BikeRadar’s best rides of 2020 | 6 epic road, gravel and MTB adventures

"Cycling is the tonic to the chaos surrounding us"

BikeRadar's best rides of 2020

We’ve all spent quite enough time dwelling on the low points of 2020, so we have decided to wrap up the year on a positive note and look back at some of this year’s riding highlights from across the BikeRadar team.

Advertisement MPU article

Perhaps due to an absence of pretty much anything else to do, 2020 has been something of a vintage year for riding for us. From multi-day bikepacking epics to local gravel exploration, we’ve packed in a huge amount of riding throughout the year. We even made videos about some of it.

Here, we run through six of our road, gravel and mountain biking highlights from throughout 2020. If you want to see more like this, be sure to give BikeRadar a follow on Komoot.

Robyn Furtardo – across the desert of Wales

The desert of Wales bikepacking
‘The desert of Wales’ really does live up to its name.
Robyn Furtado / Immediate Media

In September, I took a few days off work to ride across Wales from Bristol to Bangor, picking up any interesting-looking gravel along the way.

This day’s ride was in the middle of the tour, through what is nicknamed ‘The Desert of Wales’ because of its remoteness, inaccessibility and lack of roads.

It really does live up to the name – I saw barely anyone all day, other than the long line of sports cars queuing up to have their photo taken next to the Elan dam. Despite this, it was a beautiful day of cycling. I found it hard not to stop every kilometre or so to take photos.

In the morning, I rode out of Rhayader along Claerwen Reservoir, which has a lovely gravel section all the way along it, with amazing views over the dam.

The desert of Wales bikepacking
The scenery in this part of the world is stunning.
Robyn Furtado / Immediate Media

Beyond the reservoir, the route climbs up onto the moors, where it got quite bumpy and rough for a gravel bike. I shared this section with a herd of unfortunate sheep who panicked as soon as they saw me, dashing about 100 metres in front to get away, only to have to run another 100 metres when I caught them. I ended up herding them for at least a mile before they realised they could run off the path to get away.

After this section, the route passes the Devil’s Bridge and Nant-Y-Moch reservoir.

There is some very remote gravel over this section, as well as one river crossing, which took me by surprise. I opted to cross barefoot rather than get wet shoes (something of a mistake as the water was icy cold even though it was still summer).

Glaslyn Nature Reserve The Chute
This sign was very accurate.
Robyn Furtado / Immediate Media

The end of the day was spectacular, riding through Glaslyn Nature Reserve and onto ‘The Chute’, which is a slippery, rocky ridgeline with a sign that warned ‘extreme caution’ when riding. It wasn’t totally rideable on my bike, but was worth it for the views over Snowdonia.

It was an excellent ride, and somewhere I’m excited to return to next year.

Simon Bromley – a summer of racing

Simon Bromley of BikeRadar in a Bristol South skinsuit riding the Classics League course
The Bristol South CC Classic League TTs were the highlight of my week throughout the summer.
Andrew Legge

2020 was, I’m sure most people will agree, a difficult year. With everything going on I didn’t get that many epic days out on the bike. There were a few, and I was tempted to choose a day riding in the Scottish hills with Graeme Obree and Marcel Kittel, on Endura’s Hardcore Roadie launch in early March (before the first UK lockdown).

With all that time spent cooped up indoors though, away from our nearest and dearest, my favourite ride (or ‘rides’, as I’m going to talk about a series) of 2020 ended up being Bristol South CC’s mid-week time-trial series around Chew Valley Lake, in Somerset.

The series ran in a socially distanced fashion from 15 July through to 27 September, and was an absolute joy. It had been a while since I’d raced consistently, and stuffing a number into a skinsuit, donning a pointy helmet and some expensive socks, and swinging my leg over a silly bike, to face off against some friends in a race against the clock, was consistently the highlight of my week.

The 13.5km course itself (UC251, for Cycling Time Trials aficionados) isn’t particularly challenging on its own ­­– it’s simply one lap of Chew Valley Lake, starting from outside the picnic-area car park on the lake’s northern side.

But, it’s a great sporting course with an early climb to tempt you into overcooking yourself, a draggy section around halfway that feels like it lasts forever, and some fast descents and corners to test your nerve.

