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The best UK gravel events for 2020

Joseph Delves
6 Nov 2019

A complete calendar of the best gravel and adventure events taking place in the UK in 2020

More and more people are looking past the confines of the road in search of adventure, taking to the lesser travelled ways beyond armed with gravel, cyclocross and adventure bikes.

While not as extensive as the USA, where the surge in gravel riding culture started, the UK is still able to boast a sizeable network of bridleways, trails, singletracks and country lanes that are best explored on something a bit meatier than a road bike. 

As a result, a smattering of gravel-orientated events have sprung up across the country, combining elements from sportives, mountain bike enduros and even orienteering, to establish a growing calendar of adventure events. 

Here's a rundown of the best of them using descriptions from the events and our own input for those we've ridden.

Yorkshire True Grit

When and where: 22nd February, North York Moors 

If the prospect of a gravel grinder in February wasn’t tough enough, how about one that only gets going as the sun goes down? Now in its second year, the Yorkshire True Grit Dark Skies event covers 80km of forest, vale, moor and trail through North Yorkshire, one of the darkest parts of the UK.

Setting off at 16:00 riders will pass through the sunset an hour and a half later, and if the weather stays clear will soon find themselves rolling beneath infinite constellations. Expected time for the final rider to finish is around 23:30.

Last year saw temperatures as low as -6C, and the mandatory kit list makes obvious the seriousness of the event. Each rider must carry items including a waterproof jacket, spare thermal top, survival bag, first aid kit and an emergency whistle.

yorkshiretruegrit.co.uk

Dirty Reiver


When and where : 17th-18th April, Kielder

The Dirty Reiver 200 (200km) and Dirty One Thirty (130km) are off-road cycling challenges based on the Gravel Grinder format found predominantly in the midwest of America.

Riders will traverse gravel forest access roads that service the vast areas of forest covering the border region of England and Scotland. The Dirty Reiver and Dirty One Thirty are not races but finishing times will be graded.

Read our ride report: Lost in the Woods at the Dirty Reiver

More informationdirtyreiver.co.uk

Battle in the bowl

When and where: 16-17th May, Winchester

Cyclocross meets gravel racing in an epic showdown. Hosted within Matterley Bowl near Winchester, the Battle in the Bowl features two-hour races over a 6.4km circuit, featuring flat-out fast gravel tracks, a grass track climb around the rim of the bowl itself, a flying wooded descent back to the arena and over 1.6km of taped, technical classic ‘cross.

More informationbattleinthebowl.cx

Gritfest

When and where: 20-21st June, Towy Valley, Wales

Held over two days, Gritfest is an offroad event based in Cilycwm on the edge of the Cambrian Mountains in central Wales. Organised by the same team behind the Monster, notorious as one of the UK’s toughest sportives, Gritfest is guaranteed to provide both a seriously challenging route and some spectacular Welsh scenery to enjoy between the bouts of suffering.

Anyone familiar with the world of MTB racing will recognise the ‘enduro’ format, which means no overall time is given for the event but there are several timed sections along the way – much like Strava segments on the road.

The timed sections are there for anyone with a competitive streak who wants to pit themselves against the clock and other riders, but going full blast isn’t obligatory and if you just want to enjoy a well put together route through some roads and trails you won’t have ridden before. The route is above all designed to be as fun as it is challenging, with a mix of undulating terrain and fast, twisting descents.

Read our ride report: Gritfest, A Unique Challenge on the Gravel Tracks of the Welsh Countryside

More informationgritfest.co.uk

The Distance

When and where: TBC, Likey June

The event is not a race but more a sociable challenge. From a single start point each rider will visit a series of checkpoints throughout the day. How they get between the checkpoints will be dependent on their rate of progress: there are up to three route options at every checkpoint and the riders' arrival times will determine which route option they are given. So simply the faster they are the further they will ultimately ride.  

What's more, riders won’t know the routes until they get to each checkpoint and they won’t know their ultimate destination until they get there.

Some will ride over 160km while others will reach around 100km. But all will arrive to hot food, a comfortable camp and even a gin bar. The overnight gives an opportunity to relive the day with friends old and new.

Read our preview: The Distance, Multi-day Adventure Where You won't Know the Route in Advance

More informationthedistance.cc

Eroica Britannia

When and where: TBC - likely June, Derbyshire

Now heading into its seventh edition, Eroica Britannia sucks a little bit of the Peak District through a cycling time warp each June. A three-day festival that attracts over 10,000 visitors, at the heart of the weekend’s festivities is Sunday’s classic ride.

Undertaken on fastidiously assembled retro bicycles and in matching period-correct kit, it’s the British outpost of the Eroica franchise.

