I recently met and interviewed John and Jon Heard from Wild Cycles and they were already organising their mini cycling festival near the Welsh/English border in the New Radnor area. They asked if I’d come over and experience what the weekend would be like. Sadly, family commitments meant I could only get over there for the day. The weather forecast was good though so I got up early and drove over to see what it was all about.
It turns out though that I didn’t get up early enough. From previous experience it seems whenever you are travelling through the Welsh lanes you inevitably get to crawl along behind a hay lorry or tractor, or in this case a cavalcade of 4x4s pulling livestock trailers going to a show just outside Prestigne. This meant apart from blocking and seeing a few riders along the tiny road up to the farm venue with my vehicle everyone else had already left by the time I got to the start. I had a quick word with John Heard and then started the 45km route Wild cycles had sent to me previously. I didn’t even have chance to check out the campsite as the parking was at the top of the hill, no matter, I was eager to hit the trails. I could have done the shorter route or the longer 70km route that had been sent out as a GPX but John said the medium route had the best scenery so the medium distance it was.
Starting out in the valley I was soon pedalling down quiet lanes and almost forgotten roads. The route was interspersed with bridleways, green lanes and lots of gravelly single and double track. One minute you’d be travelling across a field full of sheep, the next heading through a gate into someone’s driveway. All legal of course. In fact there were warnings for 4x4s and motorcross bikes to “slowdown across the garden” in a couple of places!.
Soon though, the route turned and the first section of climbing began. I can’t pretend there wasn’t some effort needed but I’m no professional cyclist and I managed it, I just took my time, stopped and checked out the view if I needed a breather and cycled at my own pace. After around 10 miles I met my first other rider on the route. We had a chat while stopped at a gate and it turned out he was from Siberia! That put my 50 mile journey to get there into perspective! We were riding at different paces so I carried on through increasingly more and more impressive scenery. The next climb took me up very high and the track had that right out there in the middle of nowhere feel. It was around 15 degrees and the weather was very pleasant to ride in but you could see how exposed it would be in wintery conditions. It was hard to ride and not gawp at all the hills in the 360 degree vista all around me. At the next gate I met up with around 10 riders waiting for someone to fix a puncture and one of them was Jon Heard! This group were also on the 45km route so i decided to ride with them. One, to see what the others thought of the ride, organisation and camping but two, and the main reason was that it’s a lot easier in a big group to manage gate opening and closing than if you are on your own!
At the top of a climb Jon said there was a pub at the bottom of the next descent and would it be an idea to stop? around 10 incredulous riders just looked horror struck that he had even considered not stopping!
Can you have a oasis in a paradise? well The Hundred House pub might as well have had palm trees and be in a desert. Local beers and great chips were consumed while everyone just chatted about the ride, themselves and anything really. There was a great mix of people of all abilities and genders. Wild Cycles had ring fenced tickets to try and encourage a diverse range of people to attend and it seemed to have worked. Replenished and after the inevitable pub beer garden punctures you never noticed had been fixed we began the last climb of the day. It was a hum dinger at around 8km long but the group just chatted it’s way up taking it steady and at the summit one of the girls produced a packet of ginger nut biscuits to share, absolute life saver!
We’d reached the high point. I don’t know if you are like me when driving through the countryside and see a radio/TV transmitter on top of one of the highest hills in the distance and wonder who goes up there to maintain it and what the view must be like? Well today it was us! a trig point and transmitter stood next to us but we hardly noticed as the view of the Black mountains, Brecon beacons and much much further away just took your breath away. So worth the climb to get here!
What goes up must come down though and wow, what a final descent, it had everything, grass shutes, sheep filled heather, rocky single track, full speed ahead double track, flowing turns and if you wanted, on the limit turns. Epic is a very frequently used word to describe every little thing these days but I can truly say the downhill, which incidentally finished back at the camp site was epic in the truest sense of the word. Everyone got back with a huge grin on their face. Tired, ready for a beer but gushing about how good the route and the day had been,. I was one of them, I even high fived John Heard when I saw him in the group area in the campsite. I can honestly say it’s one of the best days out on the gravel bike I’ve had.
Back in the campsite, beers were opened, home made strudel was scoffed and the fireside chatting began while we waited for pizza to be cooked. There’s a community kitchen in one of the massive yurts so you can just go and boil the kettle yourself if you want, there’s no airs and graces, everyone just mucks in.
As I sat there, watching the groups of riders roll in from their day out in the hills I realised how different this had been from the other gravel events around today. there’s no strapping on of a “race” number or a checkpoint you must reach for fear of being pulled out by marshalls. There’s no average speed and hundreds of riders. If you wanted to ride these routes on your own for a real wild experience as fast or as slow as you want you could, want to ride with mates? no problem and if like me you hook up with people you don’t know who seem to be going at a pace comfortable to you it’s the best thing ever.
if like me, “sportives” and mass start events just aren’t your thing or you just want to experience an ultra friendly atmosphere where it seems like nothing is too much trouble for the organisers get to a Wild Cycles event. I was gutted to have to leave and miss the folk band that was playing in the evening.
The gravel cycling in this area is absolutely outstanding, the views and the trails are sublime. Totally worth seeking out. I’ll confess though that the friendly atmosphere and laid back ethos was what made the day for me, I felt instantly at home and the riding was just the cream on the strudel!
Be careful though, once you experience this type of weekend you won’t want to leave and if you do leave you’ll be planning the next visit immediately.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Surly bikes ever since the 1990s when I lusted over a Surly 1×1 singlespeed frame that at the time I just couldn’t afford and had to make to with bodged mtb frames with various singlespeed adaptors. Surly have always been about steel frames. No nonsense, well designed and versatile they seem to be the bike that people buy and just do what ever the heck they want with them, drop bar bikes with Alt bars, mtb’s with moustache bars, mixed wheel sizes and lots of racks and rider mods added. They do produce full bikes though and when the UK’s Surly distributor asked if I’d like to try one of their newest full build bikes, well I was hardly going to say no was I?
Made from a chromoly steel that Surly call “Natch” the frame and fork have that skinny look that you only get with a steel bike. the welds look good and Surly treat the steel to an anti rust coating, something you need to think of if riding steel bikes in the UK. The frame set has 110/148mm boost spacing which means it’ll fit frankly humungous sized tyres (27.5 x 2.8mm or 29 x 2.1mm). the frame also supports “gnot boost” too so you can adapt it to run 142 as well. The headset is an old fashioned 11/8 which means you are pretty much locked into the fork that it comes with, but then why would you want to change it? The Bottom bracket is threaded and external (yay!) All the cables are external except for the dropper post but even that is only internal through the bottom of the seat tube so easy to fit and maintain. There are so many bolts on the bike you could fit enough baggage to probably carry clothing and provisions for a 2.4 person family! frame and fork racks are fully catered for as are mud guard mounts. The frame dropouts are slotted so a single speed or hub geared version of the bike is simple to do if that’s your thing. The frame comes in a Sage green colour which has split opinion between my riding buddies, some just do not like it at all, whereas I actually love it.
The parts that Surly bolt to the frame are not your usual fare of Shimano/Sram gearing. The shift/brake levers are Advent X from Microshift as is the rear derailleur and 11-48T 10 speed cassette. The Samox chainset is 1 x and has a 32T chainring. A very MTB style gear ratio. The wheels are made up of Novatec hubs laced to 40mm 27.5 WTB rims with 2.5mm Teravail Ehline tyres. The test bike came with a TransX dropper post activated by the redundant left hand shift lever. Stopping duties are offered by tektro rotors and cable operated tektro calipers. A salsa cowchipper handle bar and WTB volt top off the build.
Steel is definitely not the lightest material to make a bike out of and the Ghost Grappler can in no way be described as light. However, weight is not always the be and end all. How the bike feels when you ride it and how it handles is much more important. Especially on a bike that has the potential to be able to carry enough kit and supplies to take you around the world a few times. light and twangy is not the way to go in that instance. reassuringly solid and flex in the right places is the way to go here. Off road manners are good, the bike is stable, but at the same time it doesn’t corner like an oil tanker, which is just what you want if it’s loaded up. You can trust the bike to get you through rough sections and still make those “crap, I’ve only just noticed that” turns. Perfect for an engaging ride or a tired rider at the end of a long day.
The tall head tube means a riding a predominantly on the drops position is attainable without being in a racing tuck. The drops offer the most control over rough ground so this is a good option to have. You can of course slam the stem if you feel the need and use the hoods. As you can see from the pictures I ran the stem at various levels and because it’s a review bike that goes back to the distributor I couldn’t trim the steerer length, even if someone on instagram did tell me to “sort out the chimney on that bike” 🙂
The sloping top tube gives crotch room safety but again the tall headtube means a good size frame bag can still be fitted. the top tube follows modern convention and is quite long so even with a short stem it doesn’t feel cramped. It’s probably not a bike for hucking drops to flat but neither is this rider. What it will do though is cover off road ground efficiently belying its weight. the 2.5″ tyres offer great grip and traction and with the low gearing most inclines off road are dispatched easily (if you have the legs obviously) The draw back of these great performing off road tyres is quite a bit of rolling resistance when it comes to tarmac. The low gearing that was your friend on the dirt now holds you back on the black top, especially if you are riding with friends with a more traditional gravel gear ratio.
I was looking forward to trying out the Microshift gears and they are actually a revelation. A nice clunky shift, Lever action a sort of cross between Shimano and Sram but smooth and never missed a shift. The rear mech too worked flawlessly and the built in switchable lockout on it kept the chain seated on the chainring throughout the test. The 10 sprockets on the cassette gave a good spread of gears. 10 speed also giving the bonus of cheaper prices when it comes to replacing worn parts. I have to mention the brakes though. The cable operated tektro brakes are just not up to the task, no matter how I tried to set them up, they lack power and the front brake pulsed alarmingly, this pulsing maybe from previous testers misuse though and wouldn’t occur on a brand new bike. The power issue though is down to the brakes and would be something I’d change straight away. I’m not against cable brakes at all but there are much better versions out there.
It’s a fun ride, no doubt about it. The bike gets looks similar to the reaction a fat bike does. People will come up to you and ask about it! In this configuration I’d say it definitely errs on the side of the MTB camp. However, surly offer the bike as a frameset and if a more gravel/road build was your choice then a frame up build would be the way to go. A 700/29er wheelset and maybe a 36T chainring (and decent brakes) and this bike would perform just as well on tarmac as it would on the grav.
Back in my Surly 1×1 lusting days one of the reasons I wanted one was the scene and vibe Surly created around the brand and that was the thing I aspired too. They were a little different from the norm without being flash, they were individual without being elitist and unlike some all looks and no substance brands at the time, you could actually ride one, anywhere and for as long as you liked. Surly haven’t really changed that outlook to this day and the Ghost Grappler carries on that tradition with aplomb
Unless you have super powers you won’t win a XCO race on this bike but you’ll finish the tour divide, no matter how long it takes. This bike though isn’t really about speed, it’s definitely about the journey.
more details can be found on the surly website here or from The UK distributor here
I will freely admit that I thought the idea of a pair of bib shorts with pockets on the legs was a silly idea. I could see the value in some pockets at the base of your back where jersey pockets sit, especially if you were wearing a jersey or a casual shirt, but leg pockets? nah.
