Crankworx Dreamin’

Words: Harry Griffiths
Photos: Alistair Chalmers

You’ll often hear people local to Whistler moaning in the weeks coming up to Crankworx.

“It’s too busy” and “the lift lines are way too long” are the usual reasons for “totally avoiding the village”, according to a gnarled local who has apparently been in Whistler since the ‘glory days’.

Having lived in Whistler for a summer, I got to experience the full force of Crankworx. With the ever useful and somewhat unreliable glasses of hindsight, I feel I can shed some light on the 10 days.

Well yeah, its pretty busy. And not just busy as in ‘Oh there’s a lot of people here’, more in terms of, ‘Okay let me just completely change my route to get groceries so I can get back before sun down’ busy.

It becomes obvious that this busyness comes with good reason once you realise that the vast majority of the bike world are there. If you look one way, you’ll see a top World Cup photographer chasing riders up and down hills, the other way there’s a rider you’ve been idolising since you were about 9. Before you know it, you seemingly end up awkwardly asking every other person if you can have a photo with them.

With lots of people comes lots of events. Everyday has an race or competition to spectate if you want to and choosing the right ones to watch is a big debate. Mainly due to work I missed a few of the big ones, but I made it to the EWS, Deep Summer and Canadian Open amongst a few others.

Without getting all philosophical about it, there was a feeling at these events that’s hard to place. It may just be me, but they had an appeal to them that set them apart from others. Headline events like Joyride were incredible to watch and easily attracted the biggest crowds, but there’s something uniquely satisfying about be one of the few to drag yourself up a mountain in the rain just to watch Sam Hill ride a left hander.

Deep Summer had this feeling by the bucket load. Being a slideshow competition, it tends to celebrate a different type of riding to most competitions. Focusing on stories as opposed to results, it really showed what makes riding a bike great, and reminded you it’s not about being the fastest or doing the biggest jump.

“it’s not about being the fastest or doing the biggest jump”

With Canadian Open being the last event of the 10 days, it’s got a lot of pressure on it, but it delivers. Most famous for Hecklers rock, this is the flagship downhill race of the week. 2019 saw a huge effort to close down Hecklers rock after things had been getting a bit hectic over the last few years, and whilst there wasn’t quite the mayhem that there usually was, the race retained its character. Nothing beats watching the fastest racers do their thing and with a smaller, less drunk ‘Hecklers Corridor’ formed in the bottom woods, the riders still got treated to a wall of noise as they progressed down the track, keeping the spirit of downhill racing well and truly alive.

When everyday is someones Friday, riding does take a bit of a back seat. A combination of braking bumps flourishing into small hills and lift lines measured in hours rather than minutes meant that time in the bike park is low.

“memories of the mayhem being pushed aside by the urge not to be sick”

Whistler, of course, has a trick up its sleeve. The huge amount of natural singletrack that clings to the mountain side often goes unnoticed by the crowds at Crankworx, and within a 15 minute pedal, you can be grinding up a steep access road, memories of the mayhem being pushed aside by the urge not to be sick or eaten by a bear. Top this off with a plummet back down and a swim in one of the numerous lakes to wash to dust and sweat off, and you’ve got a ride that easily rivals if not betters constant A-line laps.

If you are still hankering for chairlift time, Crankworx also, has a trick up its sleeve. Enter a race, and during practice for that race you can jump the lift line. This, alongside peer pressure, meant that I somehow ended up signing up to race Air DH, the A-Line race.

I’ve never really claimed to be much of a racer. Before Crankworx, my most recent race was an Aston Hill DH race and it didn’t go well. Despite enjoying practice, I hit a tree in my race run and graciously DNFed. The plan then, for this race, was just to finish.

Preparation wasn’t ideal. Firstly, I was scheduled to work on the day of the race. No worries, my shift allowed me to take few hours off in the middle of the day, so I lined that up with my start time. Having jumped the lift line, I met up with a friend and took a warm up lap. With Air DH being a big race in terms of entries, I couldn’t ride the track as racing had already started. Therefore, my one warm lap involved riding a similar track, only to realise my front tyre was going down. Perfect. Filling up on my fair share of PSI, whilst noticing many a loose spoke, I finally lined up to race, hoping my tyre would hold enough pressure to allow me to start.