The local council even saw fit to add a gravel section at one point during the series (it resurfaced a section of road with chip-seal). As you can imagine, the added jeopardy was great fun on a time-trial bike with 23mm tyres.

All that’s left then is to say a huge thank you to all the Bristol South CC members who generously volunteered to make the series happen. I can’t wait for next year’s series.

Tom Marvin – a 143km XC epic

Tom Marvin selfie
A 143km XC epic was the highlight of my summer’s riding.
Tom Marvin / Immediate Media

Smiles, not miles, is how I usually measure my rides – a great day out can be had in a ride just 15km long (though, I usually aim for plenty of ups and downs within those short few kilometres). However, now and again I’ll stretch the legs and put in a slightly more ambitious effort.

With summer in full swing and a little more geographic freedom available, my riding locale expanded towards the Chilterns, where my buddy Nick is based. He’s well-versed in pulling me round longer-than-average XC rides, and had a 143km loop ready and waiting.

With the promise of not only the best bakery in the M4 corridor but also a brewery stop with excellent pizzas en-route, and with a rather spangly Orbea Oiz in my possession, it seemed rude to ignore his invite.

The route took in a ton of little singletrack trails through dry, buff woodland, with plenty of drifty corners, flat-out sprints and punchy rooty climbs. But, along the way, there was enough double track for us to make ample progress around the loop without the ride extending into the realms of never-ending drudgery.

Tom Marvin sending absolutely huge jump
Noodlin’ around in the woods doing daft jumps was a real highlight of the day.
Tom Marvin / Immediate Media

Shortly before the (excellent) West Berkshire Brewery pizza/pint stop there’s a little piece of woodland with a few funny jumps dug into the dirt. With our table booking 30 minutes later, we spent a pleasant 20 minutes shredding the gnar on our cross-country bikes, pretending we were half-competent in the air. In reality, neither of us are.

I was not impressed by Nick's energy levels.
I was not impressed by Nick’s energy levels.
Tom Marvin / Immediate Media

I’ll admit that by kilometre 120, my legs were starting to feel a touch heavy. No such worries for Nick who decided to nab a cheeky KOM along the way – fair play so deep into the ride. I may have uttered the odd grumble as I saw his backside disappear up said climb!

Chelsea Bun
The humble Chelsea bun is the ultimate recovery snack.
Tom Marvin / Immediate Media

All in, the loop took in 143km with 1600m of climbing and took us 6 hours and 25 minutes of pedalling, and it burnt 5,923 calories – most of which I replaced with pizza, Chelsea buns, sausage rolls, Clif bars and a Maccy D’s on the way home.

George Scott – an adventure straight from the door

Komoot ride George Scott
I used lockdown to explore some of the best gravel trails around Bristol.
George Scott / Immediate Media

In a year when the world closed down and our immediate surroundings opened up, my most memorable ride is one that captures the spirit of 2020: a solo exploratory adventure from the front door.

I moved from London to Bristol in July 2019 and had my Mason Bokeh gravel bike built at the turn of the year, with the intention of exploring the South West through 2020. That’s proved to be the case, if not exactly as I’d expected.

Still, the near-endless sunshine of spring – the sunniest on record in the UK – provided the opportunity to really get to know this corner of England, at a time when we were otherwise confined to our homes.

At the end of April, I pieced together a route circumnavigating the city, selecting gravel highlights on Komoot and relying on the route planner to do the rest. The result was a 50-mile loop piecing together hard-packed bridleways baked under a blue sky, and traffic-free roads relinquished from the grip of motor vehicles.

Gear of the Year George Scott
When a gravel bike gives you views like this, why would you ride on the road?

The highlights? A steep road ascent that soon turned to dust and continued to climb, with sweeping views back across the city; riding through spring wildflowers on the Monarch’s Way, which follows the escape route taken by King Charles II in 1651 after being defeated in the Battle of Worcester; and the soft crunch of mile-upon-mile of gravel beneath my tyres.

I’d return to much of the route through the summer, linking together new lanes and remembering that sometimes the best riding is right on your doorstep.

Far-flung adventures and overseas riding ambitions may have been put on hold this year, but one thing has remained constant through 2020: cycling is the tonic to the chaos surrounding us.

Jack Luke – a daft 277km fixed-gear smash

Jack Luke Isle of Portland
My 277km ride from Bristol to the Isle of Portland and back stands as a real highlight of 2020.
Jack Luke / Immediate Media

The Isle of Portland on the south coast of England is one of my favourite places in the UK.