I can’t deny the popularity these shorts seem to have gathered though and when Giant UK got in contact to see if I’d like to review a pair of their shorts I thought I’d say yes just to see what all the fuss is about. Needing something to compare them to I did a quick poll on the ukgravelco instagram page to see which companies the followers thought I should try. Albion Cycling got a lot of votes so I contacted them and they agreed to send out a pair of their ABR1 shorts. Madison Sportive bib shorts have long been a favourite of mine so when I saw they also did cargo shorts I bought a pair to try those too.
Madison Roam Cargo Bibshorts
As mentioned, I’ve been a fan of the Madison Sportive bib shorts for a few years, they are a great medium ride length short that fit me like a glove. The cargo shorts with 5 rear pockets and two thigh pockets don’t lack carrying capacity so they are ideal to wear with a pocket less jersey or a standard shirt. the shoulder straps are wide and there’s a guide on both shoulders to route a hydration pack hose if that’s your thing. mesh panels cut down on the sweatiness on hot days. The pad is “Premium Italian TMF chamois” designed to be comfortable on hour long or multiple day rides.
I was so disappointed in these shorts. The size chart is exactly the same as the standard Madison bib shorts I like so much but the Roam cargo shorts were a world away from that sizing. The pad feels like you are sitting on a massive naan bread and tends to creep up where the sun doesn’t shine. Weirdly though, the legs feel baggy and you feel you constantly need to adjust them. Adding the weight of something in the thigh pockets such as a phone only exacerbates this. This and the pad don’t make for a comfortable long distance riding short. The rear pockets and mesh sections though are well though out and useful.
Giant Pioneer Gravel Shorts
The Giant shorts are advertised as “replica Giant off road team” shorts. They have two thigh pockets and two rear pockets. The pad is described as “MS-2 Chamois for optimal performance and comfort on any ride” and the legs are gripperless to allow natural movement. They are heavily branded with Giant logos and come in the team colours and are on the shiny spectrum of lycra.
These shorts are described as a pro replica and although you don’t need to be a pro rider to wear them you will need to check the sizing. I usually size bib shorts by height and being over 6ft tall I go with XL sizing just to stop the feeling of being squeezed longitudinally. These shorts were perfect in that sense but are definitely a “pro fit” I’ll admit they are also advertised as a compression fit so that does add to the feeling of tightness and you can feel your muscles supported. What I didn’t like though was the seam that runs from the hip around mid thigh which digs in and gives a definite crotch bulge. I was conscious of this pressure all through the rides in this short. The pad is very comfortable for short and long rides. I did feel a little silly wearing Giant branded shorts on a non Giant gravel bike though. if you are pro sized (I’m not sure what that is or the connotations of it) and like big logos and perhaps ride a giant bike these are a short to consider.
Albion Cycling ABR1 Pocket bib shorts
I’m embarrassed to say until followers of the ukgravelco instagram page mentioned Albion Cycling I’d not heard of the company but took their advice and tried out their cargo short. They have two mesh thigh pockets and one large horizontal rear mesh pocket. There are mesh panels for ventilation, wide shoulder straps, wide silicone leg grippers and the shorts have reflective tabs at the rear and sides. The pad is described as ” x Elastic Interface ultra pad technology for long distance riding (with recycled face fabric)”
The Albion ABR1 shorts are a much different design to the other two with the wide straps and wide leg grippers, the rear pocket too is unusual as is is horizontal. In practice though nothing fell out and it’s actually easier to access while riding, especially if you are wearing a gilet with a side entry rear zip. Straight from the first pedal turn I have liked these shorts on short and long rides. the pad is very comfortable even in the 30+ degree heat the UK has experienced recently. The wide straps spread the load evenly and you forget you are wearing the shorts they are that comfortable. The thigh pockets are slightly elasticated and I’ve taken to putting my phone in there. It doesn’t seem to get sweaty there as it does on the rear pockets of any of the shorts on test and the accessibility means grabbing things from that pocket is safer that riding with hands behind your back. I like these shorts so much I’ve even gone so far as to delay a ride while I waited for the ABR1s to come out of the wash even though I’d got lots of different shorts ready to go as I knew the Albion’s were better performing.
Out of the three there’s clearly one set of bibs that stand out, the Albion ABR1 pocket bib shorts as recommended by ukgravelco followers, it seems that sometimes you can believe what you read on the internet!
Albion Cycling have so much confidence in their product that they offer a 60 day trial window, if you don’t like the shorts they’ll refund or replace them. no other company I know of does that.
If pressed I’d always describe myself as an off road rider first and road rider second, I’d much rather ride a half mile of technical trail than 10 miles of tarmac, however scenic the view. I started my off road riding bike journey on a mountain bike and so I was excited when, after dropping the guys at Stanton Bikes a message they said they’d love to send their new gravel bike out for review. This excitement was because Stanton is well known in the off road riding world for their range of superbly riding steel and titanium mountain bikes. Their take on the gravel bike would be an interesting one to try out.
There aren’t too many Titanium gravel bike frames on the market but as mentioned Stanton have had Ti MTBs in their line up for a while so they know what works and the best place to get them manufactured. Made from triple butted 3AL 2.5V titanium alloy the frame has that lovely “ping” you only get from Ti when you flick it with your finger. The tubes are internally butted to give compliance where it’s needed and stiffness where it’s not. The bottom bracket area for example has no side to side twang, which some Ti frames I’ve ridden previously have had.
The frame has generous clearance even with the 47mm tyres fitted, in fact with the correct rims maybe even larger would fit too. The headset is integrated and thank you Stanton, the bottom bracket is external and threaded! The cable routing is internal with swappable stops if you want to run mechanical or electronic gearing. As is becoming more popular now and shows Stanton’s MTB back round the frame allows for an internally routed dropper post although the test bike came fitted with a standard post. The welding is neat and tidy and there is a range of options for finishes, including the Cerakote as seen here.
The frame has three bottle cage mounts, two inside the main triangle and one under the downtube. Rack and mudguard mounts are fitted too. The frame has a slightly flattened section under the downtube which is not mentioned on the Stanton website as a feature but if you are shouldering this bike over a gate or the 3 peaks CX race or similar then that little bit of flat tube will be a little more comfy than a normal tube digging in.
Interestingly Stanton have decided to not use the usual flat mount caliper fitting and instead have opted for an I.S. (international standard) mount. This is found on a lot of MTBs and needs an adaptor to fit brake calipers too.
Although Stanton only have this available as a frameset it’s worth noting that depending on your choice of brake caliper when you build the bike the I.S. mount can be quite fiddly to set up. The test bike came with Hope’s 4 pot RX+ calipers and because of the design of the calipers the only way to align the brake is through use of shims/washers which can be a nightmare of lost washers and some swearing! Shimano and Sram calipers are much more straight forward because an adaptor allows their post mount caliper to be used and that is a lot less expletive inducing. Choose your brake carefully.
The fork is full carbon fibre, both steerer and blades and has just as generous clearance for tyres as the frame. It comes with mudguard mounts but no other mounts which is quite unusual as Stanton say the bike is ideal for bike packing. The fork has a flat mount brake fitting.
I always describe titanium frames as having the ride characteristics of steel with the weight of aluminium and the Switchpath conforms to this. Titanium is not super light compared to carbon fibre but it has a far superior ride quality. The ride is comfortable over all surfaces but because of the design and butting of the frame tubes this doesn’t mean there’s unwelcome flex or the feeling that your pedalling power is being lost. Hit a climb with some momentum or stand to put power down you can feel the bike surge forward in response to your input. Over the other side of the hill when you get your hands on the drop bars and stay away from the brakes the bike will go where you point it without being deflected by trail hazards like roots and rocks. The carbon fork does a good job of smoothing out the smaller gravel sections to cut down on hand and shoulder fatigue without ever feeling like a wet noodle when sprinting.
Descending fast on loose gravel brings that “Ting Ting” noise back as small stones hit the down tube but by then you are grinning so much you probably won’t notice. The other good thing about a bare Titanium frame is that blemishes can just be polished out. So if you are serial bike cleaner who loves a shiny bike at all times you will love Titanium!
Tight switchback trails on a bike called a switchpath you’d think would be somewhere it would excel and so just as well it does! This is down to the geometry of the bike. the bike will go where you point it with good trail manners.
If you read Stanton’s description on the Switchpath page on their website (link below) you’d think they were trying to distance the bike as far away from a road bike as possible.
“You can sleep easy knowing we’ve drawn a line in the gravel and come down firmly on the side of the mountain fraternity. This is as close to the r*@d as we can cope with“
The above statement is quite interesting as the geometry of the bike is quite a lot closer to a road/CX bike than a mountain bike unless it’s one from the 1990’s, Stanton even mention this in their model overview. with mountain bikes now getting head angles of 62 degrees the Switchpath’s 70 degrees is quite conservative, but I’ll admit still slacker than a road bike. This doesn’t hold the bike back though, far from it, its a quick turning speed machine if you want it to be. which brings us to bike packing.
If you want to load up the bike with bike packing bags and use it for long self supported adventures you’ll need to get creative and maybe invest in a rack as apart from the three bottle cage mounts and the rack/mudguard mounts there is nothing else on the frame to bolt to. The quick handling might not be what you want on a fully loaded bike though.
Sizing, the Switchpath comes in 4 sizes, 51, 54, 55.5 and 57cm. I usually ride a 56cm frame or thereabouts and the 55.5 was the only size available for this test. It tuned out to be a size too small for me and this manifested itself by me getting a lot of toe overlap. Toe overlap happens when your foot is on the pedal at the 9-3 position and the turn of the bars makes the front tyre rub on your shoe. Not ideal on tight off road turns. The next size up is around 10mm longer and might have stopped this. Again though, the top tube/reach on the biggest frame size is quite near traditional road bike numbers.
The Stanton Switchpath is a great riding bike, it’s quick and agile handling will delight anyone who loves a responsive bike. For Three peaks CX racing or a quick blast after work it excels. Stanton are probably going to cringe to see me write that if you are coming from a predominantly road bike back round or you’re someone who is still riding your ATB from 1995 you will feel instantly at home. if all you’ve ridden is one of todays long, low and slack MTBs you’ll need a period of adjustment but the adrenalin rush will be great!
If you want that Titanium “ping” with great fast handling and a great looking frame to build your dream gravel bike around then the Stanton Switchpath Ti is definitely one to put on your list.
The Stanton Switchpath Ti with prices starting at just over 2k can be found here
I find stories and pictures of riders doing multi-day rides, wild camping and riding places I’ve always wanted to ride very inspiring, But then reality steps in and I realise I’m not currently or may never be that type of rider who pushes themselves to the limit of endurance, or finds suffering and sleeping in a bivi bag, in a field, in a storm all that appealing. I realise that organising such trips and fitting them around busy work and family life would be a logistical nightmare and I know I’d agonise over what to take, which bike to use, will I have time etc etc so I’ve always dismissed the idea to the drawer marked “one day”?
