Words by Jeff Lockwood. Photos as credited. Main story photo (above) of the Dirty Boar by Franziska Wernsing.
With events like the gravel titan Dirty Kanza, the awesomely-named Hilly Billy Roubaix, the trendsetting Grinduro and the initmate and challenging Lu Lacka Wyco Hundo, it's obvious that gravel riding, racing and celebrating has a strong and loyal foothold in the United States. New drop-bar off-road events are popping up every week, and the growing dirty discipline has rabid fans across the country.
Yet such dirty drop-bar riding is far from the exclusive domain of our North American cycling family. Many fantastic gravel rides and competitions have established themselves in Europe over the past few years, and many of them have quickly become known as must-do events for the discerning rider looking for gritty adventurous experiences in some truly unique settings.
Here's a quick look at some of the more interesting gravel rides, races and adventures around Europe.
Gravel Bootleggers / 07 April 2018 / Tournai, Belgium
This barbaric 250km race is 70% off-road, includes many singletrack sections, lots of mud, has the audacity to mix in the most difficult Tour of Flanders cobbled climbs and the most brutal Paris-Roubaix pave sections, and seems to hit every bit of possible off-road riding between Flanders and northern France. It's quite a difficult ride for so early in the season, but the added bonus is that you can watch Paris-Roubaix very nearby, as you recover from the torture of the previous day. Gravel Bootleggers, which courses through Belgium and France, starts and finishes at the Malteni brewery near Tournai, Belgium—that free bottle of Malteni waiting for you at the finish will be very welcome. Make sure you choose the proper tires!
Dirty Reiver 200 / 20 & 21 April 2018 / Northumberland, England
Set in the idyllic and remote scenery of northern England, the Dirty Reiver immediately established itself as a legendary gravel event when it was first held in 2016. Flawlessly organized and executed, the event starts at Kielder Castle, and offers feed stations, mechanical support, on-site camping and…after the ride…a pasta party. This beautiful 200-kilometer route offers every sort of off-road riding you can imagine: winding double-track trails, access roads, sketchy and rocky descents, singletrack, and lots of long and lonely gravel roads through the dense and serene forests. The riding is definitely not for the weak or unfit, but the scenery on the route is absolutely stunning, and several sections of the route wind their way in and out of Scotland. If 200km might be a bit much for you, there is a 130km option.
Gravel Road Series - World Edition / 03 June 2018 / Alba, Italy
Imagine riding through the beautiful landscape of Piedmont in early summer. Bountiful vineyards line your route, while the wonderful smell of fine Italian cooking tempts you as you cycle by. And, of course the legendary coffee awaits you at every turn. Add some stunning gravel roads and a healthy competitive spirit, and you have a great event that rewards all participants with a wonderful experience and mouthwatering food, yet gives prizes to the more competitive riders who win timed sections. This is the second stop in the three-event Gravel Road Series in Italy, each of which deliver their own interpretation on what it means to ride gravel in Italy. The series organizers explain the series best when they say, "Competitive cycling and territory touristic exploration, the two souls of the gravel cyclist coexist in this series." Ritchey is proud to support the Gravel Road Series, and will be on-site at each event with Ritchey demo bikes.
Gravel Marathon / 15 July 2018 / Bad Goisern, Austria
Embedded as a drop-bar category event at the legendary Salzkamergut Trophy event in Austria, the Gravel Marathon is part of the Ritchey Challenge series of mountain bike events around Germany and Austria. While the larger Salzkammergut event challenges endurance mountain bikers with some rather gnarly mountains and terrain, the Gravel Marathon promises more gravel-friendly racing. And, yes, it is a race. And watch out for the weather. The Salzkamergut Trophy, an even always held in July, was cancelled mid-race in 2009 because of…snow. As title sponsor of the Ritchey Challenge, we're excited to see this gravel event as part of the series. We'll be there with high-fives and bikes for you to demo.
Grinduro / 14 July 2018 / The Isle of Arran, Scotland
The original Grinduro held in California a few years ago defined a new format for competitive riding for the emerging gravel scene. A smashing success, Grinduro combined the best bits of drop-bar off-road riding, mixed it with a celebratory atmosphere and some seriously competitive sections. The idea is simple: race your brains out on the timed sections; have a great ride with a few hundred of your closest friends between those timed sections. 2017 brought Grinduro to Europe, when it was held in Scotland on the Isle of Arran. The gravel celebration in Scotland can turn into a muddy party, but no matter what kind of party it is…the celebration is integral to the spirit of Grinduro. Lots of fun and lots of riding.
Gravel Rallye Black Forest / 21 & 22 July 2018 / Breitnau, Germany
Germany's Black Forest is an enchanting region with breathtaking mountain biking and hundreds of miles of gravel roads. Björn and Eva Fünfgeld own and operate Hirsch-Sprung—a mountain bike tour company in the area. They recognized that not only is the Black Forest a bucket list destination for mountain bike lovers, but people who are into riding gravel were hungry for a gravel event in the area. Drawing on their strong guide experience, deep knowledge of the area and a tireless work ethic, they launched the Gravel Rallye Black Forest in 2017. Building upon its success, it's back this year with an expanded format over two days; one day for the gravel ride and one day with a cyclocross race.
Schaal Sels / 02 September 2018 / Merksem, Belgium
It's held in late summer and starts in a densely populated suburb of Antwerp. You might not have heard about it, but this epic race is every bit as classic as its early Spring cousins farther west in Flanders. While those other races have their fair share of demoralizing cobble stone roads, the Schaal Sels goes beyond the rocks—since 2015 its course hits all forms of deplorable surfaces: narrow paths through farmer's fields, tarmac, gravel roads, rocky trails and everything else in between. It's no wonder cyclocross world champion Wout van Aert won this race in 2016, and finished second behind a top Dutch continental road racer in 2017. The 93rd edition of this race will start on the 2nd of September in Merksem, Belgium. But to race it…you need to be a pro. Very pro.
Dirty Boar / 08 September 2018 / Waimes, Belgium
The western part of Belgium is legendary for its cobbled climbs and deep cycling culture, but the riding to be experienced in the eastern part of the country is also stunning, challenging and beautiful. The inaugural Dirty Boar was held in 2017, and its 300 spots filled up months in advance. Those fortunate enough to line up on that cold and wet September morning were treated to more than 170 kilometers of adventure, 90% of which was off-road. The Dirty Boar is back this year for another round! Participate in the ride, and you get a free beer and Belgian fritjes when you're done scraping the mud off your bike and your legs! As a sponsor of the Dirty Boar, you'll certainly see us out there riding and sharing those beers and fries after the ride.