Where does your gravel bike take you? Caroline Martinez has been discovering the gravel roads and lanes of South Armagh on her doorstep.
“I just ride where the roads take me, whatever the terrain.” We can all take note in Caroline Martinez’ two-wheeled philosophy.
Throughout coronavirus lockdown, Caroline has kept her love of two wheels rolling with stacks of gravel riding on what she calls ‘dual cabbage ways’ around south Armagh.
Thanks in part to some glorious weather of late, her instagram feed has also made us jealous too. Those views from the top of Slieve Gullion are natural born Insta-bangers.
Wanting to scratch below the surface of her IG feed, we caught up with Caroline to find out a bit more about her gravel interests, her dream build in the making and why sometimes you should just follow your nose and see where the next lane, trail or byway takes you…
Caroline, when and why did you gain an interest in gravel riding?
Caroline Martinez: “I live in South Armagh and the roads are not always in tip top shape. At the end of March, I was put on furlough with my job and it was also clear there would not be any XC MTB racing this summer so I decided to change the tyres on my cyclocross bike to something more cushiony and start discovering the wonders South Armagh has to offer. I wouldn’t call what I do “gravel” as such, I just ride where the roads take me, whatever the terrain.”
What bike are you riding?
“I’m riding a Ridley X-Night frame, in the Paul Milnes Cycles colours. It’s an XXS frame with Sram Rival groupset, Prime Attaquer wheels and at the moment, WTB Riddler tyres 37c.”
What length is your ideal spin and what type of terrain does it consist of?
“At the moment, I ride every day. I tend to limit my spins to 2 to 3 hours, so I can do it again the next day. The terrain up here is quite hilly and I ride alone most of the times so I tend to indulge myself and really pace myself ( ie slow ride). I normally just pick a direction and take a new road or path that I might have seen the day before and see where it goes.”
Is Ireland suited to gravel riding? We don’t have the endless dirt track roads we see in the USA, but has what we got work?
“I personally don’t think Ireland is the best place for gravel in the way the Americans do it. It’s more suited to ‘green laning’ if I can call it that. The good thing is that gravel bikes are very well suited to these types of roads, which we call ‘dual cabbage ways’ in my house.”
We’re always thinking of our next dream build, any bikes on the horizon?
“I’m currently building a flat bar cross bike, which I’m planning to take anywhere I want depending on what humour I am. I will have a set of wheels with gravel tires and another with slicks. No dropper seat post. Droppers are for wimps!”
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned about gravel riding?
“You get to see things from a completely new angle. For me it’s about stopping at the top of that climb and looking for the next road I’ll take from afar.”
For those starting out, what advice can you offer?
“If you’re like me and using your cyclocross bike, get the right tyre. CX tyres don’t always cut it on heavy roads.”
Finally, we’re seeing a huge cycling boom during this coronavirus – what can be done to capitalise on that and keep people interested in cycling?
“I think the boom has a lot to do to non-cycling athletes trying to keep fit while not able to train. I work in a bike shop and a lot of people are looking for the cheapest bike they can find. Unfortunately, that will not make them want to keep riding. We’ve had 2 days of rain since the end of March and we all feel as if we’re living in the south of France. I hope this isn’t just a fad, but only time will tell. The large number of disused railways around the country would be great as greenways. There is a lot of that where I grew up in the South of France. It’s always nice.”
Images by Caroline Martinez