Tis the season in the UK where just about everywhere is under water, there will have been snow, snow melt and lots of rain, it’s winter after all. Those semi slick tyres that ruled the roost through the spring, summer and into autumn are just not up to the task now and in certain conditions are actually deadly. So what are the best tyres for this time of the year?
Pirelli has one of those fast summer tyres in it’s range called the RC, it also has the Cinturato M (tested here) which is a great all rounder but the winter trails need something more specialised to cope with the conditions. Pirelli have come up with the Cinturato Gravel “S” with the S standing for soft conditions.
On test are the standard black wall version in 700x40mm. They popped onto the 25mm (internal) rims I use with ease, in fact just with a track pump. Your experience may differ as there are a lot of variables at work when seating tyres but in this instance the tyres have stayed on the rim what ever pressure I’ve pumped them up or let them down to. The tyres come with what Pirelli call “techwall” which gives a little more puncture/tear resistance and to date, despite a lot of blackthorn hedge cutting I’ve not noticed any damage or sealant escaping.
The tyre centre tread has some wide spaced knobs that are siped to help spread the rubber as it bites into the soft ground, the shoulder knobs are about twice the height of the centre ones and also siped (almost split)
Riding on these tyres my first thought was that they would not be a great rolling tyre on tarmac given the spaced knobs, but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised how well they do roll. Not as fast as a semi slick of course but the penalty for off road grip is low and they bowl along quite happily. This may be down to the 40mm width, they are available in 45 and 50mm too which may give more rolling resistance but offer more cushioning. that said, the tyres run at around 32psi front and 35psi rear never felt uncomfortable on bumpy ground.
As you’d expect, where they do come into their own is in the very soft mud. the knobs cut in and find grip like no other gravel tyre I’ve tried, the relative narrowness may help here too as the tyres cut through the sloppy stuff to find firmer ground beneath. Traction is great and if you can pedal you’ll keep moving forward in all but the slimiest mud. Off camber trail riding and cornering are equally as good giving you confidence to lean the bike further and carry speed through the turns. This comes without the twitchiness on tarmac turns you might find with similar tall knob shouldered tyres.
This tyre is pitched as a soft condition specialist and it is, but I think it’s much more of an all rounder than that. if you are not racing and just want a do it all tyre I’d definitely look at the Cinturato S with perhaps a switch to a wider version for the harder ground in the drier months.
I’ve been using this tyre for around 2.5 months through the worst of the UK weather both on and off road and I can detect no discernable wear yet on the tread, so far so good there but of course I can’t comment on anything longer than that.
I know I’m going to have real angst when it comes to swapping these tyres for a different review set as they’ve been so good, unless those replacements are a tan wall set of the same model which may already be in my shopping basket!
the latest podcast episode is now live, I chat with Hannah Dobson, managing Editor of one of the UK (if not the worlds) premier cycling magazines and website www.singletrackworld.com We chat about how she came to be in charge of the content of an award winning bike publication, how she got into cycling, being female in the bike industry, the bike she’d ride if she couldn’t ride any other (this may surprise you), her unusual riding clothing choices and how to attract more people to our favourite pastime.
Alistair Beckett, Designer and Owner at Fustle Bikes
Alistair from Fustle Bikes and I chat about bike design, why the heck you’d start a bike company in a pandemic, just what and who exactly is the #fustlefamily and the ideas behind the Causeway Gravel bike, the Fustle Steel bike project and the future of independent bike brands.
Those of you that follow the UK Gravel Collective social media channels may know that I recently started a podcast about……you guessed it, cycling!
I know what you are thinking, oh no, not another podcast and he’s about to say he wants it to be something different etc etc but, although you are correct and I do want it to be different I thought it would be one of the best ways to get the message that cycling, and I mean any genre of cycling, not just gravel riding, is GREAT!
Let me explain, because gravel riding is a relatively new thing (lets not over analyse the fact that riders have been riding “gravel” on all sorts of bikes probably since the bicycle was invented) it attracts people who either haven’t ridden a bike since they were little, want to dabble in some dirt riding without having to buy into the “moto” style of mtbing, all the videos you see are of full face helmets and jumps rather than a nice cross country ride which is probably because it’s boring to watch but awesome to do. Riders who have only ever ridden on tarmac, mtbers who just want to try something different and experienced riders who have ridden all types of bike and want to try the latest fad.
Now if you are new to gravel, or to riding in general, where do you go for advice on kit, bikes, where to ride, how to ride etc? I’d recommend your local bike shop but most people turn to the internet and social media. The internet is fantastic to find products and services but 99% of those websites are trying to sell you the product. So you join a few face book groups or forums dedicated to your sport of choice and this is where the problems lie. Social media can be an intimidating hell for a newbie or and old lag who doesn’t know the ins and outs of the new sport. Anyone who moderates forums or groups knows how quickly things escalate when someone asks an innocent question and then gets flamed for being new, not having “the right bike” or in the worse cases being the “wrong” gender or ethnicity. This makes me sad and disappointed that the cycling community, and I realise it only a few people and you’ll get idiots in every sport, isn’t welcoming to everyone who wants tp ride a bike.
