UK Gravel unlocked…
Maddy Nutt is an elite gravel racer, racing nationally and internationally at some of the biggest off road events. We're stoked to be providing her with some mechanical support this year, so you'll be sure to see her drinking coffee on the couch here at G!RO in between tearing people's legs off at races and hooning around the local trails. For all of those keen to dip their toes in the (muddy) water's of gravel racing, Maddy has put together a great list of the best UK events in 2023.
Gravel worldwide as a cycling discipline is absolutely booming, with the first world championships last year, and races popping up globally for those more off-road inclined. (The dark side really is a better place, and I highly recommend for anyone still stuck in their roadie ways, to really reconsider where the most fun is being had…).
As a more or less full-time gravel cyclist, I have dabbled across the UK race scene and given pretty much everything this island has to offer in the form of ‘gravel’ races a good go. Anything with a high gravel to tarmac ratio has been on my race list, and I hope to share my experiences and demystify the UK gravel scene to give a good taste of which events/races may be best suited for which riders.
Battle On the Beach (25th/26th March):
The UK gravel season kicks off with an annual beach party/frenzy on the south coast of Wales. A much shorter race, only 45km in length, BOTB kicks off with a mass beach start, which can only be described as absolute carnage (but the best kind.) With riders seeded for the start, this means that anyone keen to ride around the beach and its technical dunes for the get-round can avoid this elbow colliding, but that at the sharp end there is great competitiveness. The course takes you along a long open beach stretch, and the headwind last year was almost comically horrific. (However, rumour has it that in some years this switches to a beautiful taily).
After the beach section, riders head into the forests/dunes for a mixture of fire roads and single tracks, which explains the array of bicycles people opt to bring with them to the beach. A gravel bike is definitely suitable, but some of the singletrack sections are well suited to a MTB (albeit there are tandems who have been seen taking on these tracks…!). The true best bike of choice is a beach specific race bike, but only the dutch who have commuted across the sea to dominate in their specialism will be equipped in such a way, and any off-road bike is dandy for the 3 lap sandy circuit.
Don’t miss out on the Battle In the Dark TT the night before! Super short in length, this sends riders off at 5 second intervals with lights blazing into the trails the night before the main race, to complete a short loop against the clock. A true party on wheels!
Dirty Riever (23rd April):
UK’s longest gravel ‘race’! Dirty Riever is a gravel ‘race’ that is officially not a race, but to the UK gravel keen beans, they are definitely there for a hard time not a good time, with the OTE re-fuel stations ignored and clouds of dust bringing up their rear. Aside from this speeding bunch, the Dirty Riever has 3 distances (200km, 130km and 70km) and so is suited to anyone keen to take on a challenge, or simply ride on some of the most beautiful gravel roads I have personally ridden in the UK.
Based in Kielder, the undulating course takes riders on some absolutely stunning fire roads around Kielder water and its neighbouring forests. Definitely an event you’ll want a camera at easy access for! This is a hugely popular event, and the atmosphere at the start and throughout is electric. An event one could easily rock up to solo and finish the day having made a bunch of new riding pals. I would advise on packing layers for this one! The start is particularly early and nippy, so ensure you have suitable layering, as well as snack storage on your bike/person. There are also well stocked and yummy OTE feed stations, so any emergency bonk can be salvaged!
Muck N Mack Fest: (5th-7th May)
This gorgeous family friendly festival is into its second year this year, organised by Cameron Balfour. Based at Traquiar house near Innerleithen, this is definitely a weekend to head out to with a crew of mates or the family and a good camping setup. The ‘race’ element of the weekend consists of six timed segments over two days, which leaves the rest of the weekend to sociable riding and admiring of the surroundings (another very aesthetic event, with some high quality gravel under tyre albeit it does mix in some tarmac).
Around the riding, there is plenty going on with talks and food trucks and yoga(!). As well as entertainment for any muggle family members! A truly wholesome weekend, with some great competitive riding opportunities for anyone keen to push themselves. Last year one of the stages was a horrific uphill struggle that took most people to hike a bike, whilst another stage was undulating premium gravel with some great safe descents!
The Gralloch (20th May):
The inaugural event will happen in May this year, with the UCI world series hitting Scotland! Although this event is in its first year, the setting is the same as Raiders gravel, and so I can fully confirm the quality of the gravel and the riding in this region. UCI gravel series events are mass start competitive races, suited for riders at the most competitive end of gravel riding, with slots available for the age group world championships in Veneto, Italy in October. The mass start race will take on 120km of gravel with quite a bit of climbing and will undoubtedly be very fast, with starts staggered by age group and genders and riders travelling internationally to take on this course.
Battle Gravel 100: (May 20th)
One of the few events down South based near Winchester, in Matterly bowl. The format of this event last year proved a little repetitive, with riders completing a big loop and a small loop 3 times, with the small loops being timed and added together to form the riders overall time. The event offers different distances and is one I would perhaps recommend to someone at the very initial end of trying out gravel, who is keen to do only one or two circuits. (Three proved a little too repetitive for me, especially with only a small section of the course being timed!).
Terrain wise, Battle Gravel boasted a mixture of surfaces in true UK bridleway style, and the timed section took riders around the bowl, which made it good for spectators. The format also had a strange element of riders needing to complete the event within cut-off times, which reduced the leisure to which the big loops could be completed, albeit these cutoffs were very generous.