Recently I ventured down the Chiltern Hills for the 1816 Cycles bike launch (read it here) The guys at 1816 had asked John and Jon (yes it is quite confusing chatting to them via email) from Wild Cycles to host the event. They set up the campsite and supplied the catering and also joined the ride to give logistical support. After to chatting to the Jo(h)ns and learned about what Wild Cycles was all about (I initially thought they were a bike shop) I realised I could do those bike adventures without the organising, route planning and having to haul all my worldly goods with me and be able to sleep in a tent I haven’t had to carry for 70 miles.
Ok, you might say I’m a lightweight for not wanting to do the serious adventures where your life could be on the line but I suspect I’m not alone in this. Adventures though, don’t have to conform to the “epic” scenes you see on social media. you can have just as much fun on an adventure much closer to home.
I thought it would be a great for readers of UKgravelCO to hear about the services that Wild Cycles offer. Their events and rides are also all in the UK so much easier to get to and I bet there aren’t many of us who’ve tried all the great locations the UK has to offer. Staying local will obviously use less precious energy too.
I put together a few questions to get a better idea about the guys at Wild Cycles and see if what they offer can recreate that sense of adventure.
Who are wildcycles, where are you based and how did the idea of guided and catered rides start?
Wild Cycles is a family run/ father & son business based in the Chilterns – Buckinghamshire. Dad raced professionally in South Africa for many years before moving to the UK and I’ve been a passionate cyclist for my whole life. Having lived and grown up in South Africa, we wanted to bring our experience of camping out in the African bush and under the stars to the UK. Combining that with gravel cycling, delicious locally sourced food and epic routes – we hoped to bring a new experience to the cycling tour market which seemed a little stale at the time.
We really kicked Wild Cycles off during the Pandemic, the country was locked down and it was during this time that we discovered the adventures available to us on our doorstep. Like many others, we were surprised and delighted at what we found and rode the local area flat. There was a slight sense of guilt as to why we hadn’t ridden these incredible routes in the Chilterns before and had overlooked them for more exotic destinations. Once we’d created the routes, we wanted to sound the bells and let people know that there is some amazing riding available right here on London’s back doorstep.
Using Komoot, we traced all of our routes and initially just offered these as free to download tours. We were still getting our heads around the Wild Cycles business model and how we’d run our tours. When Cycling UK released The King Alfreds Way, a 220 mile gravel adventure in the heart of the UK – we knew we’d have to recce this and give it the Wild Cycles treatment. So that’s exactly what we did and since then we’ve been running several multi day off road adventures around the UK.
Is it all UK based riding?
Wild Cycles is all about the Adventures that you can find on your doorstep, wherever that may be. We’re currently only running gravel adventures in the UK, and haven’t even scratched the surface of what is possible. There are so many incredible routes and experiences waiting to be explored! With the way that the environment and COVID-19 has affected our lives for the past few years, we strongly believe that long distance travel to far flung locations is a thing of the past. We’re passionate about using what we have available here and creating unique memorable experiences around that.
Do you cater for all abilities or do you need to be an expert rider to come on one of your rides?
Definitely, our mission is to make nature accessible to anyone and everyone using the power of the bicycle. We run monthly gravel rides and gravel basics coaching sessions for those looking to get more into the gravel scene. Our tours vary in difficulty but usually sit around the 50 miles -75 miles per day mark so are challenging, but bear in mind that you’ll have an entire day to complete this distance with plenty of cake, coffee and beer stops! We get a real mix of abilities, from those who want to smash out the miles, to those who like to take a more leisurely approach.
What does a typical day at Wild cycles involve?
A typical day on a Wild Cycles adventure involves pedalling through incredible landscapes, enjoying a warm welcome to camp upon arrival with an ice cold beverage of choice, enjoying sitting around a fire and recalling stories from the days adventure, delicious bbq, stone baked pizza or pub dinner, snoozing in a cotton bell tent, hot coffee and breakfast spread in the morning and repeat!
If I have a special diet can that be accommodated?
We want to make cycling as accessible as possible, so all dietary preferences are catered for!
What happens if one of your guests has a mechanical problem out on a ride that they can’t fix themselves?
Our rides are supported so if you do run into trouble on the trails, we are always at hand to come and help as best as we can or ferry you to a bike shop nearby.
Of all the routes you offer, which is your favourite?
Oooh tough choice, our favourite has to be the Wild Wales Gravel Festival route. Created by us in collaboration with some lovely people at Neighbourhood Gravel CC and Gravel Union. After months of recce’s and riding the routes in all conditions, we feel we’ve got them down. From waterfalls, to valleys, natural pump track descents and tonnes of gravel, Wales has it all! We can’t wait to kick things off again at the festival this september, as well as some epic riding there will also be live music, pizza, and a lot of celebrating!
Can you guarantee the weather will be good and if it is wet and horrible, is there a contingency plan?
We like to think that we’re on good terms with the man upstairs, but unfortunately can’t guarantee the weather will be perfect! Saying that, all of our tours run in the British summer from May- September, so you’d be pretty unlucky to get rained on and we’ve only run into rough seas a few times!
Why should I use Wildcycles rather than organise the trip myself and carry all my own stuff?
Our mission is to make cycling and the great outdoors more accessible to everyone. So if you don’t have the kit or the bike, our trips are a really affordable way to access these amazing adventures. We’re providing everything from logistics, to food, to carrying your luggage – so all you have to do is ride your bike! We even have a fleet of hire bikes if you don’t have one yet. Even if you’re a seasoned cyclist, there’s something incredibly liberating about travelling light – with no kit sloshing around on the bike, it makes for a great experience.
Are the group rides mixed? Quite a few of ukgravelco’s women readers contact me to say they are reluctant to attend events because the majority of participants are male. Do you also offer women only rides?
Our group rides are completely mixed, but we’re super aware of the lack of diversity within cycling as a sport and are passionate about helping to change this. Whilst we don’t run any women’s only rides yet, it’s something that we’d love to incorporate. We’ve been looking to expand the team and if any of your readers want to get in touch about running a women’s only ride/ adventure – we’d be all ears! We’ve also saved 50% of tickets to our Wild Wales Gravel Festival for Women and people from ethic minority backgrounds.
I see from your website that you also support multi day rides, If I signed up to do the King Alfred way package what can I expect to get for my fee?
– Ride briefings at the beginning of each day and campsite welcome at the end of each stage.
– GPX routes for each day are provided in advance and we’ll walk you through each days riding.
– We support and transfer of all the gear you aren’t carrying with you on your ride and ensure it gets to your overnight camp before you!
– We support you during your ride and are always on hand.
– Your pitch is ready for when you arrive after a day’s ride – complete with bell tents, cooking gear, bike maintenance kit, tables, chairs under cover of our iconic boma. To complete the set-up – your very own open fire where you can chill and recount that day’s highlights.
– For your 3 evenings – we’ll be sourcing some truly special local meals with Vegetarian and Vegan options available (all dietary preferences catered for). Includes snacks, main & salad as well as a selection of brews and non-alcoholic drinks.
– Breakfast on 3 mornings is a delicious locally sourced granola, pastries, fruit, fresh coffee and tea. Snacks & fruit for the road included.
What’s not included Train fares, parking, lunch and refreshments en-route.
So you can see there’s not really an excuse now not to go and explore the UK on day tours or 4 day adventures. The Two Johns really are enthusiastic about riding, nothing seems too much trouble for them and nothing seems to phase them, they couldn’t do more to look after us on the 1816 weekend and the pizzas were fab! They are genuinely nice people you’d want to ride and camp with.
I’ll admit you are probably not going to risk hyperthermia or have to milk a wild Yak to get fuelled for the next days riding but for some of us just making it to the end of a supported 4 day ride is an adventure and an achievement in itself and who knows might lead to you opening that drawer marked “one day” and making plans!
I’m hoping to get the Wild Cycles Wales festival in September for some chilled out Welsh gravel riding. Maybe meet you there?
Recently I was invited down to the Chiltern Hills by 1816 Cycles to have a look at and ride their “new” gravel bike, the L’enfer du Nord. I’ve put the word new in inverted commas because the original design was begun and a bike released into the wild in 2020. I’m sure I don’t have to go into what happened to the world that year, It wasn’t the best time to launch a bike even with the sudden scramble for bicycles and components the globe saw. You couldn’t exactly pop over to the far east to check out the frame manufacturers and talk to sample makers on a whim. Happily though those two years have allowed 1816 cycles to perfect their design, this latest bike for example now has a healthy tyre clearance suitable for UK conditions and a much neater and integrated seat post clamp.
There are three guys behind this brand (incidentally 1816 is the unofficial year the two wheel “bi-cycle” was invented) two engineers Tink and Jonty and a sportswear designer Stuart. Apart from those skills the three of them have years of MTB, cyclocross and road bike riding experience to put into the bike and it really does show. This isn’t a bike designed to just look good on social media, although it achieves that too, it’s a bike designed to have the best ride quality, to go fast if needed but without compromising the riders comfort. Read on to see if it matches the design brief with an ordinary rider on it.
I got to ride the bike in the first picture and although it was dripping in a Sram Red AXS mullet electronic groupset, mullet meaning the shifters/crank etc are from Sram’s road group but the rear cassette and mech are from their MTB group. This means you can fit a huge range of gears to get you up any slope. The wheels were mid level Zipp 303s, a great all round wheelset for gravel and road. This review is about how the bike rides and the components do have a lot to do with that experience but the main focus should be about the frame and fork. However as 1816 do offer three builds (as seen with Sram mullet, Shimano Di2 and a dream build with Sram AXS, Enve and Chris king) I will say that the Sram AXS gears are sublime, very intuitive to use and were faultless throughout the weekend. Zipp 303s wheels are great too, stiff and yet still comfortable. The wheels came with 43mm Gravelking tyres which were nice and fat on the rims with still plenty of room in the frame. As the weather was dry and the trails dusty they were spot on for rolling resistance and added to the comfort.
The chiltern hills are made up of a rolling chalky escarpment and the trails there are really a gravel bike paradise. Apart from overly rocky terrain there’s pretty much all the conditions you’ll find in the UK. Twisty singletrack, rooty shutes and climbs, open grassland and field edges, off camber eroded chalk paths, tarmac and even some genuine US style gravel!
The bike side on looks fast, there’s a gentle slope to the top tube, the rear chain stays are asymmetric to allow clearance for the 1x chainset (you can fit 2x if that’s you thing) and the bottom bracket area is beefy to push all your pedalling power to the rear wheel. The seatpost is 27.2mm. The cables, if you weren’t running wireless are all internal making the bike look super clean. The seat stays looking from the back of the bike are flattened to build in some compliance, both wheels use the industry standard 12mm bolt through axles. the fork is straight bladed and profiled to give side to side stiffness but front to rear compliance. The head angle on each size is slightly different, the medium is 72 degrees which is effective at overcoming rough ground without being slow to steer. The bottom bracket is pressfit, not my preferred choice but it had zero problems or creaks throughout the test.
