Gravel riding is on the increase. An opportunity to take you off the roads and off the beaten path, discovering hidden gems of Ireland. Now 8000 gravel miles deep, Darren Tapp explains why he ain’t looking back…
Note: Remember to ride responsibly and maintain your social distance from other groups at this time of crisis. Don’t contribute to the spread of coronavirus #RideSolo
Gravel, new roads, all road! Whatever you want to call it, it’s the next big thing in cycling. I’m sure you all know what a gravel bike is by now. It’s all over the bike industry. The new hype word in marketing spiel. GRAVEL THIS, GRAVEL THAT!
If you don’t know what a gravel bike is, it’s simple to explain. Some would say its a road bike with bigger tyres that are more capable off road and others just call it a cyclocross bike! There’s such a wide spectrum from racing to touring from mountain bikes to road bikes and everything in between. Wheel sizes 650b to 700c, tyres width from 28mm up to 50mm. Every bike brand now has a gravel bike in their line up from £500 to £10,000.
Maybe my first experience on a gravel bike will make cyclists understand what it’s all about.
Before I moved to Northern Ireland I lived in Devon and I was a mountain biker. The roads over in Devon are not a great place to have a road bike, far too many cars on the roads and every other car driver trying to ride you off it. When I moved to Co. Fermanagh eight years ago I thought to myself, a road bike would be great around here, roads are a lot quieter and the car drivers a lot more courteous, so I bought myself a road bike.
After about four years of enjoying my road bike (and becoming Lakeland CC club champion in 2016), I became quite bored of the same old roads. Every time I was out on my road bike I was seeking more of these gravel roads and tracks leading into woods. I started heading down some of the gravel roads on my £4000 racing bike with 23mm tyres, but it just felt so wrong. I had noticed a new breed of bikes starting to appear all over the place. The Gravel bike.
Bitten by the bug
After a good search on google maps of Fermanagh forestry and gravel roads it became very clear to me what my next bike of choice would be. After six months of looking up gravel bikes, I purchased a Cannondale Slate. It’s a rather odd looking bike, with a single-sided lefty suspension fork and the 650b wheels with big balloon tyres. I was really curious as to what it would be like on the road and off it.
I had a route mapped out, Spin11 kit on and off I headed to the hills. The first thing that took me by surprise was how fast it was on the road, a lot faster then it looked. Then hitting my first bit of off road was so much fun. It’s an odd feeling being on the drops and hammering down a bumpy woodland track. I stopped to see if I was on the right route, but I wasn’t to sure of where I was.
One thing I did know was that I was in the middle of the woods without a soul in sight, just me and this odd bike. I knew then gravel biking was for me. I sat there on my bike for a couple of minutes smiling to myself thinking this is awesome. Why had I not gotten a gravel bike before!
So many roads less travelled to explore and so many Instagram photos to be taken. The feeling of being so, so far away from everyone and everything is quite amazing.
Roads less travelled
Back to my ride and heading off down through the woods I hit some awesome single track and too soon I was back out on the open road at the bottom. I spun my bike around and headed straight back into the woods. This off road riding is awesome fun, I had forgotten how much fun riding off road can be.
Headed straight up this off road bumpy lose climb as fast as I could, this gravel bike thing is so much fun on the road, but even better off it. Out of breath as I hit the top of the woodland climb, with an eerie silence and nothing around, the sun beating through the trees and deer and red squirrels running from under my 650b wheel. I headed along some old farm track back out onto the tarmac road. (Back to normality) The grin on my face said it all. I was hooked in less than 10 miles.
Now back at the bottom of a road climb I know so well from my road bike, I hammer up the hill knowing it’s a Strava KOM segment. Head down on the drops and blasting hard, I’m hopeful of a time close to the one I set on my road bike. Heading back home and looking at my shadow dancing in the hedge next to me with the biggest smile on my face, which I still have on my face to this day.
Upload my 1st gravel ride to find I have taken 2 Strava KOMs. One off road climb in the woods, and one road climb (beating my road bike time by a good 20 seconds).
Gravel is the future – heading out into the unknown, away from cars and people is an awesome experience. It’s just you against the elements. Spotting animals all over the place and the most amazing views across valleys and woodlands and always being on the look out for that amazing Instagram photo.
All roads are all perfect for a gravel bike and it doesn’t feel out of place on either off or on (with roads getting so bad with potholes making more sense). I’m now 8000 gravel miles strong and my passion for gravel bikes is growing by the ride. I want more cyclists to experience the feeling of being out-out, not just out. The only down side is your road bike will never get ridden again!
Many thanks to Darren for this story, to check out the original article, visit spin11.com
Give it a go – Lakelander Gravel Grinder
If you want to sample some gravel riding pencil in the Lakelander Gravel Grinder this October 10th. Catering to all ability levels and all knobbly tyre bikes, there are two routes to choose from – Big Dog 100km and Little Dog 50km.
We gave the first edition of the event a go in 2019 and had an awesome day out sampling some of Fermanagh’s finest gravel tracks along with 400 other like-minded people.
Opting for the 50km route it was a blast ripping some seriously flowing and fast single track on skinny tyres. To some, 50km might not sound much, but riding gravel is a different animal and the added drag (compared to road) quickly burns the legs. We’ll definitely be back for 2020, once coronavirus fecks off!
Follow Daz and his gravel exploits