The podcast is my idea to get knowledge out there to everyone who wants to ride a bicycle, from beginners to veterans, without prejudice or fear of asking an innocent question. When it comes down to it I’ll be happy and his goes for all the UK Gravel collective channels, this website, instagram, face book and youtube, if just one person decides to throw their leg over a bike. If that happens it’ll have been worth all the effort of setting it up.
So the first couple of episodes have been uploaded and I’m very pleased to say they’ve been well received. Just like the rest of the stuff I do, it’s not polished or slick, it’s just down to earth stuff that is meant to inspire. I don’t pretend to be an expert at cycling so I’m trying to line up guests who know more than me so that knowledge can be passed on to anyone who wants to listen.
The podcast can be heard on Spotify here anchor here and pocket cast here
Please give it a listen, any feed back or ideas fo future episodes is great fully received and if you want to be a guset drop me an email to Gary@ukgravelco.com
First of all, if you are reading this in a nice dry dusty part of the world where winter means the weather gets a little colder, there’s occasional light rain but you know you can put your ride off until the next day as it’ll be dry, then i feel I need to explain the winter conditions in the UK.
Unless you are in the far north of the union which gets lots of snow then riding conditions in the UK from December to April (and sometimes beyond) can range from damp to full on emergency flood, this means the trails that were dusty in July and August could now be a swamp resembling farm slurry to a deep clay field with the potential to mould a complete terracotta army. In short it is VERY muddy. I get a lot of messages, mainly from the US asking why I ride on these trails as “it trashes them man, we don’t abuse our trails, why do you ride in the weather?” and I always replay that those trails have probably been there and used since prehistoric times and they’ll stand up to many more thousands of years use by foot, horse and tyre. (hooves do a lot more damage, but that’s a whole other debate) and as for riding in that weather? well, it’s the only one we’ve got and it you wait for it to stop raining, it could literally be weeks before your next ride.
In order to ride these trails and stay upright and not spend most of the time lying on the ground you need a decent mud tyre. one that can also handle riding on tarmac without too much rolling resistance. This is difficult for tyre designers, a nice tall knobbly tyre with a soft compound is ideal for squidgy off road conditions but literally sucks on tarmac and those tall knobs will move around when leaning the bike through corners and feel very disconcerting. To date, in my opinion the WTB Sendero is the best mud gravel tyre, however it’s only available in 650b/27.5″ size. There’s no out and out mud gravel tyre in 700c. So you can imagine how happy and curious I was when Hutchinson sent me a pair of their Tundra tyres to try out.
Hutchinson are a French company and so I hoped this was reflected in the design rather than one designed in California!
Labelled as designed for “mixed, rocky and muddy” conditions I popped them on my wheels, and it was a pop, they were a dream to seat on a set of DT swiss rims with no tubeless issues since. They are stated as 700×45 and on 25mm internal rims they measure just under 46mm so pretty bang on. They have a lower central chevron pattern that’s quite well spaced out and a taller knobblier edge on each side to help cornering. They are available in black or (the essential) tan wall versions
Riding, I was instantly surprised how well these tyres roll on tarmac, they emit a soft whine as they scoot along but I’ve never felt that they were holding me back even at off road pressures (approx 32psi front, 35psi rear) and the side knobs that I thought might cause concern when leaning the bike hard over have never been an issue and I don’t even think about it now when changing direction quickly. Would this mean they were more tarmac than mud though? I needn’t have worried, these tyres are great in my local conditions. They grip in the local deep leaf litter, clay and sandy soil very well. if you can keep pedalling they will dig in and find grip add some climbing technique, and I’m no expert, they will continue propelling you forward or upward. They won’t win out in every situation, not even a moto x tyre backed up with an engine will but I’ve been surprised at the conditions they will work in. The tyres also clear sticky mud quickly, something essential for me as the local clay soil clogs tyres and eventually will stop the wheels rotating!
I’ve had these tyres on the bike since the beginning of December and it’s now mid January so I can’t comment on the longevity of the compound but given that they roll so well on tarmac I don’t think they are super soft and will not wear out quickly. really though, where they excel is off road and after all that’s where all the fun is. So are they a contender for best mud tyre compared to the benchmark Sendero? I’d say yes they are and they come in the more popular 700 size. I would say watch your sizing though if you have clearance issues with your frame. 45mm is pretty wide when the tyre is mud covered and starts dragging stones through the frame before they have chance to clear. Hutchinson has you covered there with narrower widths available though and I’ve seen the tyres for as little as £38 each in places which is a bargain in the world of £90 gravel tyres!
For a great all round late Autumn, winter and early Spring tyre you’d be very wise to consider the Hutchinson Tundra gravel tyre.
For a good look at the tyres and how they ride check out the video below
I recently reviewed a set of Ortlieb bike packing bags, see the review here these bags were scheduled to return to the Ortlieb UK distributor Lyon Cycle but instead of that I asked if I could give away the (lightly used) bags as a way to generate donations for a great cause. Now you can help out that cause and get yourself that set of bike packing bags worth over £150 by donating a minimum of £5 via the link below
here’s a video I made to explain further, if you don’t have time to watch then read on below
Rider Resilience is a not for profit company with these aims….
RIDER RESILIENCE is a registered not-for-profit community interest company set up to draw on the strength and camaraderie of the bicycle community, to enable anyone in the face of adversity to ride through their hardship.
