Naomi Freireich, an endurance mountain biker based in Edinburgh, Scotland is back with the third in her series of blog posts written exclusively for Chain Reaction Cycles.
In her latest blog, Naomi takes on the toughest gravel ride in the UK, the Dirty Reiver!
It has become increasingly obvious to me of late that I’m a glutton for punishment. With an already groaning race calendar I was offered a space to ride this year’s Dirty Reiver; a 200km gravel ride in the north of England. Trouble is, when faced with a challenge, I can’t help but grab it with both hands.
But what lands me in the face of a challenge also equips me to deal with it. My drive to always do more also pushes me to do it the best that I can and that means preparation!
It started right back in January. I’d recently invested in a cyclocross bike and so instantly I started researching what bikes had been used for the inaugural event last year. Seems that there was quite a mix, from dedicated gravel bikes right through to full suspension mountain bikes. Nothing conclusive. So I did more digging. Asked a few friends who had ridden the event, read blogs and magazine articles and went for test rides on the cross bike and a friend’s hardtail to see what would work for me.
The decision? It was a gravel ride. It seemed to be far more in the spirit of the event to ride a bike as close to a gravel bike as I could, and so my cross bike was it.
But the bike wasn’t the hardest decision to be made. Never have I seen more conversation about tyre choice. And I have lots of friends who ride enduro! Despite that, my tyre selection process to date had been based purely on what my friend and biking-guru Rick was using. And so it became a massive research project. For the tyre nerds among you see more at the end.
Two weeks before the event, and I set out on what was to be my longest ride on the cross bike yet. A 100km loop around Edinburgh taking in paths across the Pentland Hills, through Midlothian, along many of Edinburgh’s cycle paths and round Corstorphine Hill. A good test on all kinds of terrain to check the bike set up. Shorter stem, gel padding in the bars and a slightly bigger cassette later and I was ready. Well, as I’d ever be!!
For a long day in the saddle, clothing choice is imperative. It had been sunny and quite warm the day before but I knew that an early start would mean colder temperatures and I wasn’t taking any chances. Alongside my trusty GORE Power Lady bib shorts, I also made sure I had my Windstopper vest and sleeves. Perfect for protecting yourself against the wind chill on a Spring morning and small enough to pack away when the weather heats up. The less you have to worry about carrying the better, and these were perfect.
You’ll read lots of ride reports about the event. I won’t write another. It went: ride hard, ride some more, grind up hills, ride harder, eat lots, hold on for dear life on fast, loose descents, keep riding, enjoy the views and don’t fall into the river. I managed all but one of these. It really was an incredible day and a fitting way to celebrate the life of Mike Hall, lost to the cycling world tragically in the IPWR less than one month ago.
And I hope how I approached the ride was in the spirit of ‘Be More Mike’. I prepared, I researched, I tested things out, I made sure I had as much information as I could. And then I went full throttle into the event, throwing everything I could at it and enjoyed every minute of riding my bike, and riding it hard. You see, without challenge, we don’t know what it is to struggle. Without pain we don’t know what it is to persevere. And without passion we don’t know what it is to live.
For those of you still interested…
What did I consider? My research was extensive but it ultimately boiled down to who’d ridden what tyres on what bike using what set up last year and which had worked best. What was new this year that might be better. And, the clincher for me, what would fit on my bike!
The general consensus seemed to be that 40mm was the bare minimum. A spanner in the proverbial. My bike would only take 36mm at best and that didn’t allow much clearance. Selection narrowed down, I was now looking for tough, fast rolling and tubeless. Another look back at the experts. And why they’d been riding with pointed me towards a different set of Clements to the pair that were currently on the bike. I liked the current pair so that seemed as good a choice as any.
And it turned out I couldn’t ride them tubeless on my rims so they were pumped up nice and firm.
Which tyres would you recommend for a gravel ride like the Dirty Reiver? Tell us about some of your upcoming races this season and what your setup will include below.