Grinduro! (7th-9th July)
One of my absolute favourites! Grinduro! is where I first initially tried out gravel riding 4 years ago, and so has a very warm place in my heart. The weekend consists of a prologue stage on the Friday, which gives a taster of the timed stages and course the following day. The Saturday morning starts with breakfast and good coffees, and then riders are able to set off sociably to complete the course within a start window, allowing for some leisurely morning movements for those that way inclined.
The event consists of an approx 70km loop with 4 timed stages scattered across the day, with lunch splitting the day in two. However, don’t be fooled by the short distance, as it is definitely a full day out! The timed stages vary in both terrain and difficulty, with hill climbs and singletrack descents featuring in past editions. Last year’s version finished with a steep technical descent, that pushed the limits of gravel bikes, but organisers have said that the technicality will be dialled back in 2023 to keep the event inclusive for less experienced riders. In the case of more technical tracks, riders are offered A lines and easier B lines, offering an option for all!
Grinduro’s tagline is all about the party to race ratio, and the event really offers an atmosphere and party around the actual riding. Rumour has it that last year turned into a serious rave late into the night… There is also a ‘hangover ride’ on the Sunday for those ready for more riding after the night before. Definitely recommend joining this just to get more great Welsh riding out of the weekend!
Raiders Gravel: (31st August - 3rd September)
Another relatively new event, entering its second year in 2023, Raiders was an absolute treat last year and offers riders a 3 day stage race, something unique to Raiders in the UK! Based up in Galloway, Scotland, there is no denying that the never-ending gravel tracks on offer are truly glorious, and that there is no better setting for such an event in the UK. With stages ranging from 65km to 80km in length, riders set off together with pairs and individuals competing in respective age categories.
Last year featured a lot of couples entering the pairs category, so definitely one for any gravel relationship to hit up! Or an excuse to encourage your partner to join the dark side and purchase a gravel bike.. For those racing as individuals, great camaraderie was built over the weekend, with riders typically settling into similar groups of riders of the same speed each day. The undulating terrain and stage format tests racers endurance, and provides a challenge for those participating for completion! Another weekend to share with the family, with talks from inspiring cyclists/adventurers around the stages. Last year featured Jenny Tough and Emily Chappel amongst others.
Duke’s Weekender: (9th/10th September)
An absolute blast of a weekend! The Duke’s Weekender kicks off with a gravel hill climb, with an actual live drumming band and cheers from locals and supporters firing you up the climb one by one. Hill climbs are typically something I find myself a bit allergic to as a cyclist, but the atmosphere was so electric up the climb, I almost wanted to spin down and give it another crack!
This is not Surrey.
The following day, riders leisurely set off to complete a stunning course with timed sections on the way. The majority of these sections are wide and undulating, with some elements of singletrack, but nothing overly technical, keeping the event very inclusive. There is even a separate course and event for hand cycles! As well as a kid enduro and pump track, Aberfoyle really does offer something for everyone, and the pizza truck at the end of the last climb was more than appreciated!
Aberfoyle’s endless miles of beautiful gravel rightfully has given it the nickname Gravelfoyle… Who wouldn’t want to do a gravel event somewhere so renowned for the quality of the gravel riding that it has morphed into its name! Another huge appeal of Duke’s Weekender is their promotion of women’s gravel, with the event boasting 50% female participants last year! A wholesome weekend for every type of rider, with those completing the weekend entirely for a fun time all the way up to professional riders competing for the podium spots. (Tree trunks!).
Kings Cup/British Gravel Champs: (15th-17th September)
A strange definition of gravel, Kings Cup provides a mixture of terrain, from gravel to grass, to bits of sand and mud- this is definitely more of a loose definition of gravel. The course is quite short in comparison to big international gravel races (76 km), and so brings in a field of competitors from all backgrounds of cycling.
A non-technical flat course, the race is separated into different waves for different age groups who seek to be crowned British champion, winning the national champ jersey or masters jerseys! With competitors completing set number of laps of the circuit dependent on their age. The festival weekend itself, going into its third year, has something for everyone, from an absolutely popping night ride to a gran fondo for those not too fussed on the racing element of the weekend, or for those to add some more miles into their legs after racing!
Another one for the whole family, the event is really slickly organised and has a lot going on. (From coffee vans to food trucks to beer!). Definitely make the most out of the weekend and enter more than just the British Champs!
I hope this guide provides useful when assessing UK gravel offerings! A lot of these events are hugely popular, and sell out within a day of releasing entries, so it is definitely recommended to keep an eye out for updates and follow their social channels. I’ll be at a couple of these again this year, so definitely say a hello if they do make it onto your calendar!
Also not Surrey.
Blistering heat, deep sand, long climbs and extremely remote terrain make the Rhino Run one of the hardest off-road unsupported bikepacking races in the world.
This year, Abdullah Zeinab rode his Curve GXR (AKA Kevin) to victory in just 7 days, 20 hours, and 4 minutes after an exciting hard fought battle with Kevin Benkenstein (Benky), who finished only 17 minutes later on a prototype Curve Karoo.
Curve were good enough to send us over some shots of Abdullah’s GXR when it arrived back at Curve HQ, still covered in premium Namibian dust.
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