Riding a drop bar bike on gravel is tops. Like so much fun. The bacon frying sound that your tyres make when you hit the dirt, pushing up steep hills in totally the wrong gear, and enjoying the incredible feeling of freedom when you get out onto quiet country roads. It’s hard, it’s dirty, it’s exhilarating.
I’d ridden the first Gravelaide event last year, and was champing at the bit for version 2. Set in the southern vales of Adelaide, the full course offered 120km of off-tarmac magnificence. $65 got you an entry into all distances (there are shorter distances available, but like why?), which included the ride, and then a burger and a #hopsbasedsportsdrink at the finish (or 3 or whatever). The best part is that the course involves crossing private land, that the organisers get special permission for us to ride on, so you can’t actually go and ride this course at any time other than on the day of the event.
The start was at Ashbourne, around 55km south of Adelaide. With a couple of mates riding across the entire continent in the Indian Pacific Wheel Race, I was totally inspired to ride my guts out, so I rode out to the start from home. Turned out to be a bloody long day, but so tops.
The most casual sign on and event briefing ever to start an event happened, and we took off at 9. What followed was incredible. There were hard pack, white gravel roads a-plenty, the kind that most people think of when they talk about gravel, but there were long stretches made up of totally different terrain. Grey roads with round little marbles everywhere, red sandstone tracks, with larger rocks poking out, and several LOOOOOONG stretches of very soft sand. The sand lay on the track, loudly mocking my 33c tyres, and their ineptitude for the purpose. But those sections were amongst the most fun, as I’d try to ride straight lines, whilst my back wheel kept whipping out like a hipster on a fixie. There was even a creek crossing! The scenery would change from open pasture, to dense forest and back again.
I’m fairly sure the route was written when the three directors for the event would head out, and as they were riding, one would say “Hey what’s that there?” Only one would have said it, as some of the trail heads were so goddam hard to see, the other two would have missed it. Sometimes a small gate was ‘the way’. Others a small track would lead to a tiny track, which would lead to no track, and so you go forward until there is something, anything, that could be ridden. Sometimes I literally have no idea how they found out that there was a track in the direction that we went. I pity the fools who rock up to an event like this in road cleats. Christopher Walken made quite a few appearances…
Inevitably there were sections of tarmac that had to be ridden in order to link up the course, but these were few and far between. For the very largest part, there seemed a nearly never-ending series of dirty challenges to await the riders.
Getting around involved a lot of navigating. Having the route pre-loaded in your Garmin is a must. Backing that up with the turn-by turn directions would also be a hot tip for players. I wasn’t that smart, and only had the route in my computer, which certainly isn’t fool-proof. There are a lot of loops that turn around on themselves frequently, but getting a little lost is part of the experience.
But the best part? There is no clock. Well there’s a cut-off, as people have to go home eventually, but no-one gives a shit how fast you went. Doesn’t stop those that wanna go fast from doing so, but if you want to take photos, take photos. You want to roll and chat with a mate, do it. Hell if you get tired and cut the course, there’s no prize at the end, do what makes you feel good. The ride is about adventure. You get away from the hustle and bustle of things, and see something new. I don’t even need all of my digits to count the number of cars I saw on a 120km ride. The majority of the time I was even riding by myself. It is such a great experience to be out in that environment, busting yourself in half to get up a long, steep climb, feeling like you are in the middle of nowhere. No cars, no towns, barely any people, just country lanes and tracks and your bike.
If you don’t own a bike that can ride in places like this, buy one. If you do own one, ride it more. If you live near Adelaide, then watch out for the next Gravelaide. So very good. Huge thanks to the organisers, that event was superb.
You can see my ride of the event here.