Turns out gravel riding is more fun on a gravel bike | Summer of Cycling August update

Our Decathlon competition winners take us through their August highs and lows

  The products mentioned in this article are selected and reviewed independently by our journalists. When you buy through links on our site we may earn an affiliate commission, but this never influences our opinion.

Earlier this month, we announced the winners of our Decathlon Summer of Cycling competition, and shared the stories that won us over. If you’ve not yet read them, and plan to follow their journeys, then you probably should do that right now.

Advertisement

Done? Great. Onwards.

As winners of the competition, the three lucky cyclists received a brand new bike from Decathlon to help them achieve their summer cycling goals, and what’s more, they’re taking us along for the ride. Here’s what they’ve been up to and what they’re planning to do next.

Joss Winter

Joss is five weeks into a tour she devised to reconnect with family and friends around the UK.

So far, my highlight has been a 300km bikepacking weekend with a group of friends. Starting from Talybont Reservoir, we rode across mid-Wales to St David’s and back again, enjoying the many hills and garage snacks.

Joss’s bike: Triban RC 520 Disc

Since receiving my Triban RC 520 Disc, I’ve really enjoyed mixing up the terrain on my rides. Despite having zero off-road skills, gravel roads, towpaths and bridleways have been a great way of doing something different on my tour. 

Cycling to see my sister last week, I even took it around a mountain bike trail and it felt surprisingly grounded on the berms. I even got some air!

It might be 4kg heavier than my carbon racer, but it’s more comfortable (the men’s saddle was the first thing to go) and perfect for the longer routes I’ve got planned. 

Triban RC 520 Disc road bike
Joss won a Triban RC 520 Disc road bike from Decathlon.
Joss Winter

Next up: Northumberland

Next week, I’ll be in a whole new playground, with the Kielder Forest, coastal paths and minor roads of Northumberland. From there, the biggest part of my tour begins — the journey back home to the East Midlands, fully loaded. 

Over five days I’ll weave south, bivvying, and taking in the Pennine Way, Brimham Rocks, Yorkshire Dales and north Peak District. The Triban’s given me a great excuse to explore parts of the country I’d never consider driving to. 

I’m apprehensive about doing this solo but excited to push myself. I’ve bivvied alone before (only in the dry) but I’m still paranoid about the prospect of kidnap and wild animals! 

After this I have some big ideas about heading to the Alps before it gets too cold, so stay tuned to see if I keep up my dry bivvy streak and make it up all the mountains! 

Rob Jenkins

Rob is returning to cycling after a family tragedy six years ago.

When I signed up for the 2019 Prudential RideLondon I had a year to train, and boy did I need it.

Rob Jenkins Samaritans RideLondon
Rob fundraised for the Samaritans after they helped him through the most difficult time of his life.
Rob Jenkins

I started out unconfident on roads, so spent the winter with a turbo trainer. By February I was desperate to get outside again.

In March I completed the 30-mile Suffolk Spring Classic sportive in 2h 38m, so still had a long way to go if I was going to finish RideLondon in time. 

Upping the ante

My stamina was fine, but my speed wasn’t. Cue the next stage of training.

Training plans were difficult to fit into my week, so I started cycling to work and pushed myself to ride faster. It was just shy of 100km as a round trip!

Rob Jenkins Strava post
Imagine if this was your commute?!
Rob Jenkins

In early summer, I completed some 64-mile sportives within 4 hours and started feeling more confident about RideLondon.

Prudential RideLondon

On the day, the weather was glorious. I was full of nervous excitement and adrenaline.

Riding with other cyclists on closed roads through London was amazing, as was the support, which boosted my confidence ahead of the Box and Leith hills.  

Unfortunately, an accident brought us to a standstill at Ripley. The tone changed as more accidents occurred later, leading to the closure of both hills. It was disappointing but understandable.

There was still the Wimbledon Hill left to conquer, and it was tougher than I expected, 78 miles in. I walked the final few hundred metres to the top, but then it was downhill all the way!

Prudential RideLondon
With Prudential RideLondon under his belt, Rob’s already planning the next challenge.
Rob Jenkins

Up next: Sussex Downs Classic

RideLondon was amazing despite the setbacks, and I’ve made plans for my new Van Rysel from Decathlon.

I’ve entered the Sussex Downs Classic in September and chose the 78-mile route, which includes the climb up Ditchling Beacon. I’m looking forward to the challenge! 

Ben Riddle

Ben is discovering how much more fun riding gravel is… on a gravel bike.

My training for Grinduro consisted of turning a few of my commutes into short sprint interval sessions and combining this with a longer ride at the weekend, or a weekday evening when I could manage it. 

Seeking out the climbs

The regular miles certainly helped keep my base fitness up so that the distance wasn’t a problem. However Manchester’s pretty flat, and although I’ve trained in hilly areas in the past, this time around the climbing was missing from my training.

Thankfully I just got back from a holiday in hilly Normandy, where I took the opportunity to get in several rides with some serious elevation. 

Between now and the Duke’s Weekender, I’m going to extend my commute. I’ve been doing some research to create a loop out to my nearest hill for some hill reps. 

Ben’s bike: Triban RC520 gravel bike

Triban RC 520 gravel bike
Ben won a Triban RC 520 gravel bike from Decathlon.
Ben Riddle

My choice of bike for Grinduro was a 2009 Specialized FSR XC Comp — not ideal, but I can’t really blame my slower time on the bike! So I’m really looking forward to taking on a gravel race with the right tool for the job — the Triban RC 520 gravel bike, which looks great, especially next to my beaten up old Revolution Courier Race

I’ve only tested it on the road so far, but the lighter weight and smoother ride is obvious, compared to the other bikes I’ve been riding and I look forward to trying it on some local bridleways and gravel tracks very soon. 

The only potential tweak I might consider making to it is to swap the 35mm tyres for wider 42mm tyres to help on the rocky sections. 

Up next: Duke’s Weekender

I’m really looking forward to Duke’s Weekender, and doing it on the Triban. I’m keen to see how much of a difference the gravel bike makes to the enjoyment and my overall time. 

I really think that I’ll be a lot faster on the long uphill fire road sections than before. 

The only bit I’m slightly nervous about is how it will handle the technical rocky downhill sections without really fat tyres and suspension to absorb those drops. Watch this space!

Advertisement