My first ride was around the campsite to check the seat post height and my position, the handlebars were the owners own preference and were 42cm one piece bar and stem with only around 15mm of spacers under the stem. It was a little lower than my personal ride but nothing I could do to alter it. The frame size was medium which although lower at the front than I’d like felt spot on reach wise.
Riding away from the campsite our first obstacle was a gate we had to lift the bikes over. Straight away the difference from my usual bike became apparent, this bike is light! I can’t tell you exactly how light as I don’t camp in a field with a set of scales but I will say it doesn’t feel too light. that might sound strange but bikes that are super light tend to be skittish riding down rough descents as they literally bounce off every root or stone. This bike was light enough not to fatigue you over long distances but heavy enough to be very well mannered downhill. This was proved straight after that gate lift as we sped down the field into a sharp right hand rutted turn. I’d not really had time to get used to the bike but it delivered me to the bottom of the hill with a big grin on my face. A road section next allowed me to press on the pedals and try out the power transfer. No complaints here, stand up and pedal and the bike responds instantly, no detectable side to side movement. I tried the same when we got to a long section of towpath with multiple small rough climbs past lock gates. I was either putting the power down while sat on the saddle or standing to sprint. Sat down the skinny seatpost and seatstay profile of the frame meant I wasn’t bounced around and could concentrate on looking where I was going and choosing a good line avoiding erosion on the towpath surface.
Downhill the bike was fab, it’ll hold a tight line if needed but shift your position forward a little to allow the rear wheel to drift and kick up some dust and it feels like you are 10 again ragging your bike round the woods with your mates. I know the three guys designed this bike to be on the faster side in a point A to point B way but designed in or not it’s fun just to mess about in the woods with!
A new bike takes a few rides to get used to but I felt at home straight away on the L’enfer. It encourages you to stay on the pedals that little bit longer and leave your braking that little bit later, in short it’s a lot of fun. most importantly for me though was the comfort level while still being able to speed along. I was suffering from a bad back before I got to the campsite we were staying at and I did wonder if riding was going to make it worse. In the event it didn’t and in a way it was the perfect test for the claims made for this bike. Go faster for longer is what this bike is about and after around 50 miles on a mix of surfaces it enabled me to do just that. (although as the other riders on the weekend will attest my fast is probably different to their fast!)
Tink, Jonty and Stuart set out to make a no compromise idea to build the very best gravel bike out there. They’ve even added a hydrophobic coating to the paint! it’s definitely on the racier end of the gravel bike spectrum, it’s cool how gravel bikes are diversifying into different camps now. calling your bike L’enfer du Nord (hell of the north) is a big clue to how this bike was envisioned by the team. Naming your bike after one of the toughest, roughest road bike races in the world, Paris-Roubaix is a bold statement. With the right rider this bike could do well in that race or races such as Unbound Gravel in the USA so in that sense they have succeeded in their design brief, however I also think they have failed, here’s why..
Having designed the bike to go fast over long distances without destroying the rider they have also, maybe inadvertently, but I suspect because of their back round in UK off road riding come up with a great bike for just having fun on. Yes it’ll win races but it’ll also put a big grin on your face riding around your local woods for an hour after work or on a weekend away with your mates. Ok it’s only got two bottle cage mounts but if you really wanted to hang bags off it you could but what it excels in is going fast, going far and having fun and there’s no downside to that.
1816 Cycles offer 3 builds but also can supply framesets, They can also custom paint your frameset to whatever colour scheme you like, they’ve done bikes to match owners cars. They are definitely at the higher price end of the scale but are much more exclusive than brands in the same price bracket.
Find 1816 cycles website here, 1816Cycles.com for more details. Get in touch with the guys if you have questions about builds, there aren’t many companies where you’ll get a reply from the person who designed the bike.
The most important thing in cycling, the bit that will make you want to ride your bike over and over again isn’t the lightest bike, the latest chi chi bit of equipment or a fancy electronic gearset. The thing that will keep you coming back for more is actually what you are wearing when you ride that bike. If you are uncomfortable, end up sore in unmentionable places and have to stop early because what you are wearing is poorly designed for the job you are not going to be enthusiastic about ridng and reluctant to throw a leg over that bike again.
Not all cycle clothing is the same, some is manufactured in far off places by huge corporations but some brands you should look at are totally independent, you can message them and get the actual designer to answer your questions and give you advice. One such company I’ve heard great things about is Attacus Cycling. I shot some questions over to Emily and Jimmy the owners of Attacus to see what their clothing brand was all about.
Emily Childs is Co-founder and Managing Director at Attacus, here’s what she had to say
Is there a story behind the name Attacus, who is Attacus cycling?
Attacus is an online cycling clothing brand founded by myself and my partner Jimmi. We’re both cyclists and we started Attacus back in 2016 from our kitchen table, mainly because we wanted cycling clothing for ourselves and we just couldn’t find what we were looking for.
At the time there were a lot less indie kit brands around and the option seemed to be either pay an eye-watering amount for really high quality kit or get cheaper stuff which didn’t really fit well or function the way we wanted it to. So we started designing our own with the aim of creating well-thought-out, great fitting pieces that could stand shoulder to shoulder with the most comfortable on the market but didn’t cost quite as much.
The name Attacus actually came about because Jimmi has always had a fascination with the natural world – particularly moths. The word Attacus is a name of a genus of moths, the most well-known of which is probably the Attacus Atlas or Atlas moth. It’s a huge, really beautiful moth with a striped body and wing tips that look like snake heads in order to scare off prey. Our logo is actually a single line illustration interpretation of the Atlas moth and we used the striped body as the inspiration for one of our very first kit designs.
Have you always been in the north east?
No! I’m from the North East originally but we actually set up the brand in London. We moved back to the North East in 2019 and have been here ever since.
I love your no rules, just ride ethos and I try to promote this on UKGRAVELCO, how do you promote this and encourage more people to get out on a bike?
Awesome, love that! For us the key has always been promoting the idea that anyone can be a cyclist. Particularly in the road cycling space, there can be this sense of elitism about what a ‘proper’ cyclist should do and look like, and by nature that sort of mentality is always going to be exclusionary. It’s intimidating as an outsider new to the sport!
With Attacus, we really set out to build a community that was an antidote to that – a welcoming space for like minded cyclists from all walks of life to indulge in their shared interest. No matter what you look like or what bike you ride, we wanted to create a space without judgement that was open to all. A “leave your egos at the door” kind of vibe. We call that community the Attacus Cycle Squad. The Attacus Cycle Squad badge has adorned many of our kit designs ever since our brand’s inception. It serves as a reminder of our ‘cycling for all’ ethos.
We also do a lot of work to help promote women’s cycling and inspire more women to ride bikes, most notably through our work with the InternationElles – who most notably rode the entire Tour de France in 2019 a day ahead of the male pros to campaign for equality in cycling.
How many bikes is too many?
I know most people say N+1, but I think in reality the perfect number is the most you can get away with before it causes a proper argument with whoever you live with! We’re a household of cyclists, which makes things even trickier to negotiate as it’s double the amount. We make it work though… just about.
I’ve heard great things said about your kit but I’ve never tried it myself, what makes it so good and why should I buy it instead of another brand?
I’m glad! I think the thing that hooks people in is not only the quality, but also the value they’re getting for the product they receive. Something we’ve always focused on is delivering really high quality products at competitive prices. We’re absolutely not the cheapest brand out there and we’re not trying to be. We’re very much at the higher end of mid-range in terms of our pricing, but the aim has always been to create products that comfortably stand shoulder to shoulder with the most premium on offer in terms of fit, fabrics and comfort. And the feedback is that we do this really well.
Really we’re targeting customers that are happy spending £180-£200 on a pair of bib shorts and probably already have, then they buy ours and realise they can have the same comfort for £100.
That business model completely relies on making great products. And for us the key to designing good products is identifying the key areas where quality makes the biggest difference to fit, feel and comfort – the fabrics, the construction and tailoring, the chamois pads for example – and stripping away any other unnecessary bits that drive up cost needlessly.
We don’t sell to shops. Instead we only sell direct to our customers via our website. We also carry low stock runs on many of our products and do pretty much everything in-house with our team of three – from building the website and doing all of the product photography to sending out orders. In fact the only thing we don’t do is physically make the clothing – this is done by our supplier in Italy whom we work really closely with. But these strategies mean we don’t have to over inflate our product margins. So we don’t. Instead we price products appropriately based on their quality and cost to us, and pass those savings directly to our customers.
Watts or Beers?
I’m not particularly interested either! I barely even ride with a head unit these days.
One of the most frequent messages I get when reviewing kit is from female riders via the website and social media about the lack of choice of female specific kit and that the kit that is available is poorly designed. I know Attacus have a female specific range but how do you think the cycling industry can improve this?
Hire more women for a start! I think because we set up the business as a 50/50 female and male partnership and set out primarily to make kit for ourselves, we’ve always prioritised the women’s product range with the exact same importance we give our men’s. Whenever we’re creating a new garment, we individually consider the construction from a male and female perspective and design them accordingly. The development of the men’s and women’s versions happen parallelly, and they both receive the same amount of care and attention. The idea is to keep the overall look of the products similar, but the construction and chamois pads are always individually tailored.
For our women’s garments that meant taking the bust, waist, hip and height measurements from a cross section of real riders to find commonalities in fit. We then used our findings to carefully develop sizing models uniquely tailored for women. We then test the garments with a variety of riders before eventually putting them into production. We have a similar process for our men’s product development too, but the consideration given to each range is equal.
We always set out with the stance that we’d offer the same colours and designs across both ranges, because personally I hated having a smaller selection to choose from or seeing a colour/design I like wasn’t available in the women’s range.
People form brand loyalty by feeling they’re being listened to and catered for properly. If, as a business, catering for women is an afterthought or burden, then it’s going to come across. If you want to appeal to female cyclists, you have to commit to making them a priority too and make sure that oozes from every part of your business – from the products you make and the imagery on your website to the ambassadors you support and the marketing activities you do. Otherwise why should they bother giving you their money?
“adventure cycling” is the current thing, I see you have shirts and cargo shorts in your range will you be expanding this to go along side the traditional lycra jersey and shorts?
Yeah, the idea behind our Adventure range was to create a kind of ‘eco-system’ of products that all work together and enable a different approach to cycling. So whereas road cycling style traditionally focuses more around a classic, often tight-fitting jersey with back pockets to carry your stuff, we wanted to base this collection around loose fitting, technical tee type jerseys and shirts that offer more physical freedom and just feel a bit more casual with bar bags, tool rolls and cargo shorts that allowed you to carry stuff.
I think a baggy short would make a good addition, it’s certainly on the ‘to be developed’ list.
What is your perfect ride?
We live in County Durham on the edge of the North Pennines and it’s honestly a dream to ride there. There’s road and gravel options, it’s quiet and the views are great. I’d say any ride around there, a comfortable 60-80km with a nice spot to each lunch.
I get a lot of questions about sizing from readers, mostly because they have ordered a certain Italian brands clothing in the size they normally take and are shocked how small they come up. I see Attacus kit is made in Italy, how is your sizing?
Although we manufacture in Italy, we’ve developed all of our garment models ourselves so there’s no real Italian influence in terms of sizing.
