in gravel grinding.”

Gravel Rocks brought together like-minded people in a relaxed and informative environment with several training rides around the stunning  Kielder Forest - a simply wonderful place if you've never been before - and topped off with evening talks from some of the most experienced cyclists in this field of cycling. It's a format that went down really well with everyone. “We are really happy and have received some great feedback,” said organiser Paul Errington as the weekend drew to a close. “We often receive emails querying some many differing aspects of preparation for an event like the Dirty Reiver so it was great to be able to put this informative weekend on. Also selfishly we really wanted a weekend where we could interact a lot more with the riders and have some fun too. Focal Events are solely focussed on rider experience and we are happy with that we delivered.”

Overhead shot2.jpg

The Gravel Rocks weekend offered two rides, a longer one on Saturday split into three groups based on experience and fitness, and a more sociable group ride on Sunday. The first day involved riding a route that traced parts of the Dirty Reiver course, and while clearly not a recce as such, it offered everyone a glimpse of the sort of terrain they would have to cope with in the actual event. It was clear most people taking part in the weekend were there because they wanted to prepare for the 2017 Dirty Reiver, but plenty of people I spoke to were also planning other events, whether organised like the Dirty Reiver or bikepacking adventures.  

- Buyer’s guide to gravel and adventure bikes plus 16 of the best

There are few places England that really offer the chance to ride miles of gravel roads through vast woodland, and Kielder Forest is pretty unique in this respect. It's a stunning area to ride, away from the hassle of busy roads and angry motorists, and modern gravel bikes and particularly tyres really make riding on such terrain a blast. As such, it was the ideal location for the Gravel Rocks weekend. One pair even travelled all the way from Guernsey simply because they have no gravel roads to train on, making my 5.5-hour drive seem modest in comparison. 

Lee Cragie evening lecture.jpg

During the ride, experts from the world of endurance and adventure cycling were on hand to dish out advice, with many taking the opportunity to pick the brains of Mike Hall, Emily Chappell and co. on some of the unique challenges of riding on gravel and enduring long distances, such as dealing with saddle sores, common injuries, gear ratios, luggage solutions, tyre choice and tyre pressure. Then, in the evening, a number of talks covered a wide range of topics, including bike and equipment setup, nutrition, stretching and injury prevention, bike fit, training and much more, and it was all soaked up in the comfortable Calvert Trust nestling on the edge of Kielder Water.

It was all very informative and covered all the key subjects you need to take into consideration when riding long distances on inhospitable terrain. Mike Hall and Lee Craigie's incredible stories about tackling long distance races were hugely inspirational, and we certainly felt privileged to be in their company and for them to be so open and honest about the challenges they faced, and how they overcame those challenges. 

Afternoon reflections on Kielder.jpg

All told, it was a brilliant weekend and a thoroughly enjoyable and highly informative time was had by all. I certainly took a lot away from it and hope to apply what I learnt for the 2017 edition of Dirty Reiver. 

Dirty Reiver 2017 takes place on 22nd April 2017 and you can enter at www.dirtyreiver.co.uk.

Photos and video © Olly Townsend - www.orangetrike.com

David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.

23 comments

Avatar
Bob Wheeler CX [104 posts] 3 years ago
9 likes

cycling is an incredibly middle class, caucasian hobby really, isn't it?

 

great pictures

Avatar
Russell Orgazoid [560 posts] 3 years ago
1 like

Stop going on about gravel bikes.

Just trying to flog us another type of bike.

 

 

Avatar
kil0ran [1736 posts] 3 years ago
1 like

Recently did a gravel ride in the New Forest - only 40 miles and at a social pace. Great fun and I got to see bits of the world literally 5 minutes drive from the house that I'd never seen before. Good mix of bikes - Road, CX, "gravel", mountainbikes (wouldn't claim to know which types), a fixie, and a Rohloff. 

Only a small group and plenty of punctures kept the pace down but I'm definitely hooked. Finding new places to ride with the nipper is always good, and unbeatable when the tracks are car-free and run through stunning woodland.

New Forest is hardly Kielder (particularly in terms of elevation) so its never going to be a venue for a Reiver-type race but it is a bit more accessible than deepest, darkest Northumbria. 

Avatar
captain_slog [481 posts] 3 years ago
1 like

Kielder is glorious. I rode round the reservoir earlier this year on a Pinnacle hybrid with 32mm Gatorskins. It coped fine on a track that was too rough for a road bike but not severe enough to warrant an MTB. But I'd certainly have benefited from something robust and comfortable with drop bars and possibly discs.

Avatar
Stu Kerton [109 posts] 3 years ago
4 likes

I never grasped the whole gravel bike thing, the through and through roadie that I am never saw the appeal. After all if you want to ride off road, buy a mountain bike!!

