Who am I and where am I starting from?

Before launching into the riding, routes and reviews of this series, I realised I should quickly give a little background on myself. I was formerly a professional road racer, and spent all of my time on skinny tyres and tarmac. During my years spent riding in the World Tour, and those spent getting there, I barely touched the rough stuff. In fact I didn’t even own a mountain bike, let alone a gravel bike, until the last couple of years.

For the past six months I’ve been riding long distances on the gravel and trails, with an eye on ultra-endurance adventure racing, and learning everything from scratch along the way. From finding and riding routes, to bike maintenance and favourite bits of kit, I hope to share the fun and exploration with you in this series.

With 2020 plans going out of the window for all of us, racing has been put on hold. That being said, GBDuro has recently announced a new ‘self-sufficient’ format for their 2,000km end-to-end event and a revised start date of August 1 (https://www.instagram.com/p/CAm1_cUg_qo/). Whether this happens or not, I have signed up and will be preparing as if it is. It’s going to be a busy couple of months of riding and experimenting with kit, bikes, bags and food. I’ll be sharing my extensive preparation for a self-sufficient event; and although it’s a daunting way to experience the ultra-endurance world for the first time it should be an incredible journey.

I have a few exciting plans in my back pocket in case the event doesn’t go ahead, or I don’t feel it’s appropriate to participate given the current climate, so either way there will be plenty of adventuring this summer.

Routes of the week:

Over the past couple of months I kept it pretty local on the bike. I rarely rode longer than an hour or two while we were under a more formal lockdown. It was what I personally felt was the right thing to do, and to be honest my motivation to ride long had dwindled as the world shut down. The upshot of this was that I got to explore the local lanes and gravel trails on my doorstep. I definitely appreciated it more than ever before, and realised you don’t always have to go far to find beauty in the ride.

Above is my favourite short gravel spin in the area. It’s just under an hour when ridden as an after work blast, and just over an hour if I’m cruising on a recovery ride. I rode all or part of this every day during lockdown, and I never tired of it. A mix of car free tarmac through a beautiful country estate, premium gravel, and a bit of grass and dirt is the perfect combination for a fun spin. Having a route I could ride on autopilot, clear my head, and just have fun with it, proved invaluable during a stressful time.

Venturing further from home:

This ride was definitely the highlight of the week. Over winter I rode a shorter version of this route a couple of times, but with the saturated ground, miles of mud, and cold temperatures, it was a slow route on those occasions. It wasn’t the big climbs that slowed the day down, but the waterlogged flat sections on the way to them. I remember my frustration on the flat sections through the woods where I had to wrestle, and occasionally carry, my bike along stretches I knew should be fast and fun.

Riding it this week was a completely different experience, and I loved it. The speed was up, so I could ride further. The climbs became the tough parts of the ride, but also the most beautiful, and I could relax and rip along the flat trails. If you’re ever in the area, this is a ride I would definitely recommend. Pedaling up and over Long Mynd is a stunning experience.

The week ahead:

I’ll be back in the saddle for some long rides this week, and will be resuming the exploration of new routes in the area. From a couple of mid-length rides on work days, to the all-dayers that I’ve grown to love so much, I’ll share my favourites in the next installment.

With some new bits of kit fitted to the bike for the adventuring ahead, I’m also looking forward to sharing the successes with you.