By encouraging the use of any bicycle as a platform to find resilience, the movement pulls together cyclists to support each other, paying forward the joy derived from riding and in turn making the world a better place.
Our aim is to become a global collective, with riders and brands proud to be affiliated with a recognisable advocacy movement.
Rider Resilience will be a resource from which strength, inspiration and funding for special projects can be drawn, whilst continuously paying it forward.
I know money is tight at the moment but if you could spare a minimum of £5 you will be in with a chance of winning these proven bike packing bags. If you can’t afford £5 right now then please share this website page with someone who can or put it in front of as many other people you can
It would be great if you could subscribe (it coasts nothing) to the UKgravelCO youtube channel too. find it here
I hesitated to put Christmas in the title as really these items could be given to a cyclist all year round. I know when it comes to birthdays/Christmas etc my friends and family don’t really know what to buy for me. They know I’m mad on cycling and most of the time that’s all they know about it. You then tend to receive, and I know it sounds ungrateful, Items that you will never use. like a box spanner with imperial measurements that only fits bikes up until 1950, a pair of inner tubes- 26″ a sandwich box with cyclist
Its not like you can say “oh I’m saving for a new wheelset” because the gasp of incredulous horror when you mention how much you need to save tends to ruin the moment. It’s at this point I don’t confess that the last tyre I bought for my bike cost more than the tyres on my van
So you can see the problem. They want to buy you something, they don’t want to spend a fortune and you’d like to receive something that will instantly get put on a shelf in the shed and gather dust for the next 15 years.
To try to alleviate the stress on all sides here’s a few items that shouldn’t brake the bank and hopefully any cyclist reading would like to own. You could point the non cyclist present buyer in the direction of this website…..all subtle like.
Firstly, books. Everyone loves a book and here are four editions you should really check out.
Gravel Rides Scotland by Ed Shoote
I reviewed Gravel bikes Scotland earlier in the year and thought this “Gravel Rides Scotland is an excellent book that explores some of the best gravel riding the UK has to offer, the addition of downloadable GPS files is just the icing on the cake. This comprehensive guide is inspiring and makes you want to drop whatever you are doing and go exploring” for the full review click here
Britain’s Best Bike Ride by John Walsh and Hannah Reynolds
Riding from lands end to John O’Groats is probably a route that every cyclist must have heard of. Riders keep reducing the amount of time it takes from getting to one to the other regularly on the recognised shortest route, but what if you didn’t really care how long it took but actually wanted to see lots of things on the way? Britain’s Best Bike Ride is a guide to doing just that. This book gives you the option to take as long as you want (or as quick, there are plans inside for that too) and picks a route that avoids where possible all those awful main roads that quite frankly put me off the whole idea in the first place. Do you really want to slog up the A30? I know I don’t. Britain’s Best Bike Ride guides you on a slightly longer route that takes in back lanes, beauty spots, places of interest and villages that you’d miss on the “official” route. of course, you don’t have to do the route all in one go, you can dip in and out as time and work allows as the sections are broken down into manageable sections. More on road (lane?) than off it can be used with a bit of online study to join up the off road honey spots too. find out more at vertebrate publishing
Great British Gravel Rides by Markus Stitz
Markus Stitz knows a bit about cycling and he knows a bit about route planning, afterall he pedalled around the world on a bicycle with one gear. He also organises the Dirt Dash series of events but even Markus doesn’t know every nook and cranny that can be ridden on a gravel bike in the UK so quite cleverly he enlisted riders from one end of the country to the other who know there area like the back of their hand and it’s those riders routes that make up this guide book. So when it says Great British Gravel Rides you can guarantee they probably are as no one tends to favourite rubbish routes. Get this book and you can tap into local knowledge and get the best riding in the chosen area. Full review here
Cycling Through a Pandemic by Jonathan Heard
This book is quite different from the previous ones listed, This one will not give you routes to follow, there’s no guide to the best places to stay or where your nearest bike shop is but out of all of them I think it’ll be the one to inspire you the most to get out on your bike whatever the weather, circumstance or life event you are currently experiencing.
This book is weighty, it’s a hard back and what used to be called a “coffee table book” but this one isn’t for show or to impress visitors of your reading choice (although I think it will do that too) It’s about ordinary riders in the extraordinary situation that the global Covid 19 pandemic placed every one of us. It’s 350 pages are packed full of stories and experiences of riders who managed to put the world events aside and just glory in the immense mental benefit and joy of a simple bike ride, be it long or short. 10 different stories from 10 different countries will keep you entertained for ages but what will keep you coming back time and time again is the simply stunning photography. The word epic is banded about quite freely these days but this book is worthy of the true meaning of that word.
But, that’s not even the best part. All the profits from sales of the book are sent to the World bicycle Relief fund (at time of publishing this article reaching £6k!) a charity that is a global non-profit charity that mobilises people in developing countries through the Power of Bicycles. Cycling Through a Pandemic can be bought Direct from the author here
Clothing. obviously clothing is a very personal thing and can be very expensive but there’s one item that every cyclist needs in autumn, winter and spring and that’s a hat to put on at the cafe stop to save heat and well. generally look stylish.
