You're out riding and the road starts to narrow, that rider up ahead disappears into a slight haze... seconds later your wheels are leaving the familiarity of bitumen and feeling their way over the natural earth. Gravel.
For me, it's one of the absolute pleasures of riding my bike. It's engaging, like paying an instrument, a true test of your bike handling skills, and more than anything, just about the best fun you can have on two wheels.
So get your bike set and get ready for the Gravel Grit Central coast. It's going to be good.
Mike Boudrie and Alex Malone
Intro Image - Tim Bardsley-Smith
Some things take time. Especially good things. As I chat to Alex Malone from Cyclist Magazine, there's that genuine tone of excitement and anticipation as he tells me about the Gravel Grit Central Coast. An idea many years in the dreaming, Alex turned to Bicycle Network to help bring this year’s inaugural Gravel Grit to life. Responsible for the epically savage yet rewarding Peaks Challenge and the taste bud-tantalising Orange Challenge, Bicycle Network is the perfect fit for this unique event.
There are four routes, intended to thoroughly test the newbies through to the pioneers and hardened souls of gravel. On 10 September 2017 you’ll be pushed beyond your comfort zone across a variety of terrain that guarantees to leave you with a smile on your face, a filthy bike and a cold beverage in your hand at the finish. A cold beverage sounds like a pretty good way to end a gravel ride to me.
More than just another ride, the Gravel Grit is being designed to be a full 'festival' experience. Plenty of riders, not too much of anyone taking themselves too seriously, and a focus on having a good time. That all gets a big tick from me. You’ll be surrounded by a bunch of new likeminded mates to share in the sweat, tears and laughs of the day. Let’s be honest, that’s why we love this sport so much. It’s those around us which make it truly special.
I could write pages about this, but I'll keep it short. Getting out of the city and into the natural environment contributes so much to what I love about riding. It's an escape. It's a change from day to day life and my regular morning bunchie.
Getting out on gravel focuses the mind, there's more concentration required (at times), time passes more quickly, your mind clears and you finish your ride a slightly better, and happier person than when you started.
I've been a subscriber to Cyclist Magazine since Issue 1. Their 'Big Ride' feature is always my go-to section when I break open a new copy... So, over years of scouting for new rides Alex knows a thing or two about finding some pretty good adventures. He tells me that Gravel Grit Central Coast has just what I'm looking for - clean air, the sounds of the bush, the smell of tall eucalyptus-lined tracks and a sense of escapism.... There are so many of us who haven’t had the pleasure of taking our prized possession into the wilderness – all for fear of a little dirt and grime. We’re cyclists, not croquet players.
The Taster | 46km ride | 868m climbing
The shortest of the four routes, The Taster offers precisely that, a bite-sized sample into the world of gravel riding. Featuring a mix of sealed roads (16km) to open the legs and smooth gravel roads (30km) designed to open the lungs. You’ll face a challenging climb early on – just like everyone else – before rolling on through the pristine Watagans National Park and State Forest. Enjoy a flowing descent back to the finish at Cooranbong Park.
The gravel sections of the 46km Taster are along 2WD appropriate fire road, and rideable on a road bike. If you are riding a road bike, we'd suggest 28mm tyres. Of course, if you’ve got room for something a little wider then why not. Rather not get your prized possession muddy? Bring along a mountain bike and enjoy a more supple ride.
The Low Road | 55km | 1,009m climbing
Take a ride on the wild side of the forest. Roll out with the bunch along Freemans Drive and tackle the climb up Mt Faulk Road as tarmac makes way for smooth 2WD fire trail. Need a little breather after the first major ascent of the day? Pull into the first pit stop at the Heaton Rest Area and grab yourself something to drink or a bit to eat. From here you’ll continue to roll up and down along Watagans Forest Road until reaching the plateau and high point of the ride. Don’t be fooled by the smooth appearance of the route profile, there are a few nasty little pinches in this stretch to keep the legs working hard.
After reaching the Olney Super Rest Area you’ll be treated to an option of taking the more adventurous route back to town. The Low Road takes an alternative and 4WD appropriate fire road loop and throws up some speed and more technical descending. Due to the nature of the tracks, it’s suggested to roll on a bike more suited to gravel riding with at least 32mm tyres. Just like The Taster, a mountain bike is of course more than capable of handling the course.
The Low Road features 17km of bitumen and 38km of gravel.
The High Road | 59km | 1096m climbing
Incorporating the majority of the 46km route, The High Road takes on an extra loop that ventures a little deeper into the Watagans Forest. You’ll face some wicked 4WD style tracks along the additional sectors of trail and as such, it’s recommended to ride a bike more fitting to this kind of terrain. Think 32mm tyres or again, your choice of mountain bike. There might be a few who decide to take on the extra loop on a traditional road bike but buyer beware, we’ve got a few little surprises in store.
We’ll let you in on a little secret. Leave those fresh shiny white road shoes at home and wear something that you don’t mind walking a touch. Just in case. You’ll rejoin the main route at the Super Rest Are before taking the same descent at The Taster down Martinsville Road.