A sort of historical reenactment society for fans of cycling’s more glorious past - think steely resolve, wool jerseys, tubular tyres wrapped around shoulders and not a power meter to be seen anywhere.

Running the Saturday before, there's even the new Nova edition for those that don't want to shell out for a steel bike and wool jersey. 

Read our feature here: Eroica Britannia, Retro Event Rolls Back Time

And on the Nova here: New Nova Route to Allow Modern Bikes

More informationeroicabritannia.co.uk

Pannier Tours

Ortlieb Back Roller Classic reflective pannier review

When and where: Running July-September, Peak District & Welsh Borders

'The hub for adventure cycling,' so claims the event organiser. Pannier point-to-point, semi-guided cycle tours that are curated to offer authentic adventure cycling experiences. Entrants will be riding mixed-terrain escape routes on bikepacking-kitted-out adventure bikes, with home comforts on the road and at Pannier Camp each evening. 

For anyone who's new to adventure cycling there's the Pannier 15khm club.

More informationpannier.cc

CX Century: The South Downs Way

When and where: 4th July, South Downs National Park

Renowned as a supreme physical rather than technical challenge, the South Downs Way is the most high profile answer to the long distance US gravel scene that he UK has. Probably. 

CX Century is fully supported - route marking, multiple feed and support stops - riders can take on this epic ride as part of the first mass CX challenge. Just 500 places were available in the first event earlier this year.

More informationcxsportive.com

Grinduro

When and where: TBC, Likely July, Isle of Arran, Scotland

Grinduro is both a solid name for a heavy metal band and also the most unique bike race on the gravel calendar. Entering its second year with two events, one in Scotland and one in California, both will see riders tackle around 100km of mixed terrain.

However, in rally-style only four of the most technical and demanding segments will be timed to make up the overall placings.

With no rider left behind, but everyone free to blast away at the timed special stages, the event should be an epic day out. With the inaugural running attracting some serious contenders it’s also a great opportunity to ride alongside a host of top racers.

Read our preview: Grinduro, All You Need to Know

More informationgrinduro.com

Brewery Big Rides presented by Cyclist

When and where: Summer TBC, Various

Like riding bikes? Also like beers? Dislike traffic? Then come along on the next Cyclist Magazine Big Ride. Following our initial event in conjunction with Beavertown brewery this autumn, we’re taking the show on the road (or trail).

Due to run in conjunction with breweries across the country, expect mixed routes, with a high number of off-road kilometres. Designed to be passable by intrepid roadies, or anyone with a gravel bike, the emphasis is on sociability rather than racing.

With events in the works for venues across the country, watch this space for further details.

Ridgeway 100: Century to the stones


When and where: 12th September, Oxfordshire

Faster paced and less extreme than the South Downs Way, the Ridgeway gives you plenty to get your teeth into. The surface only occasionally gets semi-technical, leaving you with 100km of very rideable trail to enjoy.

It’s a ride that invites you to open up your engines and test how long you can keep them running.

More informationtrailbreak.co.uk

Dunoon Dirt Dash


When and where: 26-27th September, Cowal Peninsula

Split over two days divided by a night spent camping, the Dunoon Dirt Dash is a rugged gravel grinder that’ll appeal to tough outdoor-types. Part of the Summit to Sea Outdoor Festival in Dunoon, on the western shore of the upper Firth of Clyde, it covers an area of Scotland famous for its wild scenery.

Billed as a non-timed, self-supported reliability-trial with overnight camping, it’s being promoted by adventure scene-stalwarts Charlie Hobbs and Markus Stitz, who was the first person bonkers enough to circumnavigate the world on a single-speed bike.

Building on the success of the Dorset Gravel Dash, they’re making the long journey across the border in search of even wilder terrain.

Limited to just 150 riders, the event is boutique in size, but at only eighty-quid for two days’ riding plus dinner and camping, happily not at great cost.

More informationdirtdash.cc

Gran Fonduro


When and where: TBC, Likey September, Tweed Valley, Scotland

Brought to you by the team behind the TweedLove Festival and Tour O the Borders, the newest event to hit the calendar is the Bombtrack Gran Fonduro, an off-road sportive that will tackle the forest roads, natural trails and footpaths of the scenic Scottish Borders.

Taking place in September, the 'Fonduro' will run two distances, the 60km short version and 100km long version. The event will centre itself around the grounds of Traquair House in Peebles, Scotland.

While the riders tackle the trails of the Tweed Valley, certain sections will be timed 'enduro' style including singletrack, forest climbs and gravel roads to help add a competitive element.

If racing against the clock is not your thing, worry not as the beautiful Scottish trails will offer a day of discovery with plenty of opportunities to take in the breathtaking natural scenery.

Read our preview: Gran Fonduro, The latest Gravel Event on the Scene

More informationgranfonduro.cc