“Filling up on my fair share of PSI, whilst noticing many a loose spoke, I finally lined up to race”

It did, and off I went. Despite trying to relax and enjoy the ride (because that’s what everyone says when they win a race), the red mist came down and I went as hard as I could. Halfway down all was going well and I was convinced I was just minutes away from a good result when a shiny berm took a disliking to my front wheel and I was on the ground. Fantastic. Unhurt, I got up and made my way down the rest of the trail, flitting quickly between frustration and laughter as I finished.

For most of us, the reality of living in Whistler is that you have no money. Unsurprisingly, no one pays you to be at Crankworx and it’s not cheap. So to make it happen you still have to go to work. It’s a bit of a first world problem for sure, but seeing Crankworx happen before your very eyes whilst changing yet another rental tyre can put a bit of a downer on it.

“Unsurpisingly, no one pays you to be at crankworx”

It’s not all bad though. Working in a bike shop at the bottom of the chairlift means there’s a near constant stream of riders coming in. Building up pro’s bikes, product launches and the usual mechanical issues are all part of it, and I’ll forever remember looking up towards the end of a shift to see Gee Atherton, multiple World Cup winner, asking me if we had any tyres he could use. Alongside this, you will almost certainly know someone who knows someone in the know through work, and if you play you cards right, invites to the ‘exclusive parties’ that Crankworx is famed for can be found.

About 5 days in, rumours started flying around the shop of one of these parties happening that evening. Extracting more info out of those in the know was tricky, but by the end of the day, we all had sourced tickets. Expecting big things, we headed for the party. On arrival, it became clear that the definition of exclusive had been somewhat twisted to encompass the whole of Whistler, and the ‘big things’ we were expecting never materialised. We did get to see a few pro riders wrestling with inflatables however, and they were serving buckets of Gin and Tonic, so it wasn’t all bad.

Ultimately, enjoying Crankworx is a personal thing and I’m sure after many years of it, the novelty would wear off. For me, being a complete fan boy of the sport, I was always going to enjoy it, and the lasting memories of dusty trails, racing and good times will certainly out last the busyness, long lift queues and un-exclusive parties.

“However you look at it, Crankworx is mayhem. Whether that’s good or bad is up to you.”

Woods Without Trails

Rolling up to the trails, the excitement was palpable. The most recent lockdown had been the most brutal of the lot. Each of us shut in our own separate rooms, windows blacked out and only the fading memories of riding to accompany us. So faded were the memories now that I wondered if I even knew what I would be doing when I finally get back on my bike. 

We had been told the world would be different after this, the non stop rolling news laying out fact after fact about what had changed. But none of us had expected this. No news story had covered our special places, the places where earth and rock was moved to create a flowing line down a hillside. The places where endless hours of work with little reward was done for the pure love of riding a bike. 

Unloading the bike, I pedalled off for the first blast of freedom in a long time. Cresting the rise to the top of the hill, I stopped, unable to comprehend what I was seeing. The trails were gone. At first I didn’t believe it, thinking maybe it’s just me forgetting where the entrance to each one was. But as I continued to ride along the top of the hill, I couldn’t deny it. There were trees I recognised as trail starts from the hazy memories of sunny days and dusty corners. At a junction between access roads, there should have been a snaking line dropping into the trees and winding it’s way down the steepest and darkest section of the wood. I blundered blindly into where this trail should have been, still in denial, thinking maybe its just the entrance that has been covered. 

The deeper I got, the worse it was, tree branches whipping me in the face, sticks getting twisted into my spokes. I reached a point where my favourite section should have been. Normally, emerging from the tight trees, I should have been lifting the front wheel over some roots and straight into three fast flowy corners before being spat out into a long rough straight holding on for dear life. There was nothing. No berms, no glossy roots waiting to swipe your front wheel, no gaps to clear. Just lifeless trees and pine needles covering the ground. In desperation, I started to manically clear where the line should have been. It was hopeless. One gust of wind and everything was back where it had been before. The trails were gone.

