Want mud, skinny tyres, gravel roads, mad fun – meet gravel biking

Grinduro is a race concept straight out of the sunshine of California, and it landed crash bang onto the Isle of Arran, 7800 km and a world away. The parched roads and sunshine of the west coast of the US gave way to the lush landscapes and rolling hills of the west coast of Scotland for the most fun event ever.

 

The route comprised a 76.6km loop on Arran taking in all types of terrain, gravel road, smooth dirt, muddy roots and panoramic paths. 4 timed sections within the loop made up the actual race so most of the day’s ride was at a relaxed pace, skimming over the kilometers, chatting to people who had traveled from all corners of the UK and from the US to ride around this beautiful Scottish island.  A description of the race stages wouldn’t do any justice to the Giro Grinduro event. Who won did matter to those who stood on the podium but that wasn’t what it was about. It was about friendly people on a mad mixture of bikes pedaling around in the pouring rain together. This was the second wettest I’ve ever been on a bike, the number one spot goes to a ride where I had to wade across a river up to my waist but it was still one of the best days I’ve ever spent on a bike.

Arran Grinduro

I started the day alone, my planned ride buddy had a last minute change of plan and I sat amidst strangers. These strangers were dressed differently than my normal ride companions, less baggy shorts and knee pads and more peaked caps and leather shoes. But beyond that, there were definitely similarities, muscled calves, smiling faces and patchy tans united everyone – plus more than a few beards.

 

I was alone only briefly, being taken under the wing of a pair of riders who welcomed me to join their ride under the understanding that “party pace wins the race”. After a brief chat, we found friends and acquaintances in common, something that I find a lot within cycling. Small local groups of riders are networked together by friendships, a common love of cycling and the freedom that it brings. Off my small group rolled into the hills, climbing on gravel roads for a few short kilometers before the first timed stage started.

 

Rain sprinkled us and low cloud kept visibility low as we pedaled as fast we could up the timed gravel climb. Only vague estimates of timing helped govern pace and the summit could have been just around the corner or several kilometers further up the hill. The first bike casualty of the day was being wheeled up the hill by its annoyed owner, chain snapped under the pressure of strong legs.

Arran Griduro

Dropping off the gravel on to tarmac we enjoyed the rush of an easy descent towards the first feed station, refreshed by the usual snacks and pocket stashed with Arran cheese for later we prepared to get back on up the hill. One of the group said they wanted a coffee from across the road in the cafe hosting the feed station. Not a fan of urns of instant I prepared myself to politely drink a milky polystyrene cup to keep warm and sociable while the others re-fueled. To my delights and I suspect that of a lot of riders, already drenched from the rain, the Velocafe on Arran does not do instant coffee! With an interior that would be at home on the top of a French col, the Velo Cafe is decorated with Tour photos, col souvenirs and old French newspapers celebrating the greatest of races, and most welcome of all, a proper steaming espresso machine doing the hardest days work its life. Espresso followed cappuccino with orders shouted out above the hubbub and riders gratefully added guilt free sugar to their cups.

Then followed the hardest part of any bike ride, leaving the warmth and comfort of a cafe and heading back out into the rain but leave we must.

 

Groups of riders headed back out onto the quiet roads of Arran, the boundary between groups was fluid and we merged and separated from other groups with the convivial conversation borne of shared experience flowing between us. The most technical section of the ride lay ahead, a whooping trail through trees, definitely a section that flattered those that chose to ride mountain bikes over the more common dropped bar and narrow-tyred bikes. The rain had made it a different proposition to the smooth trail it must have been only days before, muddy corners and slippery roots made the experience wild and squeaks of joy mingled with fear could be heard amongst the trees.

Arran Grinduro

After a brief return to base to enjoy a hot lunch, coffee and mechanical assistance, riders headed out once again to complete the second part of the course. Proceedings were slightly delayed by a local festival where the town of Lamlash crowned Alyssa McGarrie as the 2017 Heather Queen and riders took welcome refuge so as not to affect the event.

 

More rain, more mud and more lunatic fun followed and we whooped up and down trails I didn’t think possible on skinny tyres and drop bars. As I rode I gained confidence as my tyres found grip where I had doubted they would and the riding position began to feel more natural. After all the timed stages were completed, the course took in a flamboyant loop, tired legs pedaled and pushed to the final summit before the final descent. With brake pads fried and sore arms we fishtailed down the final climb towards the sea hoping to make it to the end with no mishaps.

Arran Grinduro

All in all, this event was so madly fun and I enjoyed it all the more because I had no expectations. I didn’t care about winning or losing, I cared about finishing the day smiling and I, therefore, surpassed expectations. If I’ve learned anything from Grinduro it’s to abandon myself to new experiences and just get on with being in the moment, even if that moment is completely insane.

 

I’ll be back at Grinduro next year and I hope that more women will get involved, we’re capable of so much and we’re strong and determined. Pack your waterproofs, your FINDRA and your sense of humour and I’ll see you there.

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