Then a few days ago I received two gravel/adventure bikes for testing and to say I'm a convert would be an understatement. I live a couple of miles from the gravel tracks that surround the Salisbury Plain army training ground with 40-50 miles of routes to take in. I've covered 120 miles with probably 10% of that on tarmac and well, basically I've had the most fun I've had in years!!

No one is forcing you to buy a new bike Plasterer's Radio, it's your choice.  

Avatar
David Arthur @d... [962 posts] 3 years ago
1 like

Plasterer's Radio wrote:

Stop going on about gravel bikes.

Just trying to flog us another type of bike.

 

Are you in denial? 

Avatar
Jimthebikeguy.com [272 posts] 3 years ago
1 like
Plasterer's Radio wrote:

Stop going on about gravel bikes.

Just trying to flog us another type of bike.

Dealing with comments from plonkers like you must make these journo's jobs a dream.

 

 

Avatar
jonathanfmcgarry [62 posts] 3 years ago
3 likes

There's nothing new about 'gravel' bikes except the name, Litespeed's Appalacian was a gravel bike in all but name nearly 20 years ago. I've been riding something similar for years, they're not new they're just trendy. And like all trends any moment now it'll yesterday's thing. Gravel bike? Rough stuff tourer? CX? Who cares? Just ride.

Avatar
only1redders [122 posts] 3 years ago
1 like
Stu Kerton wrote:

Then a few days ago I received two gravel/adventure bikes for testing and to say I'm a convert would be an understatement. I live a couple of miles from the gravel tracks that surround the Salisbury Plain army training ground with 40-50 miles of routes to take in. I've covered 120 miles with probably 10% of that on tarmac and well, basically I've had the most fun I've had in years!!

I think a lot of the hesitance/willingness to give this sort of thing a go is that if you don't know where the routes are/where they go, then how are you going to find them? I'm sure a depository of routes will crop up soon enough as these become more popular (are these gravel tracks included as part of Strava's route plotting software option?). Perhaps you could have a Strava equivalent for gravel grinder events/routes called Grindr  Yes, I am well aware of what Grindr is!

In all seriousness though, it would be nice if an organisation like Audax UK take up and run with some of these routes and turn them into non-competitive fun events, giving cyclists the opportunity to attempt routes they might not have previously considered

Avatar
DaveE128 [1010 posts] 3 years ago
1 like

The terrain looks like the kind of thing large numbers of us were enjoying on mountain bikes in about 1992. But then mountain bikes from 1992 aren't so different from today's gravel bikes except for the handlebars. Personally I most enjoy riding this kind of stuff on an XC mountain bike. I've no idea which is faster if you're racing, but I do know which is more comfortable.

And I've been riding a Pinnacle Arkose Two for 4 years, which was one of the earlier CX-derived bikes that are now labelled gravel or adventure bikes (just to demonstrate I don't have an issue with the existence of this kind of bike). I just find it's good for commuting where some of the route is off road. I've also done some long road sportives on it. If most of a route is off road I'd still get out my XC MTB.

As for trying to sell us new bikes - well yes, of course bike manufacturers are trying to sell more bikes - it's what pays their wages. You can't really complain about people inventing new categories to sell products in IMHO. You're under no obligation to buy them.

Avatar
alotronic [642 posts] 3 years ago
1 like
only1redders wrote:
Stu Kerton wrote:

Then a few days ago I received two gravel/adventure bikes for testing and to say I'm a convert would be an understatement. I live a couple of miles from the gravel tracks that surround the Salisbury Plain army training ground with 40-50 miles of routes to take in. I've covered 120 miles with probably 10% of that on tarmac and well, basically I've had the most fun I've had in years!!

I think a lot of the hesitance/willingness to give this sort of thing a go is that if you don't know where the routes are/where they go, then how are you going to find them? I'm sure a depository of routes will crop up soon enough as these become more popular (are these gravel tracks included as part of Strava's route plotting software option?). Perhaps you could have a Strava equivalent for gravel grinder events/routes called Grindr  Yes, I am well aware of what Grindr is!

In all seriousness though, it would be nice if an organisation like Audax UK take up and run with some of these routes and turn them into non-competitive fun events, giving cyclists the opportunity to attempt routes they might not have previously considered

 

Re Audax start here: https://yacf.co.uk/forum/index.php?topic=94563.0

People are definetely thinking about it. I'd say one in ten riders is now on an Adventure bike because they make so much sense for Audax too. There is, of course, nothing in the rules to stop anyone doing a 'gravel' DIY but the timings make it a bit more of a challenge - the bottom average speed accepted of 15kpm all in is slow for the road not for an MTB ride.

But yes, I think it will catch on. Audax has the perfect conceptual framework for it, just need some more people to give it a go - myself included with my Genesis Datum and Kinesis ATR I should be a dead cert  1

 

Avatar
David Arthur @d... [962 posts] 3 years ago
2 likes

jonathanfmcgarry wrote:

There's nothing new about 'gravel' bikes except the name, Litespeed's Appalacian was a gravel bike in all but name nearly 20 years ago. I've been riding something similar for years, they're not new they're just trendy. And like all trends any moment now it'll yesterday's thing. Gravel bike? Rough stuff tourer? CX? Who cares? Just ride.