I carried on, fighting my way through the dense wood to the usual pedal up. The trees were no longer obstacles to be avoided, they were pressing in on me, trapping me in a place that used to be associated with such freedom. Emerging onto a fire road, I stopped, looking around in despair for any sign that this once had been a place of joy for some many people. There were no tyre marks, no echoing whoops of joy and no trails. 

Unsure what to do, head spinning with this new reality, all it made sense to do was to pedal up. Rounding a corner on the track, there was a sight that filled me with relief. Riders. It wasn’t just me. But as I got closer, something wasn’t right. There was no talking, no laughing, no heavy breathing. Just monotonous pedalling, an obligation more than anything else. 

I had one last bit of hope left. Towards to top of the hill, there should be a short section of trail out in the open. A few perfectly crafted corners that could be ridden over and over again, until the sun goes down or you can no longer push back up. Maybe they had avoided whatever had covered everything else. This last bit of hope fuelled my pedal. Passing the riders on the pedal up, their eyes fixed on the track in front of them, unwavering as I passed and said hello. Reaching the last steep section before these corners, I sprinted, convinced that something must be there. There was nothing. No kids trying to roost one another, no ridiculous gaps being tried and no trails. Collapsed over my handlebars, the riders who I had passed reached me and carried on. They kept pedalling, no words uttered and no comprehension of what was missing. Without trails, the soul of mountain biking is gone. 

Shell shocked, I rolled back to the cars. I said nothing to the others gathered in the car park. I packed up my bike robotically and drove of on autopilot. This is the new reality. 

No one wants the trails to no longer exist. Make sure you support your local trail building group.

Wahoo Element Bolt Review

I wrote this review for a job application, so I thought I’d put it up here as well.

Being some what of a luddite in the cycling computer world, the Bolt was the first one that I owned. Having been recording rides on my phone for a long time, as I increased my mileage and started to look at ultra endurance races, I took the plunge and got myself the Bolt. Looking at it from an ultra side of things, the three things I was looking for was good battery, easy navigation and good durability. The simplicity and the size of the Bolt drew me towards it compared to the more feature rich Roam. 

The Bolt comes in a high quality box, with a very nice integrated out front mount and a standard handlebar mount, complete with zip ties, the usual instructions and a charging cable. Setting up is a straight forward affair, but the Bolt does rely on you having a smart phone, meaning you can’t use it as a stand alone unit. Whilst this may put a few people off, by making the smart phone control the more complicated functions means that unit can be simpler to use. It has no touch screen, just 6 buttons (Power, Zoom in & out, and three at the base of the screen that control start/stop, the page you are viewing and lap/history/route) and there is close to unlimited customisation of pages, again controlled through the app. The only other piece of hardware is the strip of LEDs at the top of the screen.

The Bolt also comes with the necessary compatibility to pair with heart rate, cadence, power and the Kickr Smart trainer. It can sync with the usual cycling apps to which rides automatically upload. It has some pre loaded work outs, and workouts sync from your training app to the Bolt. As not much of a training fanatic, and still riding by feel, these features were not on the top of my tick list, but it’s good to know they are there if I decide to increase my watts per kilo. It also comes with live Strava segments and live notifications, but I turned these features off as I am not a fan of things constantly lighting up my screen. 

The out front mount is very nice to look at and also aero.

The first few rides with the Bolt were just a few hours, not following a set route on the device, just to see how it worked. Every time it quickly picked up GPS and had no issues with recording the rides. One thing I did notice is that the auto pause can get confused, but this never turned into a big issue for me as the loud beeps warned me of this and you can easily press restart. It also only happen once or twice. The initial signs after these first rides were good, the display was clear, the pre loaded base maps has good coverage, including most off road tracks, and the battery was good, using around 7% per hour of riding. 