This lambs wool beanie from the Hebden trouser Company (HebTroCo) in “pea shoot” green is described by them as a “performance” beanie. I’m not really sure what makes it performance but it is definitely comfortable and despite it looking a really thin material it also keeps you warm. The bonus of the thinness is that the beanie packs down really small so ideal for carrying in a bar bag or back pocket or you could easily wear it under a helmet.
HebtroCo have a unique sense of humour and it’s worth checking out their website even if you don’t intend to invest in a beanie, but you really should, your head and ears will thank you for it, and you can then spend longer sat outside the cafe/pub and that’s just priceless! check them out at HebtroCo
Blowing Hot(and cold air) Even if you’ve upgraded to tubeless (and why haven’t you if not?) you still need to carry a pump. Now, I’m sure you’ve been amused by the bike industry coming up with “e-bike specific” saddles and similar and I did chuckle that this pump from Topeak has “gravel” printed on it. If you look past that and at the details it actually makes sense. The pump has a low and high pressure setting which works because gravel tyres are naturally bigger volume than road tyres and that low pressure setting fills the tyre quickly from completely flat. You then switch to high pressure to finely adjust to your prefered setting. This one has been on my bike in all conditions for a couple of months and has stood up to the rain, spray, mud and even some early autumn heat. It’s one of those things that you forget about until you really need it and so far, when it has come to that situation its up to the task. Its light, has a positive click when engaging with the valve and feels robust enough to last and be there just when you need it.
So there we have 6 gifts that any cyclist would like to receive at any time of the year, I’m publishing it near to Christmas but any of these would make a great present whatever the occasion. they also won’t break the bank so your non cyclist buyer can feel good that they’ve bought something you’ll really use and it won’t empty their purse or wallet.
Copy the page link and use it to guide someone to buy you a great present.
Happy Religious Festival/Birthday/Significant Event or random act of kindness!
That’s one heck of a long name for the winter boot from shoe and cycling accessory company Fizik, they say it’ll keep you cycling through winter months but will they only keep your feet warm and dry for as long as it takes to say the long title? Read on to find out.
I tested Fizik’s Terra Atlas shoe a few months ago and was impressed, they became my shoe of choice through the late spring, summer and autumn, you can read that review here. The Artica shoe is based on that Atlas design. At first glance it looks like Fizik has just stitched a neoprene cuff onto the top of an Atlas shoe but there’s a few more things going on under the surface than that.
For a start the shoe has that magic coupling of words written on it, “Gore-Tex” this at the very least reassures you that good quality components have been used and that Fizik hasn’t just come up with their own new waterproof membrane to save costs. The fact that they use Gore-tex indicates to me they want this shoe to do everything they claim it can. The actual membrane is called “Koala” and is not only meant to be waterproof, it’s supposed to be breathable too. This is quite possibly more important. Unbreathable shoes make your feet sweat, your socks get damp and then that damp gets cold and soon after so do your feet. So a water proof and breathable membrane is perfect for a shoe that will face low temperatures, water and have to cope with you exercising and producing perspiration. I’ll be honest, to cope with all that is a big ask and I was sceptical that Fizik’s claims might be a bit out there.
Inside the shoe is a fluffy lining that adds more insulation and feels really comfortable to the touch.
The exterior is made of Polyurethane and it shrugs off knocks and scrapes well. It also cleans off really easily with a sponge and after a few months wear, when I do bother to clean them (who has time for that anyway?) they come up looking almost like new. There’s a velcro strap around the ankle to cozy the collar around your leg and the excellent Boa dial that allows micro fit adjustment and quick release exit. This has the added bonus of not having laces or velcro to get caked in mud that inevitably gets all over your gloves or hands when it come time to take them off and tip toe through the house to the shower. The sole is again the same as on the Fizik Atlas shoe and is grippy in mud and rocks (no material on earth unless it has sharp claws/spikes is grippy on UK winter slime covered tree roots). There is provision for two toe studs per shoe for hike-a-bike duties or running up grass banks in a CX race
Waterproofness is the biggy really, it’s a bold claim to make and I have to say Fizik and Gore-tex’s can shout that claim to whoever they like as I have found these boots to be reliably waterproof. I have stood in streams, ridden through deep floods (see the video below) and my feet and socks have stayed dry. You do have to take into account that there’s a big hole in the top of the shoe though, otherwise you’d not get your feet in them. this means any water going in through that hole will stay there until you empty the shoe,… it’s waterproof from the inside out too you see. I got stuck in an absolute deluge and water spray from the front wheel (and the sky) rolled down my leg and into the boots so they were pretty squelchy but the important thing was my feet stayed warm! Normal road spray, puddle and stream splashes don’t bother these boots at all. I’m still scratching my head over the fact that they can be this waterproof yet still have a perforated outer surface!
Fit is arguably the most important part of any shoe, many “winter” shoes I’ve tried in the past say “go one size up” if you want to wear thick socks or waterproof socks but I always then suffered as i found the cleat pocket on the sole didn’t allow the cleat back far enough and I ended up pedalling with the pedal too far forward producing fatigue and pain.
