There’s no getting away from the fact that I live in a built up area, I am 30 minutes pedal from the centre of (arguably) The UK’s second biggest city. It’s not that much further into the heart of The Black Country and the massive industrial and manufacturing heartland of the midlands (yes peaky blinders etc, but lets not go into the fact that they were from Small Heath and not Cradley etc etc) so you would expect that riding here unless it was on tarmac via industrial estates lacked any sort of off road routes.
Well you’d be right and wrong at the same time. Around here you are never far from civilisation, it’s not the wilds of the Scottish highlands, the peak district or the wolds etc. What we do have though is hundreds of years of people walking home from work, horse made trails, canal infrastructure and disused rail tracks.
I followed a route I’d been shown once which loosely followed the route of the Tour of the Black country, a sportive that has tarmac and road sections and tries to emulate the great pro race Paris Roubaix. The ride was just over 50 miles and at least 25 of those were off road and for at least 15 of those off road miles I had absolutely no clue where i was going but knew exactly where i was. Let me explain.
Exploring is in my opinion what gravel bikes are made for, they can do multiple miles on tarmac and cope with off road trails too. I wouldn’t want to ride say 40 miles on a mountain bike on tarmac to ride 10 on bridleways. believe me i’ve done it and those MTB miles are a slog and the short bits of off road aren’t an exciting challenge on a capable MTB. a gravel bike will cruise the black top and scare the pants off you off road! who doesn’t like a bit of an adrenaline rush now and again?
so when I’m out riding and i spot a bridleway sign or a track I’ve never ridden i just go for it. it’s at this point that even though i know the general area i’m in I realise i have no clue where the track is going, what the riding conditions will be like, if i’ll have to turn around, climb a fence. cross a stream or cope with any situation. i call these follow the wheel rides, i just point the bike in a general direction and follow it. I’m not lost but standing in a field or a thick wood with no sight of anything i have no clue where I am or where I’ll end up.
Todays ride was just like that, I used the route I knew then followed any bridleway that i came across, one lasted for 3/4 of a mile, a mix of stones and sand across open fields that lead into a wooded section of roots, twists and turns, gravel and drop offs. It came out onto a tiny lane. I looked left and absolutely had no idea where i was, I looked right and saw the back of a pub…hang on I think i recognise that, yes! I knew where i was but no way would i have thought the track would have come out there. i rode up to the end of the lane and there across a busy road was a sign…
Of course I couldn’t resist this and it turned out even better than the last, a steep off camber rocky climb turned into sublime singletrack through some woods. there were various points where there was a choice of going on or right or left, i plumped for straight on and it popped me out onto a very sandy track sign posted ” roman road” i knew this path! seconds ago i was lost, exploring the unknown, now i was back on familiar territory and i knew i could link this up to the canal which would take me in the direction i needed.
You can do this any where, don’t despair that you live in the middle of a city, the gravel bike will transport you to places you never knew where there even though you’ve lived in the area all your life, that happened to me just last week on a ride guided by a local, 50 years in this county and there were routes I’d never ridden literally on my door step.
So please try it, go and get lost in your local area (but do tell someone which area you will roughly be in, just in case) i guarantee you’ll be surprised what you discover. In the words of @24TOM LOST IS FOUND