The Dirty Reiver '17 - Kinesis Bikes
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The Dirty Reiver '17

Bruce travels to Northumberland to ride the biggest gravel event in the UK, the fearsome 200km Dirty Reiver.

Words by Bruce Dalton and Photo's by Pannier.cc

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Dirty Reiver 2K17 was a struggle, I hadn’t expected it to be quite as tough as the first year. Some days you want to play the game but your body has other ideas. Now it might now be a race, however, the 800 riders who turned up to their “ Timed Challenge Event”, might beg to differ. I fuelled up well the night before the ride, I cooked a huge pre-race risotto and cake with Ice cream for the assembled mass of riders from Kinesis, Gore and even the boys from Road.CC. We talked tactics, war stories and bored each other to death with tyre chat. I’d learnt from my previous experience going from an anaemic 36mm tyre to a capacious 51mm, I did not want to again stand at the side of the course pumping up yet another puncture. The great kit debate turned to riding wear, I was on two new bits of kit; Bike and clothing. I’d tested both before the event thankfully so I knew I could rely on my equipment for versatility from the frosty start to the sun on my back on the moors, the wide smooth gravel roads to the fast flowy mtb style descent off the plateaux. The new bike a new bike from us, and new Oxygen Classic’s kit from Gore Bike Wear.

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5.15am is not a pleasant time of day to wake for a porridge force feed, so sparing myself the abrupt wake up of my alarm my body had me up and awake at 4.30am. I read my book and contemplated going to take a coffee, porridge sticks to your throat when you’re trying to gulp it down no matter how much syrup you put on it. Final kit faffs and into the van, helmets on and to the start.

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I managed to get down, wrapped up in my packable layers onto the start line on to be briefed by the organising team from focal events, then listened to a rousing few words by my friend Rory on our late and dear friend Mike Hall. “Your timed challenge event starts now”, we dropped down the hill and rolled out into the frigid forest. I’m not used to being on my bike early in the day, so I focussed on eating and drinking from the offset. I rode on at a conservative pace, Nothing out of the ordinary.

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Absence d’Jambe , no legs. It was one of those days, though I rolled into the first feed zone after 50 or so kilometres feeling fine. I even hung around for a cup of tea and scone, whilst other riders dashed and ran. I sat chatting with new friends and old as we rode north to the border, discussing everything from cameras to politics. At 70km I stopped to relieve myself, and remounting the bike I cramped up. This wasn’t a great sign, I’d be drinking lots of electrolytes and fuelling up so it seems a relative mystery. I stretched when I could on the bike, I backed off. I still had over 100km to go and I needed to nurse it home. The wide tyres and bump taming fork lapped up the gravel as it got more extreme (in a relative sense, it was a fairly tame gritty double track) and I caught up Dave from Road CC as we entered the feed zone. 100km to go and the prospect of a memorable long climb were on the cards, I gobbled down savoury items, prized apart malt loaf and supped down some water.

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Pausing again at the Scottish border trail for a quick wee, it was apparent that we were both rather tired. The conversation began to lilt into guttural expressions of tiredness as we slogged, up to the split point at 130km. We both silently knew if one took the easier route the other would follow suit, Dave proclaimed with the enthusiasm of child told to do homework that “There is only another 4km of climbing to the top”. I will be frank at this point when passing the rows of the cars parked for the event as we just shot out to the secondary loop, It seemed very tempting to pull into the car park and get changed.

Heading out over on the final far leg is the Forest Drive which is ann open gravel trail and is one of England's highest roads, cresting to over 1500 feet (450 metres) at Blakehope Nick. The climb at the top has wonderful views, I made the ascent in silence but for the calls of the skylarks and eerie call of curlew on the wing, and the resonating tone of Dave and I joining in moaning about wishing we had another gear easier and a bit more in the tank. We were rewarded by a swooping fast and grin-inducing descent into a glade and the final checkpoint manned by the touring specialists Pannier.CC. It was at this point where I felt rather bereft of energy and decided to have a small lie down by the fire, so when Stefan walked over and offered me a fresh coffee and some hot food I felt immediately more perky. Warmed, refreshed and sated we wearily set off. Dave was at this point in a state of what can be described as “Looking Cream Crackered”, so I decided to ride just ahead so we had our own space. I didn’t feel beaten up, I felt crampy. My bottles were drunk and I’d eaten lots, its so puzzling the human body. Only a few weeks earlier I’d ridden 190km by myself with no issues what so ever. I decided to pop a shot or two for the final 30km, shot blocks from Clif, not a more exciting beverage based version I offered one to Dave but he looked groggy, So I decided to make a last solo bid for the finish alone. I bit Dave goodbye, later to find out that he threw up in a hedge minutes later.

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Reaching the shoreline trail was a blessed release, I was transported back to what felt like familiarity after the miles of moorland expanses. The trail hugged the water's edge and my speed increased slightly as I could sense a clear path home. I was spent, but the Km’s ticked away and I rolled in victorious, the victory was in my finish. The bike was perfect, suspended by fancy fork and voluminous rubber alike I felt ache free really. The clothing choice again was great for the cold, dry and windy day. Windstopper is a gift to the outdoor person. Some times your legs really aren’t there, it turns out that it’s not an ideal day for lack of watts when your riding 200km of grin forming gravel. It’s a pleasure to be part of an event that is a true challenge, and its great to see such a positive growth of drop bar riders wanting to push offroad riding in the UK. I miss the days of XC being the big thing, but if this is the way offroad riding is going it certainly won’t be worse off for it.

Its now time for me to turn my hand to some faster shorter rides now, I’ve had my time of going slow and going far. I’m craving some 190bpm fast reaction fun, so watch this space!

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