So, when it comes to the Artica shoe, if you are a person who doesn’t suffer unduly from frozen feet in winter and will wear normal socks, go for your usual size. I wear a 44 usually and the demo boots are a 44 and fit very comfortably with a normal sock. If I wear thick socks (I do suffer from prematurely cold feet on rides) I would have liked to go at least half a size bigger. You can do this with these boots as the cleat pocket is very generous so having a bigger size to accommodate thicker socks will not be a problem when it comes to foot on pedal position. The boots aren’t even a struggle to get on and off, the Boa gives lots of adjustment to allow your foot in and there’s a pull tab at the heel to further aid getting them on.
The Fizik Terra Artica X5 GTX Winter Boot does exactly what it claims to do, keeps your feet dry and keeps them warm. I think there’s some sort of magic going on but dry feet confirm the claims. If you’re looking for a non bulky, well made boot with good fit and in my opinion, good looks there’s not many, if any other boots I’d look at.
For another view and footage of me riding through a flood wearing the boots, check out the UK Gravel Collective youtube channel below in a special section I’m calling The Complete S*** Show please don’t forget to subscribe!
In the last few years Bike packing has become more and more of a buzz word, Inspiring stories of self supported round the world rides and events like the Tour Divide and Silk road race are all over social media and you tube. The big bike companies have jumped onto that bandwagon and epic grainy pictures of people “suffering” are gold to certain companies marketing departments. It’s nothing new of course, it used to be called bicycle touring and people have been out camping with their bike probably since bikes were invented.
However, In reality when you look at how many cyclists there are in the world very few of them are taking all their worldly goods with them on multiple week journeys to remote parts of the globe. Most of us might ride a few miles and bivi down in some local woods just to experience the night sounds and the vista of an early morning sunrise and others, myself included, are riding from home or from a vehicle and stopping over night in a B&B or a pub that has accommodation. Credit card camping is another phrase I’ve heard it called.
Some of us just need to carry a change of clothes suitable for a walk from the hotel room to the bar or from the room to the pub for dinner. We don’t need maximum capacity to carry every necessity as we’re not in the wilderness. If we get hungry we don’t need to build a fire, there’ll be a Greggs just off route we can replenish our energy in. What we do want however is for those clothes you are going to change into and your electronic devices to stay dry if the weather or the route is soaking wet. Luckily the guys at Lyon Cycle sent me a frame and seat pack from Ortlieb that claims to do just that, after a couple of months use, this is what I found.
Ironically what I found first of all was that the Ortlieb bags repel rain very effectively. In that for the first three weeks of use the skies refused to release any moisture whatsoever. Ideal for riding but not for testing waterproof claims. Even when rain was forecast it didn’t appear!
This is the UK though and so it really wasn’t long to wait before a prolonged period of rain set in and the true test could begin.
The FRAME-PACK RC TOPTUBE
The catchily named Frame-Pack RC Top tube, (I suppose it does exactly describe what it is if RC stands for “roll closure”) is a 4ltr capacity bag that sits under your top tube. Weirdly the Ortlieb website says the “width” is 50cm but I can tell you my tape measure says the length is 51cm so I presume that’s a translation error. It’s 13cm high and 6cm wide. It’s made from a non upvc plastic with adjustable velcro staps that fit around the top tube and bright red bungy straps that hold the roll over closure securely shut. (see video below for how they work) Velcro straps also fix the bag to the down tube and seat tube of your bike. the bag is secure and doesn’t waggle about even when loaded on even the skinniest of frames. There is one main compartment with no pockets in side. 4ltrs doesn’t sound a lot but the nature of the roll top means you can get quite a lot of stuff inside. Ortlieb say 3kg is the max load. the bag itself weighs 200g
The bag is as claimed, 100% waterproof, anything you put inside will stay absolutely dry. However, if you are packing or unloading the bag in a rain storm that one big opening means it could fill with water while you are messing abut and being waterproof it’s going to stay inside the bag until you can dry it out. This also brings to the fore the fact that this one roll top opening with 3 bungy straps to undo and seal it means the bag is awkward to access while riding. These bungy straps with the plastic clips they fasten to did worry me as I thought they would catch on my shorts while riding. This didn’t happen though until i deliberately over loaded the bag, just to see if it was possible and then it only caught if I was wearing baggy shorts. with normal loads even MTB style baggy shorts were fine.
The Ortlieb frame pack RC fits the brief of light touring/B&B touring or commuting perfectly. It’ll keep all your bits and pieces perfectly dry between stops. If you need to access the bag for snacks while riding and don’t want to try undoing the whole thing or stopping then Ortlieb do a version without the roll top that has a waterproof side entry zip. or you could run a feed bag etc EDIT I’ve since practiced undoing and then re-doing the roll top while riding. it is possible and undoing is easy. doing back up and rolling is the hard part and you have to take your eyes off where you are going so not recommended.
If you want a waterproof, easy fitting, robust bag (this one has taken a few knocks and just wipes clean)that you can get a surprising amount of stuff in for local bike packing, B&B touring or keeping your suit dry for work (do people still wear suits?) then the Frame Pack RC is definitely one I’d recommend.
Ortlieb Seat Pack QR
The ortlieb waterproof seat pack is made from the same material as the frame bag and shares the same waterproof properties.