Diving deep into the navigation side of things, the Bolt has two ways of following routes, depending on what app you have designed your route with. If the route has been designed with RideWithGPS or Strava, then the Bolt will give you turn by turn directions, breaking down distances until the next turn, and giving cue cards with the names of road on them. If the route has been designed on another app, or you simply have a GPX file you want to load onto the unit, which is done through the app, then you won’t get the turn by turn directions, just the route overlaid on the base map. In both cases, if you go off course, the Bolt will beep three times and the LEDs at the top of the screen will flash red until you rejoin the route. Have ridden with both, I found each one easy to follow, and whilst having the turn by turn directions is nice, I didn’t find crucial. Rejoining a route is easy enough, it takes the unit around 15 seconds to work out what’s happen and then it’ll put you back on the route. This is not however a unit that is good for making route decisions on the fly or re routing you to get back to a route, as you can’t scroll around the map. However, if I was in this situation, regardless of the computer I was using, I would mostly likely use my phone as looking at a map is more intuitive on phones than any cycling computer. 

The big test of the navigation and the unit as a whole came as I set off on a 330km bikepacking route that I had designed on RWGPS. The route has bits of on and off road, would feature an overnight stop and diversions from the route. Overall, the unit performed well, the navigation didn’t miss a beat, with me only missing a turn due to tiredness, which I was aware of straight away. The only time the navigation struggles is in built up areas where there are multiple streets, as the black and white display can make it confusing. It also got all sorts of conditions thrown at it, from dust to rain and back again. The battery life was good but not great, having done an 11hr day of riding with live navigation on permanently, I had about 30% battery left. 

The small size of the Bolt made it more appealing to me than it’s bigger brother, the Roam

In summary, the Bolt did what I wanted from a cycling computer. It’s simple to use, durable and has enough battery for big big days, although you’d want to consider a portable charger for multi day trips. Whilst not a feature rich as it’s big brother the Roam, I never felt that not having these features hindered my riding with the Bolt. 

Shot Blocks and Dehydration

4 hrs into the ‘official’ part of my ride, staring at my rear mech wondering how the end of my gear cable had managed to get stuck in the jockey wheel, I had the feeling that I may have bitten off slightly more than I could chew.

I was riding a  bikepacking route I had been designing during lockdown, the Dorset330, designed as a vague effort to train for ultra endurance racing. I was looking to get around 170km ridden each day to make it a two day adventure. My naivety about this was best shown by the fact that I’d decided to ride to the start in Dorchester, adding an extra 40km to make it a planned 210km day in total. 

These 40km were fairly straightforward and all seemed well. The weather was glorious and I’d made it to Dorchester in around an hour and a half having drunk next to no water.

Changing to the official route at the glamorous start point of Dorchester South Train Station, I set off. The temperature was pretty high at this stage already, and given it was set to be one of the hottest days of the year, it was only going to go up. This, combined with my lack of taking on any water, would come back to bite me.


Having ridden this sort of distance before on a gravel bike, I figured this wouldn’t be too much different. Little did I know. Fully loaded with sleeping stuff and on big tyres, the going was much slower, something that I should really have realised. Ultimately what this meant was after 25km I was already hurting. The first of many caffeine shot blocks was consumed.

Despite being on the ropes after 25km, this part of the route was stunning. Riding along the coast on smooth gravel tracks, looking towards the Purbecks was brilliant. The next 25km blurred into one big load of shot blocks, hills and general suffering and I made it to Corfe Castle, having still only consumed around a litre of water in the last 5 hours and feeling a bit worse for wear. 


Out of Corfe, and heading up 9 Barrow Down put me very deep in the pain cave. The climb doesn’t look too bad on paper, but it goes on for around 5km and with a heavy bike it was a serious grind. Starting to question myself ever so slightly, I was rewarded with a classic descent, the extra weight meaning that I barrelled down the hill, dodging tourists and generally being slightly out of control. 

Straight after it was back up another hill. I was rationing water at this point and must have been quite the site for all the tourists at Old Harry’s Rocks. My jersey was crusty with salt and I can’t imagine the look on my face being that welcoming. The sea looked very appealing at this point. 


