I recently rode the inaugural UK edition of the Grinduro on the Isle of Arran on the west coast of Scotland with colleague, racing partner and gravel diva Reuben Bakker-Dyos. I’m now ready to report back on what we learned from our — as is now typical of anything we undertake — rather eventful adventure.
- Horse for the Course: Grinding away at Grinduro
- 5 things we learnt about gravel racing at the Jeroboam 300km
1. Arran is as good as the hype suggests
Despite being only a few hours drive from where I grew up in the Highlands, I’d never actually made the journey over the Firth of Clyde from Ardrossan to the Isle of Arran before the Grinduro.
Arriving a few days earlier than Reuben to cover the launch of Fabric and Charge’s new wares for 2018, I began my stay by enjoying a beer on the deck of the ferry over to the island (a hard life, I know), giving me the opportunity to take in the incredible views of this very special place.
- Charge goes steel for 2018 Plug and Cooker
- Fabric launches funky new pumps, saddles, lights and more for 2018
Divided by the Highland Boundary Fault, Arran is often said to be like a miniature version of Scotland, with the more mountainous northern end of the island dominated by the towering granite mass of Goat Fell, while the more low-lying southern end feels considerably more bucolic.
Arran has long been a popular destination for cyclists, with the quality of the roads and trails that circumnavigate and cut through the island said to be among the best out there.
Despite only having time to sample a small selection of what was on offer, I would have to agree that it’s some of the best riding I’ve ever enjoyed in Scotland.
If you fancy visiting Arran for a riding jolly you can catch a train from Glasgow to Ardrossan every half hour or so, with the hour-long ferry journey to the island costing a mere £3.80 for cyclists travelling without a car.
Trust me, if you’re ever in this part of the world you’d be a fool not to visit.
2. A ‘gravel enduro’ is the most accessible and fun racing format out there
I’ve been lucky enough to take part in a bunch of really great events this year — some really hard, some very eventful — but I can say without doubt that the Grinduro is the most fun ‘race’ I’ve done in years.
Reuben recently described me as a part-time cyclist — which isn’t strictly true, I just choose to distract myself with other stupid cycling pursuits — and I’m happy to admit to the fact that I definitely go through waves of being interested in training to ride hard. Thus, the Grinduro was the perfect race for cycling-slackers like me.
With only four short timed sections on the day, I could cruise the remaining 80-ish-percent of the course at a “conversational pace”, enjoying the scenery, persistent rain and good company, and riding hard only when it suited my listless temperament (a temperament only made less-fussed by the copious quantities of amber nectar quaffed on the run up to the event).
In the end I finished fifth in my category and 29th overall (I clearly hadn’t drunk enough) and enjoyed feeling fresh before every one of the stages, some of which were stupidly technical for a gravel bike, and all the beautiful riding in between.
3. A gravel bike with slick tyres was not the right choice for the day
I’ve really put my Velo Orange Pass Hunter Disc through the works this year and I think the Grinduro might have been the #tangerinedreamboat’s greatest test yet.
I had hoped to recreate the ‘wheel-mullet’ setup that I ran at the Dirty Reiver for the Grinduro, but a last minute shortage of appropriate tyres — in other words, I forgot to get a hold of the tyres I needed before the event — forced me to go on the scrounge around the BikeRadar office and a pair of 650x47c WTB Horizon tyres was all I could find in time.
- The Wheel Mullet — experimenting with different sized wheels for gravel racing
- WTB rolls out three new-road tyres
Mounted up to a pair of Hunt Adventure Sport wheels, these plump-puppies ballooned up to a reassuringly chunky size that felt absolutely incredible on fire roads, tarmac and broken surfaces.
While not quite as fast rolling on smooth surfaces as the 700x35c Compass Bon Jon tyres I’ve been testing, the grip that the Horizons offer in the corners is quite unlike anything else I’ve tried before.
However, they were absolutely not the right choice for the singletrack sections that made up a lot of the Grinduro course.
The Horizon's very light chevron patterned tread did a surprisingly good job in these sections, but I spent a lot of my day sideways and on more than a few occasions on the ground.
It didn’t really matter of course as I was just out there to have fun, but a hardtail mountain bike with a mud-friendly tread was definitely the right choice for the day.
4. We’re not as hard as Graham Cottingham or Stu Allan
These two are notable for their seriously impressive, fixed-gear, trans-Scotland exploits, so it should come as no surprise that they decided to tackle the 80km Grinduro course on almost-matching Surly Steamrollers.
I rode the second half of the course with the fixie king (Stu) and prince of Scotland (Graham) — along with honorary GoPro-er in Reuben’s absence, Benedict Pfender — and they spent their time just behind me on descents and miles in front on a lot of the climbs. Seriously impressive stuff on a single-gear, one-brake setup.
I clearly wasn’t the only one who was impressed because the duo took home the Spirit of Grinduro Award — a special edition Grinduro Charge Plug.
5. You can’t ride a bike if your hand looks like this
Poor Reuben tried his best to ride with his swollen flipper-like-phalanges on the day, but after only 10km he was forced to pull out because he was likely to damage his already injured paw on the relatively savage course.
He’s been off the bike for a few weeks now and it’s driving him crazy. Leave positive healing vibes in the comments below!
Were any of our readers at the Grinduro on Arran? Or are any of you planning on attending the event in California? Leave your snaps from the event in the comments below!