One of the most common things we hear from cyclists is that they don’t have a ‘typical cyclist’ physique. And what they mean by that is that they don’t look like the professionals they see on TV or the images depicted in most cycling advertising. But the truth is that this apparently ‘typical’ cyclist look makes up such a tiny percentage of people who ride bikes, and we’ve always thought clothing sizing should reflect that.
It’s also why we really don’t focus that much on racing or performance, because although racing is given lots of coverage, in reality that’s not how most people ride bikes. The key for us has always been about comfort. That’s what most cyclists care about when looking for clothing to ride in and sizing absolutely plays a part in that.
The caveat here is that sizing is always a difficult one to give people advice on because a lot of it comes down to personal preference – some people feel comfortable in tight fitting lycra and others don’t so there’s always room for interpretation. What we’ve tried to do is make our sizing realistic and build detailed size charts that are reliable. We’ve also built a database of of different cyclists who already ride in our kit and who have agreed for us to measure them up and record what sizes they wear to help us give better recommendations and I’d say this is probably our most effective tool when it comes to giving sizing advice.
What is the ideal material for riding in?
That really depends on a couple of factors: the weather conditions you’re riding in, the effort you’re exerting, the length of the ride and how susceptible the individual is to feeling hot or cold. You’re usually always looking for something with stretch and breathability that can handle being worn and washed frequently, but fabric weight and other special properties like thermal or waterproofing really comes down to the individual and the riding conditions.
The key is picking the right garment/garments for the ride you’re doing.
Beans on toast, with cheese or without?
For a beginner to gravel bike riding, what would you say were the basic items of clothing they need in their wardrobe for riding typical UK weather?
At a minimum, we’d always recommend a good quality padded short if you’re considering spending a while on your bike. And, depending on the weather, a lightweight wind/waterproof jacket. Everything else really comes down to preference. The more time you spend on the bike, the more you start to learn what things you need (e.g. more pocket space, different layers etc).
I do think that the key to riding in the UK is layering, as this allows you to adapt your temperature and level of cover according to conditions at the time. But honestly, you don’t need to over complicate it at first, keep things simple and you’ll learn through trial and error what pieces of kit are right for you as you discover what types of rides you enjoy doing.
You plant trees for every order received, how does this work, is there a giant Attacus tree nursery?
Yeah so we plant a tree for every order, plus if you spent over £50, you can choose either a free eco-friendly wash bag with filters fibres and helps preserve the life of your kit or you can choose to plant an extra 4 trees instead.
We’re partnered with an organisation called Eden Reforestation Projects, who work to restore healthy forests and reduce extreme poverty around the world by hiring local villagers to plant millions of trees each year. Each tree has a cost associated with its planting and we donate the equivalent money each quarter. Last year we planted the equivalent of 7011 trees.
With the UCI now sanctioning Gravel Bike racing and sponsors waking up to the genre, how do you think the cycling scene in the UK will evolve?
The gravel scene is growing massively and I think over the next decade we’ll start to see the trickle down effect of that as more traditional roadies venture into off-roading. Right now the road scene is still far more dominant and cycling style is still obsessed with this need to be aero – aggressive geometry, light aero bikes and tight lycra. A lot of that comes from the pro effect rather than customer necessity.
As the gravel space becomes more established, it’d be great to see more relaxed bike geometry and relaxed, casual-looking clothing and bag-laden bikes become part of wider cycling style rather than being an off-road niche.
Credit card touring or tarp in a cow field?
I’ve done both and can honestly say credit card touring is 1000% more enjoyable. I can honestly say I’ve never had a good night’s sleep in a field under the stars and the following days always feel like an uncomfortable slog. Caffeine doesn’t really agree with me so I try to avoid it which probably doesn’t help, so a good night’s sleep is essential to me achieving anything productive the next day. I totally believe the saying ‘suffering is a choice’, because hobbies are meant to be fun, right? So you have to do what makes you happy. If that’s kipping in a field, do it, and if it’s not, don’t!
If everything goes to plan, what will Attacus be like in 5 years?
Wherever Attacus is in the next 5 years, I hope at its core it’s very much the same business – making fantastic products that consistently exceed expectations and centred around customers and community.
Massive thanks to Emily for taking the time to answer my questions, I hope it’s given you an insight into how an independent clothing brand works and how they stand above the “big names” for commitment to their customers via design and after sales
you can find more on the Attacus Cycling website and you can even visit them, they are usually online only, as they have had a series of pop up shop events and if you are quick the latest one is 30/7/22, details here, pop up shop
Currently Attacks are having a 30% off everything sale, check out the link above for details
Rad8, well known for their range of MTB and cycling glasses have launched a new model, the 507. I’ve been a long term user of their 504 style and they are the most comfortable cycling glasses I’ve ever worn. These are bang up to date and on trend with their one piece lens. Available in photochromic or polarised with one colour frame. I’ve got these in for review today but if you want to go ahead and buy now there’s £30 off a pair for the first 30 sets by using the code NEW507 in the rad 8 shop here
As I sit here having been looking out of the window at a lovely late spring day with sunshine and blossom blowing on the breeze only to walk outside at the end of the shift to find it was hoofing it down with rain that has spoilt the planned evening group ride. We’re not fair weather riders by any means but no one wants a soaking after work so I’m looking gloomily out of the window and need some inspiration and something to look forward to. Just in time Katherine Moore has just published her new trail in East Devon. I recently completed a North to South Devon C2C so I know how good the riding can be on the back roads and bridleways of the county ( see the details of my ride here )
Read on for what Katherine has to say about the East Devon Trail, it’s certainly on my list of places to visit.
East Devon Trail: bikepacking in search of wildlife The East Devon Trail is a ~185 kilometre (115 mile) bikepacking route through East Devon, a rural and coastal landscape between the county’s capital of Exeter and neighbouring Dorset and Somerset. The mixed terrain route has been devised by East Devon local Katherine Moore; a zoologist by training and cycling writer by trade.
The Trail aims to showcase this magnificent, and all too often overlooked region of Devon, which will astound you with the sheer variety of habitats, from freshwater marshes to lowland heath, green agricultural field networks to steep cliffs to pebbled beaches and sleepy woodland. There’s more than one way to travel by bike: we want to show you something a little different. Forget about FKTs, put your racing mindset aside and try adopting a different pace for the East Devon Trail. It’s no accident that the EDT visits many nature reserves, gorgeous towns and villages along its 185 kilometre length. We want to show you the incredible wildlife we’re happy to support in East Devon; our rare lowland heath; migratory bird service stations; nation-leading species reintroduction programmes and of course the marvellous views and gravel tracks that accompany them. From quaint thatched villages to delicious cream teas (#creamfirst), (as a Midlander with no Devon/Cornish affiliation I don’t agree with this but it’s Katherine’s route so I’ll let this go) fish and chips on the beach and farm shops boasting local produce by the basket-load, there’s plenty more to the East Devon experience to savour, if you’re willing to give it the time.
A wilder East Devon RSPB Bowling Green and Goosemoor awaits just a short ride out of Exeter for migratory wildfowl, waders and marsh harriers, the Pebblebed Heaths from Woodbury Common to Mutters Moor provide crucial lowland heath habitat for nightjars, Dartford warblers, lizards and many species of butterflies, as do the reserves at Trinity Hill and Fire Beacon Hill. Seaton Wetlands host numerous hides for peering out in search of oystercatchers, black-tailed godwits and ringed plovers, while the luckiest of riders may even see Beavers on the River Otter! Binoculars are a must on the packing list, and handy guides at the reserves and hides often give you lots of information of what to look for and when, not to mention the friendly locals! This is certainly not a ride to be hurried. Sustainable travel Accessibility is key, so you can reach the East Devon Trail easily by train, which both starts and finishes at the main train station in Exeter. You can also link up to other established bikepacking routes, as we’ve deliberately strayed – just a little – into Dorset to the border town of Lyme Regis, where you meet the Wessex Ridgeway and Old Chalk Way routes. Supporting FORCE While enjoying the East Devon Trail is free, riders are strongly urged to consider donating to the local FORCE Cancer Charity to help fund their vital work. FORCE (Friends of the Oncology and Radiotherapy Centre, Exeter) became a charity in 1987, with a Cancer Support and Information Centre at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital that has supported many families in the decades since.
The East Devon Trail has been created in partnership with local stakeholders, including Devon Wildlife Trust, Wild East Devon, the Pebblebed Heath Conservation Trust, the RSPB and East Devon AONB. The East Devon Trail has been generously supported by Komoot and Outdoor Provisions. Read more: www.eastdevontrail.com Images by ForTheHellOfIt.cc
I see lots of inspiring pictures and reports about people in far flung places, riding exotic trails or pushing their limits nearer to home, some of the pictures from the recent Dirty Reiver were especially good as riders battled head winds and their own stamina. I see people riding gravel bikes like a trials bike, hopping about on the back wheel or doing gap jumps. I’m all for riding an “inappropriate” bike on surfaces and tracks where THEY say they’re not suitable, it’s all about #norulesjust ride after all. However, even though those adventurers inspire us and mass participation events are well attended not everyone has either the time or the money to go to these places or buy the very latest bike or kit. Most of us have a few hours at the weekend or after work now it’s staying lighter for longer and ride from the door on routes we’ve ridden so often we can ride them with eyes shut, and some would say that’s how my riding style looks like.
The following video is a tribute to those of us who make do with what we’ve got and still get a lot of fun out of it. It’s a cheeky homage to when I was little and we got back to school after a holiday and the teacher set us the job of writing “what i did on my holidays” and we had to read the essay out to everyone in the class when we’d finished. I seem to remember I’d got bored of this and started to add space travel and famous people into mine to spice it up a bit.
This is “Wot I did on my Easter Holidays”, I hope it inspires you to get your bike out even if it’s just to ride around the block. Just promise me you don’t do it with your eyes shut!
If you’ve got this far, thanks for sticking with it. Can I ask that if you already haven’t please consider subscribing to the youtube channel, it’s free to do and could one day pay for this website! (only 99,650 more subscribers to go!)
Chrome’s Sutro shorts are billed as being able to be worn from “city to trail” normal, and comfortable enough to be worn to the pub but robust enough to be worn out on the bike hitting some trails or long distance tours. Quite a lot of uses for a pair of shorts to cope with when usually there are some compromises when the “all rounder” label is added to an item of clothing. Jack of all trades or master of non? I was intrigued to find out.
The Sutro short has a 14″ inseam, this means when standing up (I am 6ft tall) the hem sits just on the middle of my knee cap. when sat in the saddle they sit around 15cm above my knee easily clearing the end of my bib shorts. The legs are not flappy, one of my pet hates when wearing baggy shorts but either are they tight. Chrome claim they work with knee pads, I’ve not tried this as I don’t wear them but I think they’d have to be pretty low profile pads to not interfere with the short leg.
The Sutro short on the Chrome Industries website is currently £132, or less if you search around on the net. A not insubstantial price but first impressions when you remove the shorts from the packet they do feel of great quality and when I tried them on for the first time they did feel very comfy straight away.