Ortlieb say this back is dropper post friendly and it is! This is because it differs from normal seat packs as it doesn’t affix around the shaft of the seat post in the normal way. In the box is a selection of clamps that bolt around the thinner telescoping part of the dropper post. The stabilising strap from the bag then Velcro’s around this. You will loose a small amount from the total drop of the post but for most gravel bikes you don’t need to drop the post a lot for a great increase in confidence. You could of course use the strap on its own around a standard seat post. The other attachment point is around the saddle rails. The bag clamp here is adjustable with 4 bolts depending on how much seat rail you have showing. If you only have one bike this will be a one time adjustment. The position of the clamp also dictates how much weight ortlieb recommend putting in the bag. The instructions on how to fit the pack are clear and easy and refreshingly they come in the box! The saddle rail clamps shut with a satisfying click and once set the camp ends can be cinched down with the attached webbing straps. It’s a very good, well thought out design.
The bag is a roll design too and means small or larger loads can be accommondated and stabilised by rolling the closure tighter. There is another strap that holds the rolled up part secure too. On one side of the pack is a little valve, similar to those on an air bed and it can be opened to let all the trapped air out when rolling the bag to get the tightest compression to aid stability and reduce size. I stuffed the bag to capacity and deliberately added most of the heavy items at the rear to try to destabilise over rough ground or when climbing out of the saddle. I can report the bag stayed just where it was and there was hardly “waggy dog” feeling.
The pack is 28x48x22cm, has a 13L capacity and weighs 625g Ortlieb say it’ll take up to 3.5kg of kit (depending on the seat rail position) there are four sets of cinch down straps, two per side and one at the rear. The pack is one big container with no internal pockets but it does have a handy bungy cord on the outside which I used a few times when rain stopped as I didn’t want to put my wet jacket on the inside.
The seat pack is a very versatile bit of kit. The quick release nature of it means you could keep all the things you want to take into the pub/work/hotel in it and be able to leave the bike in secure storage without having to ferry things back and forward. Then the next day just clip on and go. It suffers the same thing as the frame bag because it will fill with water if you find yourself in a rain storm. The reality of that though is that you’ll probably be looking for some sort of shelter before doing it so I don’t see that as any sort of drawback.
The two waterproof packs from Ortlieb are excellent and quietly get on with the job of keeping your stuff dry with minimum fuss. I’d like to see a lighter coloured interior as in the dark things tend to just disappear into the abyss but other than that i can’t really find a fault with either of them with the brief they come with.
Perfect for short bike packing trips, commuting or carrying and extra layer or two for the winter night rides to a pub. take a look at the video below for a close up view on both bags and don’t forget to subscribe to see more videos like this.
you can find out more about the Ortlieb packs here and ortliebs website is here
Back in 2021 I published an interview with Nic from the New Forest off Road Club to see what this fledgling group trying to encourage women and to promote women led rides and cycling communities throughout the UK and around the world was all about. You can read that interview here
I bumped into Nic at the Bespoked Bicycle show at the Lea Valley Velodrome recently as she was exhibiting her bike on the Stayer Bikes stand and she suggested it would be a good idea to do a “how it started, how it’s going” style article to update readers on what has happened over the last nearly 18 months. It’s surprising how much has been packed into a pademic and lock down ravaged period of time.
Here’s what Nic had to say
It’s been over 12 months since Gary got in touch inviting us to write an article for The UK Gravel Collective website. I thought I’d do a little review of what we’ve been up to in the last 12 months.
It’s been a wild ride and we’ve loved every minute.
Bike mechanic qualifications. We don’t have any women bike mechanics in our immediate network and we want to fix that. We continue to fundraise through various events and workshops and we are researching to find the most comprehensive bike mechanic course. If any of the UK Gravel Collective readership have any recommendations, we would love to hear them!
The course would be most relevant to people who are part of cycling spaces that have the opportunity to be more diverse and inclusive.
We’d love to see UK Gravel Collective readers there!
As we said last year, huge thanks Gary for your constant support and encouragement. We appreciate it and the glow of your support helps to power us around the forest!
Hope to see you on a trail soon, Nic and the New Forest Off Road Club.
Thanks for the update Nic, you, your ride leaders and NFORC community have been so busy! It’s very inspiring to see and I know from talking to other riders around the country that your team’s example has motivated many other groups to start up and just go out and ride a bicycle for the sheer enjoyment of it without the pressures of trying to conform to “how it’s supposed to be” and long may it continue. more diverse bums on saddles is hopefully the future.
As mentioned above |if you are reading this and have any ideas to help NFORC with the mechanics courses, ideas for events or just want to ask for advice you can DM Nic via insta at @newforestoffroadclub/ or via me at @ukgravelco and |I’ll pass the message on.
I often get asked which bar bag is the best for a gravel (or any other bike for that matter) and it’s always a difficult question to answer as everyone’s bike is different. I also get asked why I don’t put stuff in my jersey pocket. The answer there is if i put all the stuff listed below in my pockets the jersey might collapse, I don’t always wear a road cycling jersey so have no pockets to use and finally, if you’ve ever ridden off road in the UK most of the time anything in a back pocket will soon have a coating of mud.