The tied island is pockmarked by vast quarries left after centuries of mining activity and is connected to the mainland by a huge shingle causeway.

That heavily worked landscape, a semi-underground prison perched on a cliff and the strange horizon-less skies give the island a slightly mysterious feel, and I’ve tried to visit at least once a year since moving to Bristol.

While Covid restrictions eased for a time in the summer, getting the train to the island for such a frivolous reason seemed dumb, so I decided to get my yearly fix by riding there and back… in a day.

Aero extensions on flat road
I fitted aero extensions for the ride. These were amazing when smashing through the Somerset levels.
Jack Luke / Immediate Media

For a bit of added spice, I decided to do the ride on my Surly Steamroller fixed gear bike. Other than grinding over the Mendips at either end, the 277km route was fairly rolling and I thought doing it fixed would be a fun challenge.

Leaving early-ish, I ground up Dundry and East Harptree to the top of the Mendips before suffering while spinning at roughly one zillion RPM on the long descent into Wells.

I then went through hours-upon-hours of largely flat riding through the eastern edge of the Somerset Levels towards Yeovil, before trending westward through Dorchester and onto Weymouth.

Jack Luke Isle of Portland
Portland Bill was the Southernmost point of my ride.
Jack Luke / Immediate Media

After the fierce climb onto Portland proper, I arrived at Portland Bill… and then turned around did it all again.

The weather was sublime, with wall-to-wall sunshine all-day and a gentle tailwind to push me all the way home.

Jack Luke laying on floor
I spent quite a long time like this after the ride.
Jack Luke / Immediate Media

After 14.5 hours out of the house, I ended the day with no sunburn (a miracle for this pale Scotsman) and a well-deserved beer.

If you’re based in the South West and fancy a challenge, I highly recommend doing the route over three days and spending the second day exploring the island. It’s a really special place and you won’t regret it.

Alex Evans – a new-found playground

Alex Evans top of Golfie Innerleithen
I have loved getting to know my new home in the Tweed Valley.
Alex Evans

Scotland’s Tweed Valley is not only famous for textiles and beautiful scenery, but also for hosting the UK’s Enduro World Series round at the Tweed Love festival, being the home-ground to downhill’s 2020 World Champion Reece Wilson (among a host of other top-level riders), and for the types of trails that go hand-in-hand with this sort of talent.

I’m lucky enough to be blessed with this terrain on my doorstep, now I call Scotland’s Tweed Valley my home. Not only is this great for my job testing kit as BikeRadar’s technical editor, but it has also been amazing for my mental health as I’ve been getting to grips with the valley’s diverse and extensive trail network during 2020.

Thanks to Scotland’s land-access rights and a super-engaged volunteer trail association (who have a great relationship with Forestry Land Scotland), most of the wild trails fall within the official body’s zoning scheme, which is set aside for key areas of countryside for mountain bikers, the Golfie included.

Officially named Caberston Forest, the Golfie’s unofficial title is given for the trails’ proximity to a golf course, but don’t let images of pruned greens fool you into believing the trails are tame.

Top of the Golfie Innerleithen
Though modest in height, the hill boasts some spectacular views over the whole valley.
Alex Evans

The hillside is steep, rocky and rooty and covered with conifers that cast day-long shadows onto the trails below, meaning they take a while to dry out and are frequently shrouded in darkness. Don’t let that put you off though, because the ground has plenty of traction even when it’s saturated. And, once your eyes have adjusted, it’s possible to pick out obstacles with ease, as long as you’re wearing clear lenses!

Flat White, New York New York and Repeat Offender are all staples, and after you’ve hit a run of each you’ll be getting close to 1000m of elevation change.

Flat White’s rock-riddled route takes in corner after corner as it traces its way through a maze of young trees, although it doesn’t use the full elevation of the hill, the fastest Strava time is still just under two minutes for a full run.

New York New York and Repeat Offender start out on the top of the moorland and are both deep in the woods with steeper, rocky sections interrupted by slightly faster bits of trail. Both are around three minutes long and require 100 per cent concentration from top to bottom, thanks to tight turns around trees and sniper roots hidden beneath the rocky soil.

Advertisement MPU article