Now in its third year, the Dirty Reiver 200 is firmly established as THE long distance gravel event in the UK, if not in Europe. Gravel aficionado Paul Errington dreamed up the event to bring the American gravel grinder experience to the UK. He has pretty much succeeded, the only difference being that it is slap bang in the remote hills and forests of Kielder, Northumberland.
The growth from the first, low-key, event in 2016 to last weekend’s extravaganza is phenomenal. Hats off to Paul and the Focal Events team, or should that be “Chapeau!”?
The Gravel Family
The enthusiasm with which this event has been taken up demonstrates how rapidly the UK gravel/adventure scene has grown.
Unless you are happy to ride around a 6 mile course for 24 hours on a mountain bike, there really aren’t any big, off-road, challenges any more and the Dirty Reiver has attracted enthusiasts from both MTB and road, curious to try something new. Could this event become the new Mountain Mayhem?
As if in tacit acknowledgement that the UK gravel format embraces all strands of the cycling family, the range of bikes on show was (almost) as wide as it can get. Gravel, CX, hardtail and even full suspension bikes made it onto the course.
The bigger we make it, the more fun we can have with itPaul Errington, Focal Events
Paul has always wanted to grow the event to the size of the Dirty Kanza. As he puts it, “the bigger we make it, the more fun we can have with it”. Rolling up on the Friday afternoon, it was clear that Paul’s dream is rapidly becoming reality.
Friday was scheduled as the ‘Gravel Expo’, an opportunity for competitors to get registration out of the way, wander around the display area, check out the latest gravel goodies from Bombtrack Bikes, Lezyne, Panaracer and Endura, to name but a few, and possibly have a cheeky beer.
Dirty Reiver is the first big event of the year and is a good chance to catch up with old friends and rivals, shoot the breeze and show off your new toys. Aided by stunning weather and brilliant sunshine, the event village was a hive of activity well into the night and the beer tent was doing a roaring trade. There were going to be some pretty sore heads in the morning…
Bright and early, a tad chilly too
I really didn’t expect to be scraping ice off the windscreen let alone drive through thick fog to get to the start. Luckily, the sun soon got its’ hat on and shone bright, but cold, as Dirty Reiver 2018 got rolling at 7:30am. Some 750 riders headed out from Kielder Castle towards the first of many fire road climbs. With almost 3,500m climbing, an endless procession of winching ascents and rolling descents, the Reiver can be a challenge too far for some riders.
The course heads south, crossing the hills of Kielder Forest before slowly looping back north towards Newcastleton. It then winds lazily back to the Castle with only a couple of short links on tarmac and three rugged rocky sections to join up massive stretches of forest road. There was even a ford to cross, which was easy to ride through but had a lot of riders taking off their socks to tip-toe through the water. Personally, the water splash was a welcome relief from the heat!
The course profile is very much a case of winching yourself up a climb, reaching the crest and then gliding down the other side at speed. People who master the skill of drifting on the loose gravel can keep the momentum going with little effort and have a smile from ear to ear. Those who haven’t quite mastered it, well, you could spot the tell-tale brake marks drifting off the road and into the undergrowth.
Food Glorious Food!
The feed stations were excellent, covering every essential food group. Chimpanzee Natural Nutrition provided energy bars and fluids so we could be free of unpleasant ‘gut bombs’ or stomach cramps! Credit to Pannier.cc and Dirty Boar Belgium who once again upped the Feed Station Game by putting on boiled potatoes, water melon and gallons of freshly ground coffee. If Carlsberg made feed stations… They wouldn’t be this good.
Camaraderie among riders was high. Wall to wall smiles could have been grimaces though! The spirit was infectious, and even the marshals appeared happy and strangely keen to stand around in the middle of nowhere, for hours on end. Joint first prize goes to the Bombtrack guys dressed up as Banana Man and a giant chicken, heckling riders at the 200km/130km switch point. If Saturday Morning TV needs a new entertainment show, give these guys a call!
This is The End!
Roughly 175km of bruising gravel later, we hit the shores of Kielder Reservoir for a final hurrah of gliding along the mercifully smooth cycle path. Beware the sometimes tricky corners which can bite if you go in too hot. I heard one guy used his face as a brake (a technique rarely seen outside of a velodrome)! Thankfully rider attrition levels were low with only 15 DNFs on the day.9 hours and 20 minutes later, I crossed the finish line at Kielder Castle to cacophony of sound. The fine weather had brought everyone out and they lined the final road climb, cheering and heckling. You won’t won’t find an atmosphere like this unless you head for Mount Ventoux during the Tour. The party atmosphere that started on the Friday continued late through Saturday evening, with riders sharing tales of their adventures out on the trails.
First rider home completed the 200km course in 7 hours and 9 minutes and last rider back to HQ 15 hours 33 minutes!
An epic ride!
Epic is an overused term but yeah, the Dirty Reiver is an epic ride. And when the weather is incredible as it was this year, no one can really disagree. You’ll feel battered and might not even be able to sit down for a while but it’s worth it!
Last year I said I’d never come back. Done the ride. got the badge, end of… But here I was once again having improved my time by an hour and already talking to new found friends about coming back for another stab at it next year.
All photos unless stated otherwise: Stephen Smith Photogrpahy
Last modified: 25th April 2018