The things riders need to carry is different too and how they configure their handlebar is different. For example i use a GPS computer but it sits on a mount that is attached to the top cap on my stem. many people prefer the out front computer mount that attached to the actual handlebar and this can mean the computer interferes with the way a particular bar bag opens and functions. Some people will be bike packing and fill their easy to access bag with snacks and necessities that they need on the go so a bag that is easy to open and close again without stopping is the ideal for them. Others are just out for a day ride with no time stresses so stopping and accessing the bag isn’t an issue. Cycle commuters might want to fill the bag with a light for emergency use, tubes and a pump and a weatherproof jacket etc etc. So you can see there are lots of needs and I can only base this review on the sort of stuff I carry in a bar bag. Here’s the not quite definitive list of things I’ve put in the review bags.
A GoPro and mini tripod, Gore Shakedry jacket, inner tube, multi tool and tubeless repair gadget, cycling cap and my phone. these go in every time. At other times depending on the bike I’ve added a mini pump, at least two sandwiches and lately some gloves. All the test bags were able to carry this amount of stuff easily, some with room to stuff other things in and some at capacity.
The Rapha Bag
First off let me say that Rapha did not send this bag to me. I’ve asked in the past for items from them and they told me they do not support independent reviews, make of that what you will. I know that their bar bags are very popular though so I purchased one for this test. One to see what they are actually like and two to see what Rapha are afraid of when they haven’t paid for a review!
The Rapha bag differs from the Restrap and Wizard Works bag in that it is a rectangular design rather than a barrel shape. It’s capacity is 2L. Made in Vietnam the bag’s material has a smooth almost artificial feel to it and that has proved to be fairly durable and shower proof. the interior is lined on the back facing the bike and on the front facing forwards. The front lining also has two interior mesh pockets, these are useful to keep cards or keys separate from the rest of the contents and stop all the rummaging about at café stops or petrol station picnics. The bag also has a front zipped exterior pocket which is also useful for quick access. I used it to great effect for storing travel tickets. The fastening system on the Rapha bag works well and easily clips together over handlebars and can be cinched down and locked if carrying heavier loads. The plastic clips do rattle annoyingly when riding though even when tightened down. They do not however come loose over bumpy terrain. The bag has a stabilising strap that fits around the bike head tube and it does a good job of stopping the bag from bouncing around. The straps have limited placement points though and if you run lights, a bell or other stuff on your bars there maybe issues with fitment especially if you want the bag dead centre.
The bag has no stiffener inside and as such heavier items do find their way to the middle and you can suffer a bit of saggy bag syndrome. The Rapha bag is the only one of the three that comes with a carry strap as standard and this is useful as the quick release nature of the mounting clips means it easy to take the bag with you if you leave the bike. There have been no durability issues throughout the test, I have heard that the mounting points have had warranty issues but nothing of that nature has happened.
The placement of the zip may make access slightly more difficult if you use an out front computer mount.
The Restrap Bag
Restrap very kindly sent me one of their Cannister bags to try out when I asked them If they’d like to join the grouptest. The fact that they are confident to do that is notable when you choose which bag you might like to buy.
The Restrap Cannister bag has a barrel design and is hand made in Yorkshire of a cordura fabric with one YKK zip along the top. The capacity is 1.5L. The interior is lined with a contrasting colour material which aids finding stuff in low light conditions. This also stops rattling of items such as keys etc, some of us absolutely hate that! There are no inner pockets but the cannister does come with a pocket at each end of the exterior and those are elasticated. There is a light loop on the front but non of my front lights were compatible with the loop and so I wasn’t able to try it out.
The retention system is a simple webbing strap and clasp, these are fixed in position so there’s no way to adjust them for bar items, I struggled with this on night rides where the light mount forced the bag to one side, aesthetically not at all pleasing, good job it was dark! The bag has a headtube retaining system that uses paracord and a spring clip. This is easy to use and secure. Once cinched down and the clip is in the lock position the straps did not come loose even with heavier items inside. Restrap provide sponge spacers which fit on the straps to enable you to get you fingers behind the bag and allow more hand positions. Unfortunately because there is nothing stiffening the bag this just seemed to make the saggy bag syndrome the cannister suffered from even worse. I had no trouble with hand positions on the other two bags that don’t have these sponge spacers.
The cordura fabric is pretty bomb proof and the bag looked the same at the end of the test period as it did at the start. There are no rattles from the straps but the fixed nature of those straps and the sagginess was a disappointment. Fix these issues and it’d be a top quality item.
Wizard Works Lil’ Presto Barrel bag
Wizard Works also wanted to join in the grouptest fun and their bag is hand made by a small team in London, they sent out a Lil presto barrel bag straight away after I contacted them.
The Lil’ Presto is another cordura bag this time with a YKK “aqua guard” zip along the top. There is webbing along the front and the rear of the bag allowing many mounting options so no issues with cluttered bars or the bag being off centre. The retention system uses Voile straps and what an absolute delight these are to use, easy to cinch down or adjust even when riding. The Voile Strap fixing is easily the best out of all three systems on the test. The bag is secured around the head tube to stop unwanted movement with a paracord and spring clip. Even here there are 3 mounting points. There are no internal pockets but the bag is lined and is what Wizard Works call a “hard shell” design. in short this gives the bag structure and rigidity so no saggy bag syndrome here. The lining also stops rattles from items jiggling on the harder shell. There is a pocket externally either end of the bag but these are not elasticated
The bag proved to be durable, weather proof and I’ll admit because of the design it was the one I used to most, It has only slightly more capacity that the next biggest bag on test from Restrap but it was surprising how much stuff the Lil’ presto could take. Being able to open and close the bag was great for snacking and especially for me as I’m constantly taking the GoPro and tripod in and out if the bag. An out front computer mount may slow this down though
The lil’ presto can be used with a shoulder strap but you’ll have to buy that separately. The Wizard Works bag is around £20 more than the other two but for the numerous mounting options, the voile straps and the hard shell design I’d say it was totally worth it.