The High Road features the same 16km of tarmac as The Taster while the gravel component is bumped up to 43km with an included 6km of challenging 4WD trails.
All Roads Lead Home | 67km | 1,210m climbing
The big one is All Roads Lead Home and featuring a stacked amount of climbing into what appears to be ‘only’ 67km of riding. However, this isn’t your usual Sunday bunch ride, riding on gravel and dirt roads is significantly slower than tarmac and uses a larger amount of muscles, concentration and energy. Given the difficulty of this course, we’re willing to rate is up there with perhaps the equivalent of a 4-5 hour road ride. It’s likely many will take this amount of time to complete the course which combines all the best bits from The Taster, Low Road and High Road courses.
Featuring 17km of sealed roads and over 50km of real multi-surface gravel terrain, All Roads Lead Home is for the adventurer and Weet-Bix fueled rider in all of us. Again, we recommend a suitable gravel or CX style ride or even a mountain bike. Whatever you choose, just be prepared for a bucket load of fun, and grit.
ROUTE NOTE: All routes are subject to change however, the premise of the Gravel Grit is that you’ll be in control of the distance. Feeling good, feeling average, you’ll have options along the way to go long or make a break for home.
TIPS FOR RIDING ON GRAVEL
- The bigger the tyre, the more fun you’ll have – to an extent. Got a roadie that can squeeze a 28mm tyre? Great, throw them in there and have a go. If you already own a gravel, CX or endurance style machine then you doubt have an idea around the largest tyre that will fit.
- Tubeless for the win. It’s not requirement but it’s absolutely worth investigating the setup of your wheels. Many varieties are tubeless ready these days so check in with your local mechanic to see what can be done. A tubeless conversion kit from the likes of Orange Seal, Stans or even a ghetto setup with Gorilla Tape could mean the difference between a good day and a great one.
- Gel or shock absorbing tape is a welcome feeling. We’re all guilty of running our tape well past its used by date. Take some advice from us and drop your ride into a shop and get them to wrap something a little more plush. Your hands, forearms, biceps, shoulders and back will thank us later.
- Get disc brakes. Ok, we understand this one isn’t so simple but discs allow for a large tyre to be fitted when compared to calliper brakes. If you don’t have discs fitted then double check that tyre clearance. It’s always worth having a little extra clearance just in case the weather doesn’t play nice.
- Lycra isn’t a prerequisite. You’ll be venturing into the forest where very few people will see your mismatched socks, flannelette shirts or denim shorts. This isn’t the time to bring out the skin suit, unless it’s a multi-coloured fluro variety from the ’82 Winter Games.
- Hydration packs are great for storing trail essentials. With two feed stations on course, you may wish to pack heavy with spares and carry light on the water front. You’ll have ample opportunity to refuel on water, hydration needs and snacks. If you’d rather do it all ‘on your own’, that’s fine too. Just make sure you stop in and enjoy at least some of the delicious offerings on course.
- Know your limits. It’s easy to let the speedometer get out of control up here. Just be aware that you’re on a surface that doesn’t always play by the rules. Gravel and dirt trails can be unpredictable with weather and deterioration throwing up unforeseen surprises on the day. Back the speed off a little on the descents and you’ll ensure a safe arrival at the finish.
- Pump the jam! With little to no traffic through the Watagans, today is a great day to treat your pals to some extra musical motivation. Pack a mini speaker in the back pocket and switch on the shuffle of shame. If anything, it’ll give your mates a reason to stay with you on the climbs.
- Don’t forget to fuel up appropriately after the finish. There will be a great selection of refreshing beverages, ales and food options at the finish.
- Take out anything you take in. This means taking all your rubbish, wrappers or other non biodegradable products with you when leaving the Watagans. Leaving this area just like found it is imperative for the future of these types of events. If you see someone dropping something along the way, do them a favour, pick it up and politely return it to them and request they put it in their pocket. We’ll thank you later.
- Get yourself a gravel or cyclo-cross bike. That way, we can invite you on more of these rides, more often.
HOW TO GET THERE
Situated just over a hour north of Sydney, 45 minutes from Gosford and under 50 minutes from Newcastle lays the Watagans National Park. Given the somewhat shorter, in distance at least, nature of the event, you won’t have to depart your respective homes too early in order to reach the event village at Cooranbong Park. Simply take the appropriate exit off the M1 Motorway (formerly called the F3 Freeway) and follow your nose or GPS to Cooranbong. You can’t miss it.
It’s here you’ll find everything you need to get started including registration, last-minute bike maintenance, food and energy extras along with goodies from the Gravel Grit's supporting partners.
More importantly, the Rapha Mobile Club House will be serving up your favourite skinny, soy, extra shot dose from the crew at AllPress throughout the day. Better yet, coffee is on the house, all you need to do is punch in a few details into an iPad and you’ll be left appropriately caffeinated.
HOW TO ENTER
Entry for all routes is $80 - head over to event entry page here
I'm excited to get along to 'Issue 01' of Gravel Grit Central Coast, hopefully I'll see you there on 10 September!