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Markus Stitz is no stranger to riding a gravel bike or putting a good route together. For this book, he went one better – he asked 25 experienced gravel lovers across Great Britain for their favourite local loop. The result is the next best thing to being taken out by the route designers themselves.
If you haven't heard of Markus Stitz, he's born in Germany, puts routes together, and writes, makes films and takes pictures about cycling. He's single-speeded around the world on a mountain bike, he founded Bikepacking Scotland and has put together gravel and bikepacking routes all across Scotland.
And even if you only vaguely follow what's happening in the ultra-racing/bikepacking/gravel community, you'll recognise at least some of the contributors. This is what initially piqued my interest in this book – if a route's recommended by the likes of Jenny Graham, Emma Osenton, Josh Ibbett, Charlie Hobbs, Mark Beaumont and sometime road.cc contributor and long time off.road.cc contributor, Matt Page, colour me interested. This is not to disrespect to the other contributors – I'm just naming some people whose exploits I've personally watched on YouTube or read about.
Included are 10 routes on mainland Scotland, one on the Isle of Jura, five routes in Northern England (as in Sheffield and up), eight in Southern England and two in Wales. I didn't ride them all, but I've ridden variations of a handful, have local knowledge of one and did go and ride one of the routes in an area I hadn't been before.
For each route you get a little fact file including distance/ascent, a grading that goes from easy, straightforward and challenging to expert – with an explanation of what the grades mean in the book's introduction. There's also a description of what the terrain is like with a breakdown of riding surfaces, as well as a guide to the best time to ride the route. There's also a map, and a few pictures, and you can download a GPX file for each route from the publisher's website.
Each contributor introduces themselves and what gravel riding means to them, and their route, there's a route description, with recommended places to stop as well.
For the route I tried – Katherine Moore's shortened version of the East Devon Trail – this description was absolutely spot on; it felt like the next best thing to Katherine taking us around the route herself.
I took three fellow gravelleurs along, and as I'd organised it, I was slightly concerned that it might all be a bit too tame, or too much road, or whatever. This was an unfounded concern as the route was very well considered; there was plenty of non-tarmac and the off-road sections were mint. After the ride, all four of us were keen to both ride the route again with other friends that would equally enjoy the gravel on offer, and to try some of the other routes in the book.
Markus's brief to the contributors was to share their entry for 'Britain's best gravel ride', ideally accessible by public transport. The unknown-to-me route I tried starts at Exeter railway station for example.
The book's not particularly cheap at £25, but for 26 rides that is less than a quid each, so in my opinion great value. There's lots of variation in distance – the shortest route just 18km and the longest a whopping 604km – and grading, and each of the routes has a list of other routes nearby to go and explore in case you want to make them longer or visit the area for more than one ride.
As I mentioned above, I particularly like the fact that the book describes the local rider's favourite route. The default option for my usual gravelly companions is to ride from home; we are lucky that this range gives us access to Salisbury Plain, the Ridgeway and South Wales for longer day rides and King Alfred's Way for a multi-dayer. Being able to start and end at home is great – and was particularly so in Covid times – but so is exploring a new area.
This book has given me the motivation to go and do some exploring further afield even if it means a bit of travel to and from the start. If the rides the book describes that are known to me are anything to go by, then I reckon the ones new to me won't disappoint.
Want to go ride some excellent gravel somewhere you haven't been before? Buy this book
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Great British Gravel Rides Cycling the wild trails of England, Scotland & Wales by Markus Stitz
Size tested: Paperback
Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Vertebrate publishing says:
"Markus Stitz has curated a collection of 25 routes across Britain – each a favourite route of a passionate gravel cyclist. You can join round-the-world cycling men's record holder Mark Beaumont in East Lothian, experience a different side of East Anglia with ultra-endurance racers and GBDURO20 winners Josh Ibbett and Gail Brown, embark on a coast-to-coast trip across Scotland with round-the-world cycling women's record holder Jenny Graham, or see the best of Scottish Borders with diversity in cycling champion Aneela McKenna.
Each route gives an insight into what each cyclist loves about gravel riding – what inspires and motivates them – and why they believe it qualifies as one of Britain's best gravel rides. A detailed route description of the trail is then provided, including interesting information about the local area, exactly what to expect on the route, details on the best places and attractions to explore, recommendations for the best local cafes and pubs and a list of local bike shops, should they be needed.
With inspiring photography showcasing some of the best gravel trails in the UK, as well as bespoke maps and downloadable GPX files for each route, this is the essential companion for any gravel rider.
Whether you want a challenging pedal through the country's awe-inspiring landscapes or a more leisurely day out in the saddle, let Great British Gravel Rides help you explore the best gravel cycling of Great Britain – your adventure begins here!"
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Publication date: 07 July 2022
Paperback ISBN: 9781839811265
Author: Markus Stitz
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
The book tells you everything you need to know to go and do a gravel ride in an area you haven't been before.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
It has motivated me to go and explore gravel further away from my home.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
The price of £25 is not cheap for a book, and we have reviewed cheaper, like Jack Thurston's Lost Lanes Central. Gravel Rides Scotland by Ed Shoote costs the same. Although a different topic, Peugeot Classic Cycles 1945-1985 costs more at £35.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
This book's excellent for exploring gravel in an area of Britain where you have no local knowledge: the routes I've tried are great, the description tells you what you need to know to enjoy the ride and the suggested stops on the ride that I tried were spot on. The only way to make the experience better would be to ride the route with the route designer.
About the tester
I usually ride: All of them! My best bike is: Ribble Endurance SL disc
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: cyclo cross, commuting, touring, club rides, mtb, Zwift