Coming through Studland, my stubbornness meant to I didn’t stop at the shop there, despite having practically no water left and I pressed on to some heathland, assuming I could re-stock soon. This was a mistake. It turned out to be 20 slow kilometers before I could restock, and a mechanical halfway through had me ready to call it a day. Staring at my confused mech, it took me a good 10 minutes to work out all in need was the the tension taking off it to sort, and during this time I was ready to quit. The bike was back working however, and with more caffeine in my body than water, I kept going.  

Riding into Wareham felt like I had just finished crossing a desert. Covered in dust and grease from my chain, I donned my facemask and went looking for lunch in the oasis that is Sainsbury’s. Straight to the meal deal section, ready to pick a gourmet sandwich and I couldn’t quite believe the empty shelves I was greeted by. There was nothing left. After confusing the one way system many a time, I’d cobbled together a vague lunch which consisted of a cheese twist, peppers stuffed with ricotta, a packet of prawn cocktail crisps, a bag of cookies, a bottle of coke and three litres of water. Sat on the pavement, water had never tasted so good and I started to feel slightly human again. 

With still some distance to go, I couldn’t stay for too long and I was back on the bike in 20 minutes. Through Wareham Forest and into Wimborne, I started to get a sharp pain in my knee, but again my stubbornness meant that I refused to stop. 

After 45 minutes of main road bashing (which has since been taken out of the route), I hit some more gravel. At this stage I was back in the pain cave, my lack of water for the first half of the route meant that I was playing catch up constantly. The only thing keeping me going was the fact that a friend lived at around 150km in and there was a pub there. Another petrol station stop at 120km had me buying more water and my goal changed to just making it to 150km.


Fortunately, from the petrol station onwards was relatively easy going other than a few muddy sections and the relief of approaching 150k was huge. Rolling into Cranbourne, I was empty. Pretty much everything hurt, especially my knee, I was coated in dust, sweat and sun cream and never has pizza and beer been more appealing. 

Having enjoyed a big pizza, chips and beer I was set on not pedalling any further. My friends garden made for the perfect camping spot, and I even got to borrow to tent as opposed to my plan of sleeping out in the open. 

After a luxurious breakfast the next day, I was planning on completing my route. My knee had other ideas, hurting with every pedal stroke. I made the decision to just ride home on the road. A disappointing end to the trip, but it just gives me another excuse to ride the route once my knee starts working again. 


Find the route and more information here.



The 4 Year Bike Review*

13 April 2016 – The time had come. The linkage on my Ironhorse Sunday was in a bad way, with a huge amount a rear wheel steering coming into play (ha) on every ride. A new bike was ordered and the wait for it to arrive began. Working away at a pizza restaurant, an email popped up on the day it was meant to be delivered confirming it’s delivery. A bit of explaining and I got out of work early and raced home to build it up.

No doubt rushing the build process, the bike was ready to go quickly and I got to admire it in all it’s two wheeled glory. A bright yellow YT Capra, ready to be ridden, awaited me.

Since this first day, this bike has been a true hero of all my rides. I remember the first ride, a trip to to Swinley forest. Being unable to drive at this point I got a lift to the train station, took the train and then received another lift to the trails. A lap of the trails followed, then it was back to train station, back on the train, and then a pedal home. Being my first ‘enduro’ bike this was a novelty for me, and it blew my mind to think you could ride downhill tracks and then pedal home comfortably.

A lot of the time, the rides it went on were simply blasts around the local woods, building questionable jumps and loamy ruts. Surprising dog walkers and seeing how far you could fly off a pile of sticks and some dirt never gets old. Neither does scrapping out a corner and seeing how fast you can ride it, knowing full well it’ll just explode. The bike has been cased, nosedived and generally mis-treated all over the UK. From Full Moto in Wales to Exmoor and the Quantocks, it has never let me down.

One of the best pile of sticks and dirt you will find
One of the smoother landings

The bike has had some big days as well. It’s crossed the UK coast to coast, through the Lakes and Yorkshire and whilst the near constant rain nearly broke me, the Capra just kept on going. 2 days into this 6 day ride, the pads on the brakes were shot. Too much grit and rain had torn through them in a few days. This wasn’t going knock the Capra though, and it completed the journey easily and the brakes, which were the stock Sram Guides are still going on the bike today.