 

Where in the article does it say it's new? I don't know anyone that is claiming gravel is a new thing. Sure, many people have been doing this sort of riding in one form or another for years, like you're proudly telling us here. Old ideas are constantly resurfacing, that is nothing new, but I do think the equipment now available is making this sort of riding more enjoyable and accessible.  There are lots of people that are new to cycling that can't boast about doing something before it became fashionable, like you are, and for them the idea of taking a road bike off-road might be entirely new. And exciting and appealing, which seems to be fuelling this interest in gravel and adventure. 

Who cares? You, clearly...

Avatar
Man of Lard [345 posts] 3 years ago
1 like
kil0ran wrote:

New Forest is hardly Kielder (particularly in terms of elevation) so its never going to be a venue for a Reiver-type race but it is a bit more accessible than deepest, darkest Northumbria. 

Unless (like many people) you live north of Manchester... I'd have to drive through (or conceivably around) Kielder to get anywhere close to the New Forest...

Avatar
. . [198 posts] 3 years ago
1 like
Plasterer's Radio wrote:

Stop going on about gravel bikes.

Just trying to flog us another type of bike.

And stop going on about road-race bikes, CX bikes, E-bikes, MTBs, Bromptons and every other type of bike that I don't own. 

Avatar
Liam Cahill [206 posts] 3 years ago
1 like
. . wrote:
Plasterer's Radio wrote:

Stop going on about gravel bikes.

Just trying to flog us another type of bike.

And stop going on about road-race bikes, CX bikes, E-bikes, MTBs, Bromptons and every other type of bike that I don't own. 

 

My wallet is suffering enough just rebuilding my winter bike!

Avatar
Ad Hynkel [199 posts] 3 years ago
1 like

I did quite fancy attending this, but man, where're the women? I could see Emily Chappell and Lee Craigie. Was that it? Doesn't look like it needed another white middle aged bloke... that's for sure. Good on you for attending if you went, it looked good on the video and must have been great to meet and ride with these endurance stars. Useful knowledge gleaned no doubt.

Avatar
jonathanfmcgarry [62 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

As I said David - just ride - 'Tis best for body & soul

Avatar
Morat [349 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
Plasterer's Radio wrote:

Stop going on about gravel bikes.

Just trying to flog us another type of bike.

 

 

At least they're comfy and practical - unlike road/race team replica bikes which were designed for elite athletes and make no sense for anyone else.

Avatar
David Arthur @d... [962 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

Ad Hynkel wrote:

I did quite fancy attending this, but man, where're the women? I could see Emily Chappell and Lee Craigie. Was that it? Doesn't look like it needed another white middle aged bloke... that's for sure. Good on you for attending if you went, it looked good on the video and must have been great to meet and ride with these endurance stars. Useful knowledge gleaned no doubt.

 

There's talk of a women's gravel weekend, it's certainly something they want to work on

Avatar
CarlosFerreiro [130 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
only1redders wrote:

 I think a lot of the hesitance/willingness to give this sort of thing a go is that if you don't know where the routes are/where they go, then how are you going to find them? I'm sure a depository of routes will crop up soon enough as these become more popular (are these gravel tracks included as part of Strava's route plotting software option?).

Finding routes is p[art of the fun too though - I'm still finding little ridable links in places only a few miles from home. Anything used very often at all will show up on the Strava heatmap, the only real issue then is finding out if they are "gravel bike" suitable, or full on MTB, or hike-a-bike.

Avatar
Bmblbzzz [359 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
Ad Hynkel wrote:

I did quite fancy attending this, but man, where're the women? I could see Emily Chappell and Lee Craigie. Was that it? Doesn't look like it needed another white middle aged bloke... that's for sure. Good on you for attending if you went, it looked good on the video and must have been great to meet and ride with these endurance stars. Useful knowledge gleaned no doubt.

Check out 'The Adventure Syndicate'.

http://thatemilychappell.com/2016/09/long-distance-ladies/

Avatar
bikewithnoname [94 posts] 3 years ago
1 like

 At last! I only have 30years of road and 24years of MTB riding skills under my belt so I've been longing for someone to teach me how to ride on a flat-ish gravel track safely... Of course I'll need to buy a gravel specific machine before I attempt such terrain 

Avatar
fukawitribe [2937 posts] 3 years ago
3 likes
bikewithnoname wrote:

 At last! I only have 30years of road and 24years of MTB riding skills under my belt so I've been longing for someone to teach me how to ride on a flat-ish gravel track safely... Of course I'll need to buy a gravel specific machine before I attempt such terrain 

Excellent. So you've not read the article nor understand what the weekend was for, but are motivated enough to hit the keyboard and rant about something... about right ?