The Dirty Reiver is the UK’s premier gravel event through the forests of Kielder National Park in Northumberland. There are 65km, 130km or 200km options. The consensus is, whichever route you choose, it’s tough.
I caught up with Andy Searcy, Chris Bush and Paul Morris who all rode this epic event on their Reilly Gradients.
“The start is Kielder Castle which is impressive,” says Andy, “but 5 minutes later and you are out in the wilderness. There’s nothing but trees and gravel tracks.”
“You can cycle 125 miles and only see half a house!” says Paul. Local boy Chris knows how lucky he is: “it’s a beautiful part of the country with nobody in it. You can ride bridle ways, off road, forest tracks. You never have to do the same track twice”
Andy and Paul know each other from the mountain biking race scene. This was Paul’s 3rd Dirty Reiver, “I’m a pro or an idiot, whatever way you want to look at it,” but Andy’s first ever gravel race. They both opted for the 200km loop. “I am competitive rider and I like a challenge,” says Andy, “but my front brake failed at 30k, so I had to be a bit careful. It was OK as there were open wide gravel tracks so I could control my speed. The worst bit was round the reservoir as it was quite twisty. I wouldn’t recommend it, but I managed it.”
Chris did the 130km option. “I’ve raced for 30 years, so I don’t need to prove myself to anyone. I was there to ride my bike and enjoy myself. A friend I hadn’t seem for a while was a marshal and I stopped to chat to him enroute. I wasn’t bothered about the time.”
When I asked for the low point, all three agreed the end section was hardcore. “I’d been in the saddle for 5 hours,” says Chris, “because I know the area, I knew if I turned left across the reservoir, it was a leisurely 10 miles to the end, but the race course guided you right and there was a monster climb which is completely unnecessary in my opinion…” Paul was determined not to get off. “I knew the race was 17 climbs and this was the last, so I had to get into the right head space” “Mentally you are nearly at the finish line,” says Andy, “but the last 20k seemed to go on forever.”
All three were unanimous in their love for their Gradients. One of the highlights of the day for Chris was the fast descents. “It’s a testament to my Reilly and how you can let it run. A few years ago, I was descending at 40mph on my Reilly, just letting it flow and a friend on his Cervelo just couldn’t follow me.” Andy had only had his Gradient for a month: “it was brilliant and perfect for that event. I’ve had lots of titanium bikes over the years. The geometry of the Gradient is something else.”
“I loved seeing so many Gradients at the event and I chatted to loads of people about their Reilly,” says Paul. He’s had his for a number of years and remembers how diligent Mark was in ensuring that his frame was perfect. “If I am going for a ride, whatever that ride, the Gradient will probably the first bike I pick up as it’s so comfortable.”
All three completed the event. Despite his mechanical, Andy finished 200km in 9 hours. “I wanted to be done within 10 hours and I did that” says Paul. “I genuinely just love riding my bike” says Chris.