Our very own Charlotte has left the road & traffic behind, discovering the joy of gravel. Find out more, including how the Great Gravel Escape recce went…
What was your off-road cycling experience?
Prior to the last few weeks, limited to none! The summer before last, I’d joined a few evening gravel rides with knobbly tyres squeezed onto my road bike but it wasn’t ideal. The bike was fine for the routes we did but my off-road skill-set was slightly lacking. I ended up having a bit of a close encounter in the dark with a tree and that put pay to that.
I did then ride the flat 50km stage of the Rainmaker Rollercoaster, loved this and had an idea that gravel might be for me.
So, the gravel seed was sown. What made you go the whole hog and treat yourself to a Specialized Diverge?
A severe case of FOMO. Everyone was banging on about how great the gravel rides were, sharing amazing pics and I just wanted to be part of the gang.
I really liked the idea of being away from traffic and have plans to get some kit and have some bike-packing adventures. I’ve never fancied mountain biking and so gravel seemed like the perfect cycling discipline for me.
You got the bike, how did you christen it?
Jane (Hotchillee Event Director) and I did a recce ride for our London Great Gravel Escape and it was one of the most amazing and eye-opening things I’ve ever done. We started in Richmond Park where I’ve ridden hundreds of times but never on the gravel loop around the outside – it blew my mind and felt so different.
We were then on the Thames Path to Kew and then dropped onto the Grand Union Canal. Most of the time it was just Jane and I and almost eerily quiet – we kept on having to remind ourselves we were in London. There was a wonderful contrast between hippy barges and the derelict industrial architecture – it was jaw-dropping. I looked up and saw the Sky building and couldn’t believe where we were! I’m normally sat in traffic looking at the building as I drive out of London but here I was rolling along in my own little tunnel of tranquillity.
We had a couple of near sub-aqua moments when the path got a bit narrow. Once when my cleats got stuck and I had to choose between the canal or stinging nettles – I opted for a stung behind!
We emerged in Watford, where I grew up and my Dad met us with Easter eggs – something every ride should have!
We could then pick up speed riding through woods, fields and golf courses before dropping back onto the canal, onto some quiet roads and, with 100km in our legs, finishing in Harefield and getting the train home.
100km? That’s quite a first ride!
Yeah, but compared to similar distance rides I’ve done on the road, it didn’t feel anywhere near as long. It was flat, the surfaces good and, with so much going on to distract you, the kilometres went by almost effortlessly.
And what rides have you done since?
Well, last weekend I joined Hotchillee Ride Captains Jonno and Andy and it was definitely a bit of an eye-opener. There were more hills and it was definitely off-road rather than soft-road.
I learned that you had to stay seated on climbs and just find your rhythm and, with the Ride Captains reassurance and a bit of blind faith, got better at trusting my bike and letting it roll downhill. By the end of the ride, I’d definitely improved and was far more confident. It’d been very different to the ride Jane and I had done but I loved it and the gravel bug has definitely bitten.
What would your advice be for any gravel curious riders?
If Jane and I can do it, so can you. Give it a go. If you’re not sure where to ride or don’t fancy riding alone, we’ve got loads of Ride Captain led rides going on. Even if you’re a complete newbie to gravel, the London Great Gravel Escape will be such a special adventure that is well within your capabilities – just watch out for the nettles!
To mark the start of the great British summer we’re escaping the big smoke and riding from London to the Chilterns… off-road.
After sleeping under canvas in the shadow of the Ridgeway you’ve got a wonderful day’s riding exploring the hidden off-road gems of the Chilterns.
With rides in Cape Town, Surrey, Sussex, the Chilterns, Kent and the Cotswolds, it’s easier than ever to find Chillees to ride with!
Find out about Hotchillee Gravel Rides and all other activities here
Consultant with British Cycling and author of the Road Cycling Performance Manual. Lover of cobbles, gravel and Siberian Pine – not so keen on climbs! Nik is the author of all of the Hotchillee Training Plans, Zwift workout files and regularly posts tips and advice on the Hotchillee app. He’s also the evil genius behind the now infamous Hotchillee Gain Train.
Glen is usually behind the scenes making sure that the Hotchillee Ride Captains and event participants have fully functioning bicycles to ride but he occasionally makes an appearance in front of the camera to share his wisdom. If he’s not fixing or building bikes he’ll be out riding in #SweetSussex. If you want to know anything about Cyclocross, Glen is the man to ask.
Adele has worked within the health and fitness industry for over 25 years starting with a ballet and dance background herself, she has progressed to training and teaching all styles of fitness and offers Pilates, barre & yoga. As a keen runner, Adele appreciates the need for a strong healthy body and mind and incorporates many elements of Pilates, yoga and barre into her own training to ensure her strength and stamina remain.