3rd June 2021 / Comments (0)

Five minutes with… Focal Events

Dirty Reiver Regional

For those who aren’t aware of Focal Events and maybe don’t realise they’ve attended an event run by you, why not give us 90 seconds on who you are and why you do what you do…

We (Bryan and Andy) are a small company based in the North West of England and have been organising or involved with events over many years. Both long term riders, in many guises, we have between us quite a few years on the trails under our belts. Focal Events came about through our passion for offering a great rider experience, a memorable day on the bike, an adventure to remember.

After all this is why we choose to ride. In the past years we have organised road sportives, beach races, the Dirty Reiver as well as having an involvement with Grinduro in their first ventures outside of the US. More recently we have introduced events such as The Distance with its focus on ‘bikepacking with benefits’, at a different venue each year and The Frontier 300, a gravel coast to coast in a day.

Andy delivering the rider briefing at The Distance

How did you get into putting on events?

Both escapee teachers, I think we’d had enough at the ‘chalk face’ and were looking for other challenges. Bryan was doing a series of Lakes based road sportives and I joined him to help with running them. Both being MTBers, we soon took it off road, with the Kielder 101, and out of that came the Dirty Reiver, as it was obvious many riders were happy to tap out long distances on fire roads, without the need for more technical MTB trails.

Without dwelling on the bad bits of 2020 too much, what effect has the year had on Focal Events, positive and negative?

It has been a tough year for event organisers with many not taking any income for quite some time. Other than the financial challenges we have been trying to keep abreast of developments for events that are several months down the line. Landowners are being cautious with issuing permits and different regions having different rules makes forward planning tough.

We are not just making these decisions for ourselves but for the riders and the event partners. Everyone has expectations that we are trying to manage. With no actual events possible, there’s been a lot (a very lot) of admin and paperwork (yawn). I’ve (mostly) enjoyed home-schooling my three kids and feel lucky to have had so much time with them. Having the Lakes so quiet, and often in great weather, has been great too.

How difficult was it to manage your communications to entrants with all the postponements in the calendar?

Event administration is one of the biggest jobs, with cancellations come rider options to transfer or refund and all of this takes time to try and make sure we respond to everyone and get the requests right. Inevitably we get riders who miss emails or who have changed address so we are constantly getting requests. We just hope that we do not miss anyone out!

On the gravel spectrum

We’ll have to wait a little longer for the first Frontier 300. Photo: Dan Monaghan

How do you go about mitigating the environmental impact of events?

There’s a number of things we can do, both out on the courses and at event centres. We’ll always try to use local suppliers and more sustainable consumables (reducing plastic cutlery etc). We always aim to make travel by rail possible and love to see people arrive on their bikes.

We minimise trail damage by avoiding soft ground where possible and liaising well in advance with landowners on wildlife etc. and pride ourselves on removing course marking, signage and litter within a couple of days.

You work with some great partners (sponsors etc) – tell us a bit about those.

We’ve been really lucky to have had great event partners from the first Dirty Reiver. Panaracer, Endura, Lezyne and Lauf are brands that feel an integral part of the weekend, because the people they bring offer so much. The team at Lyon Cycle are full of original and fun ideas – who can forget the Bombtrack Banana dude and Chicken, along with the massive bell of power.

Newer brands such as Weldtite, Hunt and Altura too, put so much into making the Dirty Reiver weekend such a success and having Shimano technical support really brought that side up to pro level. Few of our events would be possible without Forestry England and Scottish Forestry though and particular mention should go to Alex and his team at Kielder.

If you had to pick one of your events as your favourite, which would it be and why?

Well, the Dirty Reiver has become an annual gathering, meeting up and working with many of the same people year after year, so that’s special. The three years of Grinduro on Arran were amazing – the locals really got behind it and the island itself is special. Then there’s The Distance, which sees riders of hugely different experience and abilities arriving at the finish together and sharing tales of the day’s riding. Do we have to pick one..?

G&Ts at The Distance, surely?

What do you see as the next evolution of bike events? More e-bike? Longer distance?

I am not sure about e-bike yet. Maybe the demographic is for a different type of rider who is more focused on the leisure side of things? There is certainly a market for longer distance, but the more extreme the event then the more specialised the field. Longer bikepacking events are ticking that box nicely.

Two types of event that are really making their mark are festival based events such as Ard Rock and Grinduro and aspirational events – those that really inspire riders. I think ‘Gravel’ has really opened up off-road riding again to the masses. Anybody can find some mixed surface, on/off road riding from their back door and this leads them to want more challenge, in amazing places.

Any funny stories? Any horror stories?

One particular story sticks out which we often recall to riders. It involved a swapped entry at the Dirty Reiver. One rider, who shall remain anonymous, passed his entry to another rider without letting us know. When they forgot to hand in the timing chip at the finish we started to get concerned. After several checks and rechecks (late into the night) we followed up with a call to the emergency number. Long story, short. This meant we woke up the other rider’s partner to say that they had not returned! As you can imagine it was a difficult call but we got there in the end and sorted it all out. I can only imagine how it might have gone in a medical emergency.

Not getting off the ferry in time as it left Arran, after helping to load bikes, is funny looking back on it. It meant two hours sat on the ferry while I should have been overseeing logistics on the island. At least I got to listen to England on their way to winning the Cricket World Cup. That was actually the last actual event day we did – July 14th 2019.

Not saying your events aren’t already dreamy BUT where would you hold one if you could do anything?

It’s hard to beat being on an island, and Scotland has the best islands on the planet…… New Zealand? Montana in the US? So many places.


Grinduro on Arran will be hard to beat. Photo: Sam Needham

Do you have any new events you want to talk about right now?

Well, our next is due to be The Distance on July 10-11th. We’ve had to replan it all twice now due to covid restrictions, but we’re all set to go now, for a fun packed weekend of ‘Bikepacking with benefits’ in the North York Moors

Last modified: 3rd June 2021

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