To make the bag perfect I’d add a paracord “bungy” strap to the front just for those emergency sausage roll purchases when the bag is already full. Luckily for a few quid more Wizard Works will do a custom bag including colours
All three bags on test sit low enough to run a light on the bars without effecting the light pattern on my bike but your bike might be different. The best tip for mounting I can give is give your cables and hoses a trim. Long cables sticking out the front of the bike will interfere with the bag and make it sit higher or give issues when turning the bars. Nice short (obviously not too short!) cables also look great when there’s no bag on the bike too.
You can find more details about the bags below (non affiliate links)
This was as much a test of me as it was the FFWD wheels as I was a big sceptic of carbon fibre when it comes to wheels. This stems from me buying, rightly or wrongly (that’s a whole other issue that probably needs a separate article) an open mould frameset direct from China a few years ago. It was creaky, flexy in places it shouldn’t have been and stiff where it make the ride uncomfortable. Could these wheels win over my pre conceived ideas about carbon rims? It was with intrigue I accepted the offer of a demo set of wheels from FFWD via the UK distributor Extra UK.
The Drift is FFWD’s first gravel specific wheelset. It’s available with either FFWDs own hubs or DT240 hubs, my review set came with the latter. The wheelset I tried out was one of the first available in the country and as such had had a hard life in the hands of other reviewers so they weren’t exactly pristine looks wise but the bearings were smooth. The freehub on the 240 hub is the DT EXP ratchet which on early models (as this was) had some issues of wear. This wheelset had those issues but Extra replaced the parts on behalf of DT Swiss and I can say that after the great back up from both companies I had zero hub issues throughout the test. If you are buying the wheels now they will have either a different, uprated ratchet or have been replaced with one so no worries there.
The ratchet has a very pleasing buzzing sound but the noise, or lack of, I liked most was that the 36mm deep section rims don’t make that very annoying rumble when riding on tarmac that deep section rims always seem to. This medium height also means the wheels are not eyeball shakingly stiff when riding off road. Plenty stiff enough to stop unwanted flex though. 24mm wide rims allowing up to 60mm tyres will also add to the comfort levels. I also like that the graphics on the rims aren’t BIG AND SHOUTY! as you seem to get on a lot of deep section wheels these days.
The rims are tubeless ready and come pre-taped. Just fit the supplied valves, add sealant and away you go. I tried two different companies tyres on these and both sets inflated and seated onto the rims with just a floor pump. they also held air effectively throughout the test period.
I have ridden on these wheels a lot. From familiar local routes, long days out in the Wye valley, Cannock chase, Malvern hills and weekends in Wales and they haven’t missed a beat. The biggest compliment you can give a product is when you forget about it being fitted to the bike and just get on with the riding. I’ll admit the first few rides I tested the water a lot thinking the wheels might be fragile, all part of my carbon phobia but from then on I just rode like i normally would. That is to say without finesse and with little skill! Sorry Extra UK and FFWD but these wheels have had a damn good test, down steps, over rock gardens in Wales on trails where a MTB would probably have been better. Rooty trails of muddy goodness and through the urban jungles of Birmingham. They haven’t missed a beat. If forgetting that the product is bolted to your bike is the best compliment you can give then these wheels are totally forgettable. Stiff enough for sprinting and climbing somehow they manage to be comfortable on rough down hills too. There’s some sort of carbon magic going on to achieve this.
The wheels stayed true despite my best efforts to bend them. I’ll admit I had to check them after a particularly rocky descent in Wales where I could feel the rear rim banging into the rocks and step downs on a fast section but I could see no damage and the rear tyre stayed inflated too. The spokes are aluminium and haven’t moved or needed a tweak throughout the test. At just over 1500g these wheels aren’t super light but do weigh considerably less than the alloy rims on my usual wheelset. This can be felt on climbs and accelerating the bike back up to speed after stopping. They are reassuringly not super light though and they gave me confidence that I never thought I’d have on a set of carbon rims.
There are a few carbon wheelsets in this weight range so the FFWD Drift wheels have some competition for your money but not all of those have been specifically designed for gravel riding, most are a road/gravel compromise. The Drift wheels fit the bill for UK gravel riding and could I’m sure double up as a road rim. That would in my opinion be a total waste of the design though.
As the weeks went on and I used the wheels over and over again I grew more and more confident in them and now at the end of the review period and they need to be sent back I’ve realised how much I’m going to miss them! I really don’t want to give them back and go back to my alloy rimmed wheels. The FFWD Drift wheels have if nothing else cured my fear of carbon, or this carbon wheelset have at least!
If I had the spare cash I’d splash out on a pair of the FFWD Drift wheels no question.
You can find more details on the FFWD Drift wheels from the FFWD website here
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!)