Magic Gravel Escape
Last weekend we held our inaugural Magic Gravel Escape - 45(ish) miles of proper fun gravel riding - squeezing out the best trails our area has to offer. The aim was simple, raise money for The Welcome Centre whilst bringing people together and having a reyt good time doing so! We brought along our wonderful cycling correspondence and long time pal Tom Hill to capture the ride for us.
‘I still don’t know if I like gravel riding. I haven’t done any yet!’
That was the utterance of a more road inclined friend (who should go unnamed, eh, Oli) at the bottom of a twisting, green, cobbled descent that sported all the hallmarks of this little corner of the Pennines. There was more than a hint of hyperbole in his statement, but many a true word is spoken in jest, as they say… welcome to ‘Uddersfield lad. Crack on, there’s a pint waiting for you at the end.
Before I return to the story, I should probably fill you in on the background. Next time you are perusing the posh cans of beer in your local supermarket or bottle shop you might spot a handful from Huddersfield based Magic Rock Brewing. As well as knocking out some pretty tasty brews, Magic Rock have been long-time supporters of the riding community; sponsoring a road race team, GBDuro and various mountain bike races over the years. Much of their support is a direct result of their Graphic Designer, Rich Norgate’s personal passion for riding; from enduro to ‘cross to bikepacking, Rich has done it all. And he firmly believes in the power of bringing together riders and allowing good things to happen.
The Gravel Escape was his brainchild. Inspired by the success of North London Dirt, he wanted to replicate the format and vibe – a long way north of London dirt, if you like. A loop from the brewery tap room in the heart of Huddersfield, taking in tracks and trails that would offer something for everyone; from noobs to world weary, callus handed, calves honed from gritstone locals. Fortunately, the route was crafted by Ed Wolstenholme; local rider and Racing Collective route planner extraordinaire. Ed is a man with an eye for what makes a good ride and knows how to tread the line between challenging and achievable.
With that, 100 riders trickled out of the brewery on a Bank Holiday Sunday morning; groups and individuals. Magic Rock also joined forces with Reyt Good Bike Club to ensure an inclusive, supportive environment for all. With a no-drop, guided option with one of their guides; Sophie Low. It’s a simple idea, and one that I’d love to see more event organisers take up.
The five stages of gravel
If there really are five stages of grief, they apply equally to off-road drop bar pursuits in this part of the world.
Denial: It’ll be fine. 75km and 1000m of climbing isn’t too bad. We’ve got all day, and the sun is even trying to make an appearance. I set off with the Reyt Good riders, as we cruised along cycle paths and canals, performing a genuinely magical escape act from the clutches of town. Within ten minutes, we had stopped as a deer darted across our tracks, scampering up through bluebell-packed wooded slopes. The day stretched out ahead as I pressed on a little up the first climb of the day.
Anger: Hang on. This is mud. I didn’t order this, thank you very much. To be fair, given how wet this spring has been, Ed had managed the near impossible and created a route that was completely rideable. More often than not a (semi) dry line appeared through the more quagmire-like sections, and the payoff was always worth it.
Bargaining: One of the things that I love about events in contrast to races is the chance to chat. With no eye on the clock or placing there is plenty of time for conversation. I adore those snatches grabbed before the gradient steepens (in either direction) or the trail narrows. Strangers, old friends and the almost compulsory “didn’t I ride with you at such-and-such event?” So there may not have been any bargaining; how do you bargain with a route? But there was plenty of distraction to be had.
The distraction stretched far beyond conversations. While much of the route wasn’t necessarily gravel, it was no less glorious as a result. Joyful field-edge singletrack, brushing alongside rapeseed flowers. Flick-flack descents with just enough line-of-sight to keep fingers hovering over brake levers. Yorkshire Sculpture Park provided a little sprinkle of culture midway around. In a part of the world that is known for its brutal climbs, the loop avoided the worst of them. There were a few long drags and plenty of shorter, punchier affairs, but it was rare that the crest wasn’t in sight.
Depression: I’m going to be honest. There was no depression. But, there was that moment long after the feed stop, but still an hour or two from the end that the legs felt a little empty and the prospect of the up-and-over to the base of Emley Moor mast didn’t immediately fill me with excitement. Fortunately I was riding with a contingent from Restrap at the time. The bikepacking luggage company has its factory up the road in Leeds and co-sponsored the event. I didn’t need much convincing when they suggested stopping at the pub conveniently located at the bottom of the hill. A shandy and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps hit the spot.
Acceptance: This is gravel riding in much of the UK, and is all the richer for it. Give me ginnels and woodland singletrack, sloppy bridleways, moorland farm tracks, old railway lines, bikes stacked in a beer garden, dropped Haribo, wild garlic, quiet lanes, mud and bedrock, root-cracked tarmac, “I never realised this trail was here”, ducking golf balls, unexpected views and a friendly community to share it with over ProperTM gravel any day of the week.
The Magic Ingredient
Even better than all that; give me a route that’s close enough to home that it feels familiar, but far enough away that it is almost completely new. Give me good coffee at the start and great beer at the end. To top up the feel-good vibes even more, the event was raising funds for local charity, The Welcome Centre.
It’s not a particularly complicated formula, but it is one that needs care and willing to pull together; Magic Rock managed it the first time round, and I’m hoping it will be the first of many.
For more Magic Gravel Escape check out our video below:
Thank you to our event sponsors: