Will Travel for Gravel
Jam Ambassadors, Fiona and Owen recently travelled up to Scotland to ride Grinduro, an awesome gravel ride on the Isle of Arran. Here’s their combined ride report with an awesome insight into the event and extremely helpful, fruit-based descriptions of the terrain …
Well actually, this was my first proper gravel ride! My first time on my new bike and my first time to the Isle of Arran.
Grinduro is an event born in the California foothills amongst the downhill, enduro and MTB hype. It is essentially a challenging ride over mixed terrain (70% Gravel) with 4 timed sections. No restrictions on bike choice with MTB, CX and even Fixed Gear bikes appearing on the start line. The event is open to riders of all abilities and ages with pro's competing against amateurs and gravel noobies, like Fiona and myself.
And now it's making its name in the UK and in particular, Arran, emphasizing the beautiful landscape, friendly locals and wilderness spirit of the island. Located an hour's ferry journey from the harbour town of Adrossan on the west coast of Scotland. A mere 5-hr train journey from central London.
It’s Friday lunchtime and riders are massing near the ferry entrance, bike boxes, bike bags and partners all in tow. Sign on is brief, chilled and easy going as we are then told where and when to meet for our ferry crossing. This gives Fiona and myself 2 hours to enjoy our DIY sandwiches along the harbour front avoiding the attempts by the seagulls to pinch our roasted veg.
Around 3pm the Captain of the Caledonian MacBrayne gives us the call and we ride over with our fully laden bikes ready to board the ferry. A quick hour journey over absolutely silky smooth waters and we arrive in Brodick where we are given two options; ride 4 miles up over the hill towards Lamlash and Grinduro HQ or wait for the minibus and the bike rack trailers and get a ride....easy choice!
We ride over the hill and then the spectacular view of the Holy Isle emerges, a small island jettisoned off from mainland Arran. Then a lovely smooth tarmac descent into Lamlash and Grinduro HQ.
We arrived in style, on our brand-new Quirk Cycles Adventure bikes - Bags packed and strapped to the frame, smiling faces and hungry stomachs. So, we went straight to the camp site and got cracking with the tent. Especially with the infamous clouds of midges starting to emerge! First day pretty much done, a few minor bike checks and then a good feed before settling down for the night.
A socially acceptable mass start time of 9.30am meant a nice relaxing morning eating breakfast amongst the other riders. Steaming bowls of Scottish Oats, freshly prepared flat whites and blueberry pancakes was the menu. And very good it was indeed!!
For me Grinduro was about fun, it's made up of 4 timed sections, 2 descents and 2 climbs. But having been racing roadie crits once a week since early June, I wasn't in it for racing today. So, with that in mind, we were typically slow to leave and almost ended up starting as the last group.
The first section involved rolling along the Lamlash coast line, taking in the views and getting to grips with our new bikes. The atmosphere throughout the day was so positive with people more than happy to chat away and discuss the various terrain on offer. The first rest stop was after around 8 miles I think, a short climb and then descent through what looked like an old quarry (plum sized rocks). This was set in the stunning grounds of Brodick Castle with a fine selection of nibbles and treats, most of them locally produced...Irn Bru, cheese, chutney and oat cakes, ice cream, gin, whiskey, Haribo, apples, flapjacks.
After a quick feed and stroll about, we hopped back on and enjoyed the tarmac road along the coast as we traversed to the north-east side of Arran. From there we cut back on ourselves and went straight into the 2nd timed section. A 4-km climb upwards on gravel, dirt roads (apricot size pebbles). Fortunately, the terrain was very dry with little to no water/mud anywhere. It was arid, dry and sandy which meant grip wasn't the best so tyre pressure was always in question. I started on 40psi in both tyres and gradually let out a bit here and now as I felt. Again, I've no experience of Gravel riding and very little of CX riding so I was guessing along the whole way.
Although events like these, whilst they are always a hard day out, they are suitable for a novice rider. The lack of a competitive nature and good spirits all over make the event friendly, unobtrusive and suitable for all abilities. After that switchback, we started heading back south towards Grinduro HQ for a proper lunch stop. As we were only 21 miles into a 51-mile route, I tried not to over eat, but it's easy said than done. The excellent catering team were serving meat and vegan options, and we didn't let the chance for a good feeding pass us by!
After Owen had eaten approximately his arm’s weight in vegetable pasta and flapjacks, we left HQ for the second half. Due to over an hour of jumping around on bean bags, and chatting to everyone and anyone at HQ we were towards the back end of the groups to leave again.
We hit the tarmac for a few miles before gravel single track, at mile 27 we started the second timed stage; the longest section of the day and it’s a climbing one right after lunch! The stage was a rolling fire road, which was awesome to have a little smash up as there's loads of room to overtake and choose your line, the terrain (strawberry sized pebbles) is easier to read than a twisted single track so you could put in an effort and still look around at the beautiful areas that fire roads often traverse.
Section complete, legs burning and somehow hungry again we found ourselves on a very welcome smooth tarmac road, this 6-mile stretch took us along the southern edge of the island starting at Pladda Isle and ending at the Velo Café in Lagg.
We've been to countless cycling cafes, and love the unique coffee and cycling culture each one brings, but Velo Café is one to revisit; it’s run by a pair of cycling enthusiasts for cycling enthusiasts, the place is full of laughter and all types of cycling memorabilia. If you visit the island be sure to make this café a food stop. We ate flapjacks, cakes, coffees and watched the last 20k of stage eight of the TDF. After definitely not over eating or over caffeinating we doubled back on ourselves to finish the last part of the route.
A mix of forest road and single track led us back up and across the island towards Whitling Bay, this track was by far my favourite the views were just incredible and the terrain was super testing at times some parts we had to step off our bike for fear of launching myself over a cliff edge (watermelon sized rocks), it was really entertaining to watch the more experienced MTB'ers shred it down the tracks and rocky switchbacks.
As we approached the final timed segment we cut through a coniferous plantation with fallen branches and roots covering the floor, choosing your route through was a puzzle; you either nailed it and snaked through the trees under dappled light like Owen, or you didn't nail it like me, I ended up catching my front wheel at an angle and flipping over the bars. Damn. Check the bike, get up, check the bike, check yourself and check the bike again. All good! Let’s roll.
The final section is a single-track descent, which was seriously uncomfortable if you had no suspension; the ground was solid dry with occasional random rocks (mango sized ones) and sections of loose sand, this was classed as a descent, but it felt like there was equal parts climbing. The solid uneven ground was hard to relax on, but easy to pick up speed on, passing through the final timing gate it was all soft pedalling to HQ...until we saw the finish line, we couldn't not do a sprint finish - O's gives me a couple seconds head start and I'm already laughing, this is always the best way to finish an epic ride on tired legs, but most importantly I won.
The rest of the evening was spent talking and eating with friends, but mainly eating. Thank you to the Grinduro fam for organising an epic event, we will be riding the California race next year to kick of a USA bike tour.