The shorts have what Chrome call a 5 bar flexy comfort waistband and velcro strap adjustability. I usually take a 34″ waist and the shorts fit well in that size for me and the waistband adjuster allows pie expansion! The velcro is unobtrusive and has never snagged on other clothing. The waist also has a press-stud and button fastening and has stayed secure when riding. It’s also easy to unfasten for those trails side pee stops.
The shorts have a DWR coating that has shaken off spray and in one case marmalade when sat ready to ride while having breakfast! There are two zipped pockets and two open side pockets, the side pockets are lined with a very fine mesh and tiny eyelets that Chrome say will let any liquid or dirt through, nopt that I’ve ever had liquid in my pockets. The zipped pockets sit just behind the opening to the side pockets and add a level of security for valubles, but they are not big enough for todays huge smart phones. Not that I’d carry my phone in my pocket while riding. I would if I was wearing these shorts to the pub, which they are more than comfortable enough to do in. They also don’t look like you are wearing cycling shorts to the pub either, unless you are also covered in mud from the trail!
Riding for the first time in the Sutro shorts I found the crotch area a little stiff but after that first ride I’ve not noticed it again as the shorts have bedded in. The Shorts have a little stretch to them which makes them very comfortable for riding in. You don’t notice them much at all, some shorts have the tendency to feel tight around the thigh at certain points of the pedal stroke but these just don’t have that at all.
I’ve found with baggy shorts that when standing up to pedal the short can slips down slightly and when you sit back down you have to reach back and pull them up to get rid of the gap at the rear and reposition them for pedalling. I’m very pleased to say this hardly ever happened with the Sutro. They are probably the best fitting short I’ve tried. They work excellently over a bib short. I’ve done a number of long and short rides in them (100k+ & just to the shops) I even crashed twice in them on their second ride! They have shrugged this off and still look new. They wash really well too. The only trouble with this robustness is that they are probably a short that I would not wear on the hottest of days because that durability comes with thickness. Not massively thick or heavy but I’d wear a thinner short with more vents in summer. Luckily (or not!) those hot days do not occur much in the UK so I’d be wearing these for 3/4 of the year.
I wondered at the start If these shorts were a true all rounder as that is a bold claim but actually they surprised me, you could wear these shorts for anything, walking, work, the pub and they work exceptionally well for riding in. Would I pay the £132 RRP for them? after trying them and finding them so comfortable I think I actually would!
The Chrome Sutro Short, probably the the only pair of baggy shorts you’d ever need.
More details of the Chrome Sutro shorts can be found here
Over recent weeks while lazily skipping through instragram in breaks at work, as you do, I’ve come across and account with some really inspiring pictures and an unusual idea for an “event”, I put event in inverted commas as it’s not so much an event as a tour, but a tour in lots of bits with no time limit, so not a race either….. so, to get the full story I contacted the account to get some back round and for them to explain exactly what Eryri 360 is, Connaire is the guy with all the answers and this is what he had to say,
My name is Connaire, I am the creator of the Eryri 360 series – An adventure cycling series that gets you discovering the very best of the Snowdonia national park from the saddle of your adventure bike!
I was born and raised in Snowdonia and am incredibly passionate about the place. I have spent my life so far as a freelance outdoor guide, running, walking, and cycling around every hill and valley I can find. I love nothing more than sharing these magnificent places with the people I meet.
Combined with my love of adventure cycling this is what inspired me to create the Eryri 360 Series.
I have always had an itch to scratch with adventure cycling. As a young boy on family holidays to the Scottish islands I would insist on always taking the fold up bicycle and its pannier bags so that I could venture into the wilds alone. I suppose at the time my mother had an enormous sense of trust and security in the fact we were on Scottish Islands and no harm could be done. A sense that inherently exists on an island. Fast forward to 2019, I had spent years working in the outdoors professionally, finished my degree and finally finished renovating the house! It was time to scratch the itch…
I initially took to the saddle and crossed the interior of Iceland twice, on a nice new Sonder and all its nice shiny bags. The remote landscape and its pulsing behaviour as its curdles and boils around you raises the hair on your neck as you gingerly cross its rifting zones. An experience so raw it shifted my perspective on our planet and ultimately, our vulnerability. I left Iceland inspired and made sail for the Faroe Islands where two weeks of riding through undersea tunnels as fast as I could to avoid Carbon poisoning gave me an incredible insight into how these communities in the far North thrive on this archipelago. Having returned home after that summer of 2019 I felt somewhat satisfied, I enjoyed two months back home in Snowdonia, working and settling back in to find myself yearning for the road again. So, I planned a trip of a different nature. I wanted something untamed, unmanicured… I browsed Skyscanner, booked a flight to Peru, joined an expat forum, and asked about second-hand bicycles. Within two weeks I was on a flight to Lima, with a small backpack of bikepacking gear and £300 to buy a bicycle. My aims where to cycle the Peruvian Andes Divide and ride South across the largest salt flats in the world, summit Aconcagua on route and continue to South Americas Southern tip. It was the trip of a lifetime that ended abruptly in Southern Patagonia, when Covid 19 hit the headlines and I abandoned my trusty bike in a Chilean’s garden shed and travelled home to Snowdonia. An incredible tale that needs justifying in an article of its own.
It has always been my passion to share my love of the outdoors and its benefits. Having such incredibleexperiences from the saddle has inspired me further to help people connect to landscapes, communities and nature using a bicycle. As a mode of transport, the pace and the connection to your surroundings is just so much more interactive than any other activity I have engaged in.
So here is the Eryri 360 Series – A series of rides to encourage you to explore my most favourite place in the world – Snowdonia. Engage with its people, communities, local businesses and enjoy its nature, landscape, and of course, world class gravel tracks.
How does it work?
The Eryri 360 Series simply put, is a collection of 7 spectacular non-technical adventure rides spanning the Snowdonia National Park.
However, this isn’t just any event series. As an Eryri 360 rider you are part of a pioneering project. Sustainability for the trails and businesses was always at the forefront of my mind when designing this. Unlike a mass start event that can often overwhelm our trails and small communities you can complete this series entirely at your own pace and on a day that suits you! Fancy the trail to yourself? Take a half day mid-week and complete a loop!
You enter online, you get the routes as downloads for your device, I post you a collection card and off you go! you complete it when you like with whoever you like! You can then submit your times back online and a complete collection card gets you a reward and entry into a big prize raffle!
To show their support businesses at the various start points have kindly sponsored instore discounts and perks for Eryri 360 riders from equipment, bike hire to bike servicing.
If following a route on a device isn’t your thing, then you can join us to complete the series one loop a month at a time as we head out socially to tick them off with guest riders leading the way!
If you’re looking for a sustainable cycling challenge this year, this just might be the one for you.
This seems to be a great Idea. Not everyone wants a mass participation event, a lot of those are great for the social side of riding but sometimes you just want to stop at a stunning view point and just enjoy the beauty and the silence of being “out there”. These routes look just the thing for this, you could of course just do it with a few friends to share the experience. This flexibility is also one of the great things, there’s no deadline, no pressure to complete a section within a time limit and risk being pulled out. Go at your own pace, fast or slow.
Massive thanks to Connaire for taking the time to write this down you can find out more and enter the series at wheelgoodtimes.com
Russ and I have been planning to ride a Devon coast to coast route since 2018, apathy stopped us doing it that year and in 2019. A global pandemic stopped us doing it since, so while out on a ride I messaged Russ and asked if he had any annual leave left to take off from work. He said he’d booked a few days what was my plan? I said lets do the Devon C2C now before we make an excuse not to do it again.
However, this wasn’t Spring or Summer, this was the end of February and on a Monday after a weekend of property damaging winds. The start would find us enduring a new storm named (who approves these names?) Franklin! Franklin was forecast to bring winds gusting up to 70mph all day. It was going to be character building at the very least. The route would take us from Ilfracombe on in the North to Plymouth in the South.
We drove down to Ilfracombe on the North Devon coast early on the Monday morning. February might have been a drawback weather wise but parking fees were ridiculously cheap. £3.70 for 2 days parking! times that by 10 if we’d done this ride in April. We pedaled down to the beach but there was no way I was getting near that sea! foam was blowing off it and if you watch the video you’ll hear, or rather you won’t hear me because the wind was so strong!
After a steep pull up out of Ilfracombe we got to the estuary and things got a lot easier. A tail wind pushed us down to Barnstaple on the River Taw where things suddenly got serious. We crossed the estuary bridge and went head on into near constant 60mph winds. Although we were riding side by side just a few centimeters apart the wind noise was so loud we couldn’t hear each other speak. Not that we were able to anyway, open your mouth and your breath was taken away immediately. That estuary cycle path seemed like a 100 miles long. We were almost in our bottom gear and near a standstill putting in as much effort as a Tour de France sprinter just to stop from being blown backwards! we’d only done around 15 miles of today’s planned 61 mile route and I began to think if it was like this the whole way there was no way I was going to have the energy to do it!
we carried on and thankfully managed to reach the lunch stop without being blown out of the saddle! The Voyager cafe was a little haven out of the wind. The outside benches had the added bonus of being in a little sun trap. we hoovered down our food and updated social media, as you do 🙂
calories topped up we turned back into the wind with some trepidation but apart from having to negotiate more fallen trees we started to move more inland towards Dartmoor on more sheltered paths. Repurposed railway cuttings are great for getting out of the wind. We just now had to be aware of breaks in the fence line or gate openings where the sudden onslaught of air would catch you out and blow you across the trail. especially good was that the route profile didn’t take into account the fact that the route had a lot of rail tunnels on it so the hefty climbs we were expecting actually were hundreds of feet above us as we pedaled straight through the hill on the flat.
The route that Russ had put together was great, linking parts of the Tarka trail and sustrans routes there was minimal busy road riding and mostly old rail line paths and cycle routes. The gravel bikes were perfect as there were a few muddy sections and lots of wind blown debris to negotiate. Thankfully we completed the whole route without a puncture. Both of us run tubeless and it wouldn’t be until the day after I got back home when cleaning the bike I’d notice 5 thorns in the rear tyre that the sealant had sealed around. thank you tubeless!
the sun shone all day but it only felt warm when sheltered from the wind. So after battling wind, lifting bikes through and over trees we finally made it to Okehampton and our stop for the night at Betty Cottles Inn. A quirky little place that had run out of gas and so had no hot water in the main building where Russ was sleeping but had heating in the annexe where I was. But they did have dartmoor ale and Scampi!
After a restless nights sleep, ironically I was too hot, we had a good breakfast and set off on day two. We didn’t have so far to go today but we did have a deadline to make. We had pre booked train tickets and needed to be in Plymouth by 3pm to be able to get back to the van. Today the weather was less violent but we did encounter a few rain showers and had to be careful crossing the many viaducts that passed along the edge of Dartmoor National Park. The views were spectacular though with rolling moors and the occasional Tor in the distance.
There was a little more off road on this section made more challenging with the drizzle we were experiencing. One section of fast disused rail line path was broken by a completely unpaved section of muddy singletrack accessed by a gate lasting only a few yards before going back via another gate onto the paved section again. Clearly whoever owned that land didn’t want to join in with the others and allow the cycle path to continue unrestricted.
