Rapha Prestige is a worldwide series of unsupported and unmarshalled (invitation only) rides taking participants across “stunning terrain”. The UK iterations for 2018 were based in the Cotswolds, London and Manchester, for the off-road ‘cross’ edition. Each ride was about 50 miles.
The basic idea is simple. Teams of four navigate a set course. The key word is ‘team’. Start together and finish together….sort of like the four musketeers on bikes!
Wearing Rapha kit is not a requirement but it would probably make you fit in better!
This was the second outing on these Rapha rides for team ADVNTR. In 2016 we hit the trails at Cannock Chase and had a blast. So we were keen to see what Manchester had to offer.
Corralling all the good folk at ADVNTR for an event, is akin to herding cats so we like to share rides with friends. This time around, we hooked up with Rich and Shona of Keep Pedalling.
Keep Pedalling are adventure bike specialists based in Manchester. They stock All-City, Surly, Salsa and Bombtrack, all well established and respected brands in adventure bike circles. Don’t wander into the shop in search of a carbon road bike or time trial bike…they just won’t be able to help. After all, when was the last time you saw a Cervelo P5 or a BMC Timemachine offroad, half way up a mountain?
Don’t expect to buy stuff from them online either. They don’t do web sales. John often regales us with tales of “back in the day” when cyclists would drive for hours to visit shops with a particularly good reputation, eschewing more local (decent) but less well respected, establishments. Of shops that were so low profile they took ages to find, but which were wedded to the idea of high quality, personal service. Well Keep Pedalling is the 21st Century version. As for driving hours to get there…they have customers from Germany and Finland coming to see them so they must be doing something right!
If you are in any doubt of Rich and Shona’s adventure cycling credentials, it is not unknown for them to shut up shop and head to Wales for a spot of bikepacking. Jumping on the train for the outward leg, they do their stuff and then ride home. Among their palmares, they recently took part in the Silk Road Mountain Race and finished. Unlike some of the big name entrants.
Having said that, they certainly know how to graft at their business. This week, they have been up at 4am every day, starting work early building wheels and bikes for customers.
Their independent business ethos and idiosyncratic lifestyle make them the complete antithesis of the corporate monster that is Rapha.
And so to the event
Rich and Shona were on their matching Salsa Cutthroats fresh from the Silk Road Mountain Race. Equipped with dynamo hubs and enough gears to see them traverse mountain ranges with more ease than a mountain goat they were well set up for the forthcoming ride.
I took along an All-City Gorilla Monsoon. The 650b x 2.4 tyres meant comfort or grip were never going to be an issue.
Nigel, always the black sheep in any group ride, shunned drop bars in favour of a flat bar touring setup. His Surly Bridge Club even came equipped with a large, front mounted, pizza rack. He insisted in loading what appeared to be Santa’s sack onto this rack. Loaded with who knows what, it was a conversation topic with many riders on the Prestige. Maybe he just wanted to use it “because it was there”. Who knows? We have long ago given up trying to fathom the background to his rack obsession.
Rule one: “Teams of four must ride together, stick together and finish together”. Except that no one kept to this rule, and no one enforced it. Some riders appeared to break away quite early and do their own thing, while others were dropped if they had a mechanical.
The ride is self supported, which seems to mean there is no ‘paper trail’ of arrows tied to lamp posts for you to follow. If this is what you want, you need a sportive.
Rapha sent everyone a GPX of the route 48 hours before the ride. Thus equipped, we set off at 8:30am following the squiggly line on our GPS devices. [Isn’t this just an up to date version of arrows on lamp posts? Ed]
We started off wit a gentle bimble out from central Manchester, through the commercial district. Clean, glass shop fronts eventually gave way to disused and derelict warehouses, and then onto suburban sprawl. We escape Manchester eventually and wend our way to the Derbyshire border.
Other than canals, we seemed to skirt a lot of golf courses and country parks. The route could be summarised as a trip through the Manchester outskirts via a series of large DIY Superstores, a peep at the edge of the Peak District via Stockport and back into the city centre.
There were two checkpoints on the 50ish mile route. With classic Mancunian tunes from Morrisey and the Stone Roses thumping away, Rapha were making sure no one forgot where we were. Get a stamp to prove you made the stop (no one will bother about checking), perk yourself up with some fresh coffee from the Rapha Broom-wagon and off you go.
To coin a popular Surly phrase, Racing Sucks. So we took our time stopping for photos, and savouring the views of the Peak District. The rest of the route was not exactly picturesque!, Wending our way back into suburbia, we were hit with walls of graffiti and rubbish strewn canals. This was Urban Gravel. Not to sound negative, the riding was fun, the route was varied and for James and Nigel at least, a change from Forestry Commission plantations and farmland gravel tracks.
This is the end
Maybe we took it too easy. By the time we rolled up at the Rapha Clubhouse, our fellow riders had drunk all the beer and slurped up all the soup. Unperturbed, Shona and Rich led us through the packed streets and alleys to a better place. Away from the incessant loop of “Manc Hits” (how many times can you hear How Soon is Now in one day?), with just the background tunes of traffic and bustling shoppers, we chatted about our day over pancakes and coffee.
I’m not sure this ride delivered the ‘stunning terrain’ we had been promised. Still, it was different. We had spent time with fun and interesting people. We had ridden our bikes. I’ll take that any day of the week!
Here’s our ride mapped out Komoot. There’s some additional squiggly lines as we rode out from our hotel and back again after the Prestige.
Our thanks to Shona and Rich of Keep Pedalling. Visit their website here: www.keeppedalling.co.uk
And a big thanks to Ison Distribution for the loan of the All-City Gorilla Monsoon and Surly Bridge Club for the Rapha Prestige.
Last modified: 11th November 2018