Why? Why would I get up at stupid o’clock only to go and run my expensive equipment through the dirt necessitating a mandatory deep clean? Why would I bounce around on poor surfaces and shake up my old bones so that they become sore and ache? Why ride at speeds much slower that are achievable on tarmac? Why would I want to get lost in the backend of beyond? Why would I do this when my legs were hammered from racing two days earlier at the Welwyn Wheelers Hilly 50?
Why? Because it’s fun! I get more of the f-word per mile off road that in any other form of our sport.
For several years now London Phoenix have staged their Easter Classic sportive on Easter Monday, which takes in Good Easter, High Easter (a bit like The Great Escape taking in Great Bardfield and Great Dunmow). This year, they offered a gravel edition in addition to two road distances. I had planned to ride the gravel event with +RichardM on his new Bingham gravel tandem, but a heavy cold for the pilot (Richard), meant I was on my own for this one.
So, I rode to the start at Fairlop Waters and set off for a session of gravel grinding. Their route is maybe 70% off road, so although only 43 miles, it’s still a fair challenge. With 14 miles there and 14 miles back, this was going to be a big day. Here's the route if you want to take it on.
Two magical highlights for me were happening on a sea of bluebells in Weald Park, which always takes my breath away. And then having to stop while, perhaps, 300 deer crossed the trail in Dagnam Park. I always enjoy it when the odd deer jumps across my path, but this was of a different order, a long train that looked endless. I spent something like 7 or 8 minutes resting and grinning as they stormed, left to right, in front of me.
Two gripes, there was no coffee at the start available until 9am. I don’t know if that’s a gripe or a declaration of war. No coffee = very bad mood from me. The other was where the GPX track was really unclear and I ended up shimmying under a fence to get back on track. Far from having a sense of humour failure when off road routes go wrong, I actually quite enjoyed it. “How the heck did I end up here?” should be a once or twice a ride moment. It’s part of the fun of having a little adventure. Why not?
Thanks +Sir_Shannonball Good write up and pics. This looks tempting. I don't have a proper gravel bike - do you think its doable on 28mm tyres in present dry conditions. I might give it a go tomorrow.
+StephendS I'd recommend 32s as minimum. I was on 42s and pretty comfortable. Where there's a will, there's a way though and everything is doable. I do have a couple of sets of 33mm CX tyres that I could lend you.
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"You will always be in our hearts and on our roads." - @Giro d'Italia on Michele Scarponi