There seemed to be more gradient on this second day and although it was rolling we both started to feel the efforts of the previous day of battling the high winds so we decided to stop for a restorative snack
Faces stuffed with pastry we carried on through very pretty countryside, over more fallen trees, dodged council workers with tractors either trimming blackthorn hedges or cleaning up debris (still no punctures)
Over some moorland following a very steep long climb we began to encounter signs of “civilisation” in the form of a golf course. Clearly they didn’t want a cycle path through their patch and so there was a lot of pointless gates and signs warning us not to stray onto the artificial countryside they had groomed, no danger of that from us! Then things got more and more urban as we reached Plymouth and the coast. Cycle paths next to dual carriageways are never fun but given that the alternative would be to be riding on the dual carriageways with the cars and lorries it was much preferable. then at last we made it to the sea!
Now all we had to do was make it across the city in school pick up traffic, find the rail station, find the correct bike storage carriage and start the journey back to Ilfracombe. It was touch and go but we just made it with about 2 minutes to spare. The two train journey was not uneventful though. The second train stopped half way back and became a bus replacement service, not good for bikes! we had the choice of waiting an hour in the hope that the next replacement was a coach and that the driver would let us put the bikes in cargo or get an expensive taxi instead. Being February at already 4pm and 54 miles of busy road away from the van which neither of us fancied the long ride in the dark so we resorted to four wheels.
After an “entertaining” taxi journey listening to the drivers tales of cyclists who had needed his services over the years (thank goodness Russ was up front so had to make conversation while I dosed in the back) we finally made it back to Ilfracombe at around 6pm. A quick stash of the bikes in the van and we headed down to the seafront for a chippy tea, Fish and chips never tasted so good!
Massive thanks to Russ for the route, i think out of the 94 miles only around 6 miles were actually on a busy road, the rest was cycle path or off road. We only had limited time and riding back to the car with another overnight stop would be a good alternative to using the train. Riding during a weather event made it harder than it would normally be as the route actually has easy climbs and long flat sections. It would be achievable in one day but you’d not have time to stop and admire the scenery and really take your time to soak it all in.
Now to plan another long route, Scottish C2C anyone?
here is the video I made of the route, it premieres at 1800 on 27/3/22 and it’ll give you a good overview of what to expect.
Core Bike is a trade only show that traditionally takes place in January and is attended by the most important and influential Brands and distributors of bikes, components and apparel in the UK. They use the show to showcase their new products and try to persuade dealers to buy stock.
I say normally takes place in January, of course the global pandemic has affected the show the last two years but this year it was moved to March to avoid the winter restrictions and today saw the first live in person show. UKgravelCO went along to see what’s new, meet up with old friends and try to make new ones so we can bring you more products to review.
The show covers all genres of cycling but of course we sort out the more gravelly side.
The first thing to say is that colour is back this year, a lot of gravel bikes seem to come in earthy muted colours or black traditionally but throughout the show colour was everywhere, on frames, components and clothing. I think personally that’s great
Bikes and frames are also getting the colour treatment and non more so than the All-City range. Some great paint jobs including some that are unique to each frameset.
The frameset above is the All-City Nature Cross singlespeed. room for a gravel tyre and works with an eccentric bottom bracket for chain tension. You cab run it with gears too with the correct rear mech hanger.
SKS had a cool gadget that might be interesting for the bike packers and long distance riders. This power bank fits to the stem (or bars with the correct mount) has two sockets for charging cables but you can fix your phone to it directly too using an adaptor. It’ll also do wireless charging
SKS also have a range of bike packing bags and a new full coverage mudguard with various widths for even the widest gravel tyre.
A good piece of news is that Ritchey now has a UK importer and they will be stocking nearly all of their components including framesets, not everything is in stock yet but your local bike shop will be able to get hold of things such as the awesome venturemax bar soon. Also look out for a review of the Ritchey Outback frame later in the year.
One of the most unique bikes at the show was this Chapter 3 special edition from Vielo. The paint work is done by hand with a lot of sanding back and each one of the limited run is unique. If you have to ask how much, then you probably can’t afford it. We also saw a beautiful new frameset from Vielo with an amazingly detailed paint finish but it’s embargoed until the Sea Otter show so I can’t post the pictures but suffice to say you’d probably want one!
There was a lot of embargoed stuff on show, from Cannondale and Fizik to name just a few, some great new stuff on its way. Again I can’t show you yet.
Ortlieb are a brand known for quality, I have a seat bag of theirs that must be 10 years old and it’s still like new. their latest bike bags seem to have the same quality and have a few unique touches that I hope to be able to review soon and show you in more detail.
The same distributor that brings in Ortlieb also import Salsa bikes and as well as the Cutthroat, this Warbird was a standout in their display. There was rumours of a Stormchaser single speed too but that was locked away in a bedroom as it was the personal bike of one of the guys at Lyon Cycle.
Surly had a great display including the new Ghost Grappler which I’m hoping to review soon. Surly is distributed by Ison-distribution who also bring in All-City bikes seen at the start of this article but they also had this little gem below.
All in all an interesting show, with some new ideas, some left of field and some practical. Check back for reviews of some of the above items soon and I’ll leave you with some more shots from the show
Many thanks to Dan Phillips for wielding the lenses find him here
When Cotic launched their steel drop bar Gravel/MTB bike I just knew I had to get my hands on one. they stated it was an MTB designed for drop bars and that’s something I’ve been trying to create for years using my old MTB hardtails but with limited success. The top tube on those hardtails, quite rightly was designed with flat or riser bars in mind. This makes the fitting of drop bars awkward. usually the bars end up too far away making you adopt a “superman” position leading to poor steering control and fatigue on the neck and shoulders. it also makes the bike look awful as to try to counteract this you need to run a short upright stem. Even then it was always a compromise.
So I sent an email to Cy at Cotic to see if there was any way to get a ride on one. Cy very helpfully arranged for a bike to be sent out. I was away doing a Devon Coast to coast ride when it arrived so when I got home I was straight out on it to see if it was all I had dreamed of!
I’m not going to comment too much on the kit that this bike comes with as it was built slightly differently to the complete bikes that Cotic sell and is a mix of parts, almost 100% because of the current shortages of components I guess. The shifters are Sram Force, the rear mech is Sram Rival, the cassette (11-51) is Shimano Deore and it all runs with a Shimano chain very smoothly. I’m not the biggest fan of Sram shifting so would this detract from the ride? There’s a dropper post fitted and this is activated by a drop bar mounted lever. It’s the first time I’ve tried one of these, my bike’s dropper is brake lever mounted (GRX) and it took a few miles of trying to drop the post with the brake lever before I adjusted to it.
The main triangle of the frame is made from 853 steel, a great compromise of weight and ride feel and the rear stays are made of good old 4130 steel. The rear stays are super skinny in that lovely way only steel can be. There’s nothing weird or unique about how this frame is constructed, no Cotic exlusive standards that you get on a lot of other frames. This means apart from the very last run to the dropper post all the cables and hoses are external, thank you Cotic!, the headset isn’t semi integrated or anything hard to get or work out, it’s also external cups and the best thing of all, the bottom bracket is also a threaded external unit. The frame will accommodate 29×2.4 or 27.5×2.8″ tyres. Unusually the bolt through axles take a 5mm Hex key, something that has been 6mm on all the other bikes I’ve owned. The frame has boost spacing (110/148mm hubs) and flat mount brake mounts.
Mounts, to be honest I lost count of the number of either bottle cage mounts or rack mounts but they can be found under the down tube, on the inside of the down tube, under the top tube, on top of the top tube on the seat tube and you can run a rack and full mud guards. There’s a little tab of the left hand side of the chainstay to attach one end of a full mudguard, a great little touch.
The Alpaca fork this bike came with also has rack and guard mounts and triple bosses on each leg. It will take a 29×2.6 or 27.5×3.0″ tyre and has flat mount brake mounts. Cotic can also supply a Salsa carbon fork for the bike.
The Ride, well, what can I say other than this bike is an absolute beast. The geometry is spot on, you can ride on the drops or the hoods all day without issue and without a ridiculously short stem. Anyone who has ridden a drop bar bike off road will know that the maximum control when going downhill is with your hands on the hook of the drops. On a converted MTB this is always an issue as you’re fully stretched out at that point and reaching the brakes can be difficult. No such issues here. grab the drops, drop the dropper and point the front wheel down hill and this thing feels like it will go wherever you point it. it is riotous fun drifting the rear wheel in the mud. Any technical trail can be finessed as the bike’s wheel base isn’t too long to be ponderous and it’ll turn in when needed. I don’t have the skills but i reckon you could whip the rear end of this bike over jumps if you wanted to. If you do find yourself out of your depth though the bike will just roll over stuff with the big tyres fitted. it is very confidence inspiring. However, don’t though let the liveliness of the ride put you off if you intend to load up with bags and disappear into the wilderness. I’m not sure how Cotic have managed it but as well as this liveliness when loaded up it feels stable and forgiving, it feels almost like its on a team building course and you have to close your eyes and trust that it’ll catch you when you fall backwards. It feels like It’ll look after you in all situations. very handy after a long day in the saddle when fatigue is affecting your concentration.
So who is this bike for? Firstly anyone who wants to put a massive grin on their face, the bike is so much fun. If you have never ridden a drop bar bike and are coming from an MTB back round you will feel right at home, If you have never ridden off road and want to leave the tarmac to dabble in the dirtside then this bike will flatter and cosset you while you hone your new found skills riding the trails.
This bike isn’t a short course racer, you can ride you local CX race on it and you’ll overtake lots of riders downhill but it’s a steel bike, it isn’t as light as an aluminium or carbon bike and the long distance comfort that comes from a steel frame won’t shine through on 45 minutes of effort. Where this bike will win though is long distance mixed and heavy terrain riding, think loaded up with your possessions on the trans cambian or HT500 or bag free just messing about in your local woods. Don’t be put off with the “drop bar MTB” label either, this bike is too versatile to be labelled. You could put gravel wheels and tyres in it and it would fly but personally I’d leave the fat tyres on for comfort and the way you can drift it into loamy corners while giggling to yourself.
For the price (£895 for frameset with steel fork at time of publishing) I can’t fault it, the £ to fun ratio is high.
So, Cotic Cascade, Drop bar MTB or gravel bike? Who cares, throw your leg over one and pedal off with the biggest grin you’ve had on your face for a long time!
you can find more info on the Cotic Cascade website here
There’s also a video review of the bike so you can get a closer look, just click below and please take the time to subscribe to my youtube channel to see more reviews on bikes and parts
Ever since Surly announced the corner bar in summer 2021 I’ve wanted to try one, I don’t know if Surly just tested the water with these new bars and the production run was small or that they didn’t import many into the UK but the entire stock at the UK distributor sold out really fast. Scroll forward to January 22 and the first availability for a pair was looking to be May 22. So one not very busy Saturday at work (don’t tell my boss….ok you can, I’m leaving anyway) I set about emailing every UK dealer/shop listed on the Surly website to see if they had a pair of Corner bars gathering dust on a shelf somewhere. I had many “sorry not until the summer” replies until Brixton Cycles messaged back saying they had a 46cm (measured to where the “hoods” join the top bar) in stock. I immediately got them in the basket and they turned up 4 days later at my back door.