The biggest test of all however was the summer of 2019. Strapped up in a bike bag, me and the Capra were off to Whistler (I wasn’t in the bag) to live and ride as much as possible. Realistically, I wasn’t sure if the bike would make through this. Despite many a vague service and even a bearing change, it was making some strange noises still and 6 months of riding the bike park is not the way to treat a bike kindly. And yet, the Capra came out on top.

It was a downhill race bike for the Phat Wednesdays, a freeride bike on Crabapple hits, an xc bike on a week night toonie and a city bike in Vancouver. It took some knocks for sure, the dropper post has some healthy damage on the back, the rear wheel has the biggest dent I’ve ever seen it (you can actually see the bead of the tyre) and I did do a few days riding missing part of a linkage bolt but here I am writing about it, nearly a year on from this summer having just returned from riding it in the Peak District.

It can fly
And it can pedal to the top of Lords of the Squirrels

I think what I am getting at is that it doesn’t matter about your bike. It’s easy to get sucked into the newest tech and the constant drive for needing a new bike, so much so that you can forget about your current one. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t have new bikes, and as I write this I am also looking at what to replace the Capra with, but it’s worth bearing in mind that you current bike is still loads of fun, because, ultimately, it is still a bike.

*This isn’t a review

Shredder Issue 7 – Living the Canadream

If you haven’t heard of Shredder MTB zine, I highly recommend checking it out. It contains some of the best content from the sport, focusing on the niche parts of mountain biking, with articles ranging from interviews with top racers to artist spotlights,. It is the best representation of mountain biking that I have seen and best of all it is found in beautiful print. It truly is a labour of love and Stuart deserves all the praise and more for his hard work on it.

In the latest issue, I wrote a story about a road trip around Vancouver Island for last summer for Shredder MTB zine. There are a few pictures here of the article but I highly advise you to grab a copy and treasure it because, as the cover says, it is Timeless.

You can find a copy here.

Minterne Magna Gravel

This was a ride of three parts. Up first was riding for an hour or so on the country lanes, fortunately with a tail wind. Rolling through the small villages such as East Coker and Yetminster was easy going and in Chetnole, I aimed for the first off road section.
The first section with a sign saying ‘deep ford – unsuitable for motor vehicles’. This is very true. I had to wade a part of this and it was at least shin deep for 20 meters. Coming out the other side there is some gravel, broken up by a few gates, followed by a muddy section that had been chewed up by farm vehicles which made me feel like I was back to riding in Winter. Definitely a section for the more adventurous riders.

After a bit more riding on the roads, I came to the next off road section. This is great ride. It starts with double track that turns into a wide, rough track at the end of the climb, but it is easily rideable on a gravel bike. Then after the a climb there is a fast flat section along the top of the hill with great views over to the right. It spilts after a k or two, and taking the gate to the right you drop down a chalky singletrack descent that can get pretty wild on a gravel bike. Passing the gate halfway down, it starts to flatten, but it is over grown it still keeps you on your toes before you end up at a farm.

The longest section of off road comes up next, climbing up on Wether Hill before following some farm tracks through the fields at the top and dropping you to another farm where another climb awaits. The climb up Wether hill is made up of quite large gravel so whilst being short it will still have you breathing hard at the top.

The next few kilometers through the fields vary surface views but the views never disappoint. The descent from these fields starts mellow, but it soon pitches on a fast gravel track, and keeping a gravel bike under control down here can be a challenge. Keep an eye for big rocks as punctures are a very real threat down here. This section is finished off with a great chalky climb on another farm track. It’s worth stopping at the gateway halfway up to take in the view. The section finishes past some farm builds before popping you out on a quiet country lane.

After a fast descent and short climb on the road, you reach the final section. A bridleway Melbury Park has varied surfaces, short sharp climbs are fast descent. The surface can change very quickly for fast gravel to large stones so you have to be on the ball. Make sure you close the gates as often you’re riding through sheep fields.

Back on the roads after this, I made the most of the huge tailwind and put some effort through the pedals, flying home with a few personal records. All in all, a very varied and successful ride.

