On Sunday 25th November around 50 riders took on a gravel ride hosted by the Bicycle Film Festival, with support from Palu Bicycles, ASSOS and Clif Bar. LVCCC rider Harry Ashman reports back from the action.
“Could be muddy, but it will most definitely be fun.”
This was the warning to riders of the first Bicycle Film Festival gravel ride. This warning was not wrong, there was mud a plenty and lots of good fun to be had across a long day of trails and roads.
The ride was scheduled on a brisk Sunday in November, with over 100 people planning on attending it was set to be a big event. Myself and Max Geddes got to London Velo to set up for the ride early to counter the masses of gravelites that were set to turn up. Filter coffee was brewed and boxes of bananas were laid out. The first riders started to show and soon after the shiny ASSOS support car also pulled up outside the shop to photograph the early morning riders.
The growing amount of bikes outside meant only one thing, it was nearly time to ride. After a rousing pre-ride briefing by Jamie McRae we were ready to go. Riders set off in groups of ten with an ASSOS sponsored ride leader per group. I opted to organise the last group sweeping up any potential stragglers and also not having to worry about getting caught by anyone who happened to be faster than us!
Our group of riders was reflective of the whole ride, there was a wide mix of bikes and riders encompassing the beauty of gravel cycling that is no one really knows what the perfect bike for it is. I was riding my Cannondale Super X but was joined by full suspension mountain bikes, hardtails as well as some very, very out of place road bikes... albeit with some chunky looking tyres.
London Velo is based in Deptford, South East London, so we pressed on out of the city winding through Catford, Beckenham and finally hitting some decent trails around Addington. We were only around 20km in by this point and have already seen some fairly big rain showers, a sign of things to come.
We pressed on regardless picking up riders who had dropped back from their groups, all the while getting progressively more damp. As the rain continued so did the slipperiness of the mud and as the group started to hit the deeper Kent forests the ride got a whole lot more technical. Gone was any notion that this would be a California style dusty trail ride but riders were still hitting the climbs hard and bombing descents to the best of their ability!
At the halfway mark a quick glance around the group made it clear that moral was on the way down as the rain refused to relent, I offered up a cafe stop and it was quickly accepted by all. We made a slight detour from the preferred route and stopped at the Botley Hill Farm House and its roaring fire, we gathered round the hearth warming up and drying out our various layers of clothing.
Coffee and cake digested we all rolled out to tackle the remainder of the ride, luckily for us the best part of the ride awaited us! A long steady climb up Botley Hill got us warmed up for a a ripping slippy descent back down to hit a wet chalk path back up to the road. We were on the home stretch now and we all made a concerted effort to make the most of the last few trails. I know I could feel cramp creeping into my muscles and it did seem like the group as a whole was fatiguing. Spirits were high however and we pushed on back into the city through Bromley and Crystal Palace with beer and food on most people's minds. We had successfully kept the group together and even made a few friends along the way over the shared freezing temperatures and sloppy south London mud.
All riders reconvened at the West Norwood Picturehouse for afternoon showings of an array of films. Some stayed for the evening and others pushed on back home to nurse their weary legs, it’s no doubt however that everyone had a great day out on the trails and we will all be back next year if we can!