Surly tag these bars as a “mountain bike drop bar” as they work with MTB style levers, they are supposed to give you the feel of drop bars without having to fork out £250+ on a set of road shifters that may or may not be compatible with your rear derailleur or brake calipers.
Now, I guess the big question is why would you want to put drop bars on your MTB in the first place? after all the riser or flat bar handlebar has evolved into a nice wide comfortable place that brings confidence and control to some gnarly riding. It keeps your head up so you can easily see the trail ahead on downhills or will easily cruise along sinuous singletrack. Why would you want to put a potentially narrower (i know there are some very wide drop bars) bar on where the best control is on the lowest part of them that stretches you out and drops your head into a position where you have to look up to see where you are going? Well, the reason I think is also why Gravel bikes have become so popular.
That reason is that mountain bikes have become so proficient at their job, smoothing out the trail ahead that your local routes have become a bit tame and dare I say it, boring! You barely notice the off road features that back in the mists of MTB time would have posed a challenge to your twitchy narrow barred and head angled early MTB…….hmmm narrow bars and twitchy handling was fun…..can you see where I’m going with this?
So throw a set of drop bars on your trail beating MTB and bring back the fun! only it’s not that simple. MTBs have very different shifters and brake set up to road/gravel bikes and that’s where it starts getting costly just to experiment with drop bars that you might actually hate after one ride. This is where the Corner bar comes in, it’s not cheap actually at over £100 but that’s a lot cheaper than a set of drop bars, road shifters, new cable inner and outer, bar tape and the hassle of doing it all.
I wouldn’t however sling a pair of these bars on your all mountain/enduro world cup gravity sled, keep that for the really gnarly trails and put the corner bars on a hardtail that languishes neglected, in the back of your shed. Even better if its pre “long , low and slack” geometry which is all the rage these days. that extra top tube length will stretch you too far out when on the drops.
So how does it ride? lets look at it from two perspectives,
1.You’re a seasoned drop bar rider, when you are on the drops you will feel right at home, the 65 degrees of flare make for rock solid handling on the rough stuff giving you masses of control. climbing on the drops also benefits from this flare as your hands fall into a very natural position far away from the shoulder constricting “aero tuck” of a traditional drop bar. Aero is not as it turns out, everything!
The thing that you will miss however is the fact that you cannot ride on the hoods, on drop bar levers the top of the hood is where you will spend most of your time. It is comfortable and you can still reach the brakes and get a reasonable amount of power into them. On the corner bar your hand sits awkwardly on the stump and that has either the shifter or brake mounting bracket on it or both depending on how you configure them. it’s fine for short periods but it’s not somewhere you want to be for long rides The other major issue is you can’t reach the brake lever from there either.
2. You’ve never ridden a drop bar bike in anger in your life and have only ever used a flat or riser bar. You will get your hands on the drops, chuck the bike downhill and either get transported back to the adrenaline rush of the early 90s MTB boom or immediately get what all those old timers are gushing about when they get into the “back in the day” routine. The flare and width are great for control and edge of your seat riding that a modern MTB on tame trails removes completely.
You’ve never sat with your hands on the hoods so don’t know what you are missing, you’ll climb, descend and cruise on the drops and that’s pretty much how these bars were designed. you can of course hold the bars either side of the stem too and that at least gives you another hand position.
So, if you’ve got an old geometry MTB then a set of these bars will bring it back to life for relatively peanuts in outlay…..well, maybe, maybe not. You see if your old mtb has a rigid fork then putting these bars on the standard length stem will stretch you right out. I was running a 60mm stem on my bike and to get comfy riding predominantly on the drops i ended up with a 35mm stem right at the top of the steerer with all the spacers underneath. If you have a suspension fork then the front will be higher and you’ll need to make less adjustments. So bare in mind some swapping of stems etc might have to take place. Oh, and can you wrap bar tape? because these work best with road bar tape on. Controls are easy to access from the drops, even a dropper lever.
One drawback, in my opinion is that these bars have a diameter of 25.5mm which is pretty old school. They do come with a shim to take it up to the popular 31.8mm standard of most stems but this small diameter does mean fitting accessories such as lights need an adaptor. I used some old inner tube wrapped around the bar.
Are these bars for everyone? not at all. do they weigh rather a lot and are expensive for some welded steel pipe? they certainly are. Would i put them on my MTB if it was the only MTB I had? no way. Would I have them on a “spare bike” just for fun? 100% I would.
They are quirky and not perfect at all. But I would stick a pair on a bike just for the hell of it, for shits and giggles because they are great fun for hitting your local stuff.
here’s a video that will give you more insight. Pleas take the time to subscribe for ,more videos like this
This sunday 6/2/22 at 1800hrs GMT the Surly Corner Bar review goes live on the UKgravelCO youtube channel. Just click on the link below, set a remonder and see if this bar can make your MTB into a gravel bike.
If you read my recent review of the Wizard Works Wiz Viz bags (and if not, why not!?) link here you’ll see how great looking these bags are. (not giving anything away there, please read the review) 😉
the top folk at Wizard Works are allowing me to give away the Go Go top tube bag that I tested to one of you lot! As with all these competitions there’s a few things to do to enter the competition. All the instructions on how to win the bag are in the below video but simply, Subscribe to the UKgravelCO You-tube channel, follow UKgravelco and Wizard Works on instagram and maybe mention someone else who’d like to win this bag.
the winner will be announced on 26/12/21 on instagram stories. good luck!
Wizard Works very kindly sent me a set of their brand new Wiz Viz bike bags. Namely a Lil’ Presto bar bag, a Go Go top tube bag and a Teeny Houdini saddle bag.
The Wiz Viz range is made from a black cordura fabric that is perforated to show the reflective layer underneath. There is also a very vivid orange panel on the top tube bag and the bar bag. the saddle bag just gets the reflective perforations.
This Material really works, car lights reflect bag from the perforations and the orange panel acts like your own personal high v-viz jacket. The material is also really hard wearing, I’ve been using the bags on day and night rides off road in gritty conditions and snow and they look pretty much as good as they did when I first installed them on the bike.
The Teeny Houdini saddle bag is a cute little wedge shaped bag that fits under your saddle via a strap over the saddle rails. The straps come together with a very satisfying click from a Fidlock magnetic clasp. This is the slightly larger version (the smaller is designed for road bikes) and I could fit a 27.5″ inner tube (I’m running 2.1 tyres on the grav) a multi tool and a tubeless repair kit fit in it easily with room to push more in in an emergency. the flap also secures with velcro for piece of mind.
The Go Go Top Tube bag is made of the same reflective and orange material as the Teeny Houdini and fits neatly on the top tube via velcro straps pushed through the daisy chain webbing underneath and via another strap around the steerer tube. The sides have a HDPE reinforcement to help keep the bag’s shape.
Although Wizard Works don’t claim that the bag is waterproof I found them very water resistant. The zip is very easy to open and close with one hand for mid ride snacks or to grab a camera etc. Because the bag is quite tall it’s best to pack it with the heavier items as low as possible to stop the bag flopping. Wizard Works do stock a Dr Jon widget to stabilise the bag via the steerer though or something like the 76 Projects anti strap clip will do just as good a job, see my review here The bag has a media port on the front which is great if your lights have a separate battery and a cable to you light unit. I could easily get my pixel 4a in a rubber case inside, a go-pro and mini tripod, some emergency cash, a spare face mask and a buff. You could easily use it as a refuel station for bars and snacks needed on the go. The only thing I’d like to see is an inside pocket maybe to store a credit card or to keep cash separate from the other items so it’s easier to find in a hurry.
The Lil Presto Barrel Bar Bag is very well regarded on the bike packing/gravel scene for it’s robustness and ease of use so the addition of the reflective fabric just makes this that little bit more special.
Again made from cordura and the orange panel the bag just feels quality when you pick it up. Massive kudos to Wizard Works for using the brilliant Voile nano straps to secure the bag to your bars, simple and easy to adjust and secure. the daisy chain webbing on the bag allows lots of mounting position options for the straps if your bars are crowded with lights, a bell or navigation tech. The zip is the same type as on the Go Go bag and again it can be opened and closed with one hand. I had a few wet rides as mentioned before and although not stated to be waterproof anything inside the bag stayed dry. The bag has a pocket on each end to stash things you need to get too quickly, sadly in the current climate this meant a mask for me. it never bounced out though despite a lack of elasticity on the pocket opening. The bag has a HDPE liner to keep its shape and avoid saggy bag syndrome some other bags suffer from. This stiffness also helps when fitted to the bike as it stops the bag wrapping around the head tube when secured tightly by the supplied paracord and clasp. There are two loops at either end of the zip that could be used for a shoulder strap to use the bag off the bike, this isn’t supplied with the bag.
For a small size bag it’s amazing what you can stuff in it, I’ve had a waterproof jacket, a gilet, bobble hat, keys, phone and even my go-pro in it at one time. The interior is bright and thankfully the liner is covered so there’s no rattle when things such as keys are inside (an internal key loop would be a great addition as I hate fishing around for keys)
When you describe an item as fit and forget it makes it sound a bit boring, but nothing could be further from the truth and here it’s a big complement. the Li’l presto is so well designed, built and made with quality materials it is something that you can rely on to keep on working. The voile straps mean that even when you add an unwieldy or heavy load you don’t constantly have to re-tension the straps like some other bags, the paracord head tube stabiliser does just that. The bag will take a few knocks that everyday trail and city riding can bring. It just feels pretty indestructible and something you don’t have to think about when concentrating on the tricky terrain or traffic ahead. Add in the “see me” qualities of the materials used and there’s no reason not to look at these for your next bike bag purchase. Other colours but not reflective materials are also available should the orange be too much for you.
I knew when Wizard Works asked to send me their stuff that this was going to be a difficult review as their reputation preceded them and a good review needs to be balanced and a little fault here and there makes for much better reading and subjectivity and the last thing I want to write is just “this is great, buy one” but..
“this is great, buy one!”
you can find more details and buy the wizard works kit here Wiz Viz Collection (this is not an affiliated link, I get no commission & the bags will be returned to Wizard Works, which I’m actually sad about)
As with all my tests, this is an impartial and real world review. I’m not sponsored and I’m just an average rider like most of the cyclists out there. I do inform anyone who sends me things to test that It will be an honest review good or bad.
overview video, please subscribe to my youtube channel!
I think that black friday is pretty rubbish for retailers and shoppers alike. If companies can afford to drop prices on one day they should drop prices all year round or at least spread those savings across the year.
So in the spirit of not having a black friday sale all the T shirts in the UKgravelCO shop are all now £5 off when you use the discount code “blackfridaysucks” at the check out. offer will last until black friday weekend or until the T shirts run out.
please share with anyone you can, proceeds from the shop go towards paying for this website and for buying products in to review so you don’t have to lay out your hard earned cash on something that might not work for you.