Somerset Levels Gravel

Lockdown has given all us of time. Most people have filled this with important things like spending more time with family and staying healthy. Whilst doing this to an extent, a big focus for me has been riding locally. With big bike riding off the cards, I turned to my road bike. I say road bike but strictly it is a gravel bike. What does that even mean? A mountain bike from 20 years ago? A heavy road bike with fat tyres? The only way to find out was to ride it.

England has a fine selection of road riding. The endless criss crossing country lanes mean you can ride almost anywhere without having to grace an A road, as long as you’re not concerned with taking the direct route. But UK gravel is more of an enigma. According to some well informed corners of the internet, the UK has no gravel. Not believing everything that was written on the internet, I was sure there was gravel out there (not least because I’d ridden bits of it on my big bike). So, armed with OS maps and ambition, I set about finding the illusive kilometres of gravel.

There is no hiding from the fact that I use roads. Very few people are lucky enough to be able to roll out of their door and be straight onto off road trails. On my enduro bike, pretty much all my routes have stints on the road to get from one place to another. Here the gravel bike makes it’s first benefit known. It can munch miles on the road. It’s not going to be claiming any KOMs or being holding wheels in the local chaingang but you can quite comfortably ride for a few hours on the road, freewheeling along the lanes, enjoying the view.

But after a bit, I’d had a few close encounters with cars, my legs started to hurt and my inner mountain biker took over. The time has come to venture off-road.

This is were the fun supposedly starts. Switching from tarmac to dirt, the speed drops and I found myself having to pick a line through puddles, tractor tracks and dried horse shoe prints. I inevitably had to ride over some of this and it was a bone shattering ride. 5 minutes into my first gravel sector I’ve got arm pump and I am covered in mud. This isn’t ride the marketing said I’d have. This wouldn’t be fun on any bike. Maybe the internet is right, there is no gravel in the UK. 

After another 5 minutes of this I come to a stop to give my arms a rest. Glancing at the map, there is no way to tell if the rest of the track is the same as this. My optimism says it won’t be but realism says it will be. Gravel riding sucks. But I kept going. You don’t know if you don’t go. Another 10 minutes of bone shaking passes and I’m amazed my bike is still going. I haven’t flatted and my wheel hasn’t collapsed. It might be heavy but this gravel bike certainly can take a beating. I don’t think I’d want to do this on a carbon road bike. The end of this off road section was coming to an end, and as I rolled out onto the lane, aching and sore, I was happy to be spinning the legs without being thrown around. 

After this, my enthusiasm for the next off road section was low. I’d give it one more chance I decided. I’d already learnt that the first couple of hundred meters off road can be misleading. Often they’ll be smooth before descending into chaos. With this in mind, I reluctantly rolled into the next sector. With the smooth start done I awaited the battering I was expecting. It didn’t come. Locked on the hoods, I was moving fast. The double track was undulating and not very “gravelly” but I could hold speed. Every now and then there would be a rough patch, but only long enough to make line choice exciting. Looking up in a brief respite I was completely alone, unable to see any sign of cars. A second later, I was back into focusing on what I was riding, I was concentrating hard, given one wrong line choice would stop the bike and send me over the bars. This was starting to make sense. Coming to a stop after 10 minutes, I was buzzing. Who knew that 2km of flat double track could be that exciting.

Throughout the rest of the ride, I experienced more highs and lows of riding gravel. I found a kilometre of pristine gravel, interrupted only by gates and I was stun by overgrown plants on another section. Rolling home after a few hours of this though it was a lot clearer. UK gravel is its own thing. There are sections you’d never ride again, sections that are very much type 2 fun and sections that could rival anywhere in the world. And this was just in a 50km ride around the Somerset levels.

Had I answered my questions though? Well I’d found gravel so I think that one is a categoric yes. But what does having a gravel bike mean? Well that’s one is a bit harder. What I found out on this ride is that it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just another bike. But it proved that the freedom of riding a bike is what matters. Whether you’re riding for transport, fitness or pleasure or all of these things, what matters is riding a bike not what bike you ride or where you ride.

So now go ride your bike, wherever you want. 

This is the route with some extra photos.