Back in August, we announced the winners of our Decathlon Summer of Cycling competition, which asked readers about their riding goals. Here, we hear from one of the winners, Ben Riddle, whose summer target was to get his motivation and confidence back after a nasty crash during his winter commute. With a number of gravel events on his list of targets this year, Decathlon furnished him with a Triban RC520 Gravel bike.
I still can’t remember exactly how I crashed my bike last winter. I slipped on wet tram lines on my commute, going down so quickly I didn’t have time to put my hand out or unclip my foot, instead hitting the road hard with my head, shoulder and face.
My helmet had taken the brunt of the impact and as it was winter I was wearing a thicker, long-sleeved jersey and leggings, which got shredded instead of my skin. Fortunately, I hadn’t done any permanent damage and the bruising subsided within a few weeks.
I had no choice but to resume my cycle commute to work, but the fall had shaken my confidence and I’d hardly been out cycling otherwise since.
In need of some motivation to get back out there I saw the competition in Cycling Plus and began researching summer sportives, eventually settling for the Grinduro Scotland event on the Isle of Arran in July and then the Dukes Weekender in Aberfolye in September.
Having first got into cycling via mountain biking many years ago before progressing onto road cycling more recently, the mix of on- road and off-road cycling really appealed. More importantly, there are no tram lines for miles around!
I also thought that practicing the bike-handling skills needed for some of the technical descents would help raise my confidence in my ability to handle a bike.
The Dukes Weekender was a great event. The route through forests, up and down hills and alongside lochs was perfect. The scenery was beautiful and the cycling included something for everyone; long hill climbs, fast gravel, flowing singletrack and technical descents.
I really enjoyed the enduro format in which only short sections were timed allowing for some serious competition in those sections, but a casual atmosphere for the rest of the ride.
While I can’t blame the entirety of my slow time at Grinduro on my heavy, full suspension mountain bike, it certainly slowed me down a bit.
Riding the Triban gravel bike at the Dukes Weekender was a completely different experience. I felt a lot faster on almost all types of terrain than before, especially the long uphill fireroad sections. The only bit I was slightly nervous about before was how it would handle the more rocky downhill sections without really fat tyres and suspension to absorb the bumps.
While there weren’t any really technical downhill sections, the gravel bike coped well with mud, roots, rocks and steep drops.
After a few local rides on towpaths and gravel tracks I realised that the tyres the Triban came with were great for solid, dry surfaces, but didn’t provide much grip on wetter, looser terrain. Knowing that I’d be facing a range of gravel types and couldn’t plan for dry conditions I decided to upgrade to some more knobbly tyres. After a bit of research, I chose 38mm Maxxis Ramblers, which proved to be perfect for the ride.
Training for and riding in these events over the summer has helped me gain my confidence. Now I’ve experienced gravel riding on a bike designed for it I think I’m hooked.
I’ll be planning some weekends to North Wales and the Lake District in the near future and re-attempting Grinduro next year.