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Great British Gravel Rides

Markus Stitz • Cycling • Apr 25, 2023 • 10 mins

Epic cycle routes and inspirational riders

Author of Great British Gravel Rides, Markus Stitz, introduces three of Britain’s most iconic gravel riders and shares their favourite routes for you to enjoy.

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Great British Gravel Rides is not your ordinary cycling guidebook. Instead of simply compiling a variety of routes to ride, I (Markus Stitz) took a different approach and introduce you to key people in the gravel riding world, understand their motivation for cycling and to ride their favourite routes in Britain. The book features a total of 25 different routes for beginners, intermediate and expert riders, spread across England, Scotland and Wales. 

Riding on Dorset's Jurassic coast

Beautiful riding on Dorset's Jurassic coast

If you haven’t stumbled across my work so far, allow me to introduce myself briefly. My name is Markus Stitz, I made Scotland my home in 2009 and have since discovered many corners of Britain on two wheels. In 2016 I became the first person to bikepack self-supported around the world on a single speed bike. In 2017 I started Bikepacking Scotland, and have just finished my third book with the same title. On the bike, I am a jack of many trades - may it be filmmaking, writing, mapping routes and racing.

To inspire your gravel adventures, let me introduce you to Aneela McKenna, Charlie Hobbs and Andy Dix, who have all played a pivotal role in the gravel scene. They are three of the riders who feature in the book Great British Gravel Rides, where you can find out more about them and discover their favourite gravel riding routes.

Aneela McKenna

Aneela McKenna

A gravel adventure in Scotland for beginners

Aneela McKenna - Mòr Tweed Valley gravel

One aspect that follows Aneela McKenna’s impressive career in cycling, whether as mountain bike guide and partner of Go-Where Scotland, co-chair of British Cycling’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Group, or founder of Mòr Diversity, is to increase opportunities for everyone to ride bikes. Having left her ‘other’ career as public servant, she is now fully concentrating her efforts by working with brands and organisations to help change the face of the outdoors – and make them more inclusive.

While she appreciates the technical riding that mountain biking offers her, Aneela also loves the new opportunities that picking up a gravel bike brings. Gravel biking comes with the freedom to enjoy all the routes that used to be the access trails for getting to the mountain bike descents, of which the Tweed Valley has plenty.

Living in Glasgow in the late 1990s, where she met her husband Andy, Aneela loved the nearby Tweed Valley so much that she moved there in 2005. Aneela wasn't lucky enough to ride a bike as a child, and many of her friends didn’t either – she only started cycling in her twenties when she met Andy. Starting cycling gave her access to the outdoors and it was Andy, who was into BMX and mountain biking, who introduced Aneela to off-road cycling. Many of Aneela’s adventures have been joint adventures with Andy, even though he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2007 and lives with the condition.

Tweed Valley gravel route

Tweed Valley gravel route

Cycling grew into Aneela’s big passion; she made it her job and became a professional mountain bike guide, taking groups all over Scotland. More recently, she developed into a full-time diversity and inclusion consultant. Her work is about welcoming people from all backgrounds to be able to participate in cycling, whether it's businesses, communities, clubs or individuals.

The impact guiding has on people is what Aneela loves most about it. The effect it has, not just in terms of the journey or the ride itself, but also the social interaction and being connected to the environment. She has the ability to show people places they've never been, and enjoys how confident and happy cycling makes people. And does she plan to run any guided gravel experiences? Not yet, but possibly in the future.

Tweed Valley gravel route

The Tweed Valley has been Aneela’s home for more than 15 years now, and offers many possibilities for cycling, whether on- or off-road. There are so many options that parts of this route were new to Aneela, even after spending such a long time riding here. This route gives you a great taste of what the south of Scotland has to offer, with splendid views, extensive forest trails, the country’s oldest inhabited house and a town that has embraced cycling like no other.

A gravel adventure in England for intermediate riders

Charlie Hobbs - Jurassic Gravel

Most people still know, and possibly will always know, Charlie Hobbs as ‘Charlie the Bikemonger’. He started with an online bike shop; next he moved into his own physical shop in Swanage; he then sold his business in 2018. While he is no longer selling bikes, he still organises gravel events and works for Britain’s much-loved mountain bike magazine, Singletrack. In fact, his Dorset Dirt Dash was either the first, or one of the first, gravel events in Britain.

Charlie Hobbs

Charlie Hobbs

For him, the gravel bike boom started with the Salsa Warbird. Charlie was one of the first dealers to trade those gravel bikes in the UK. After selling a few, he created the Dorset Dirt Dash – to give people the opportunity to ride gravel bikes where they should be ridden. His home trails around Swanage were perfect for this. Back in those days, only two events existed in the US, so ten years ago he started his own event. And little has changed: the route is almost the same. But just as gravel cycling has evolved; the event has also grown significantly. From 30 guys and some chicken stew with stinging nettle and gin dumplings cooking on a fire, there are now 200 people – still riding bikes and sitting around a fire to share stories. And there are two additional Dirt Dashes in Dunoon and Alyth in Scotland too.

Having started cycling more than 30 years ago, Charlie has experienced most of the innovations in the bike industry first-hand. He was, and still is, an avid single-speeder, so it doesn’t come as a major surprise that he thinks that modern full suspension bikes are ‘way over bikes’, especially in an area like the Purbeck Hills.

Jurassic Gravel route

Jurassic Gravel route

Jurassic Gravel route

In the past, this ride would have been described as a classic 1990s mountain bike ride – enjoyable without suspension and on V-brakes. Three decades later, the Jurassic Coast is still a special place to ride bikes, but gravel bikes have taken the spot of the 1990s mountain bike. Normally the earth is stacked up in layers but on the Jurassic coast those stacks have moved and tilted, creating visible folds of rock and fascinating geology. You can see these folds in the rock, along with some amazing dinosaur footprints, in Purbeck.

For Charlie, who grew up in Bournemouth, a much bigger town than Swanage, this is where the West Country starts, and the countryside becomes wild. The route offers a taste of everything that he loves about this area: beautiful coastline, lots of coves and cliffs, and massive views. You’ll also pass places like Corfe Castle and Swanage – proper Enid Blyton country. This route takes you through a brilliant place to live and a brilliant place to visit.

A gravel adventure in Wales for experienced riders

Andy Dix - Twmpa Gravel

Andy Dix’s story with bikes is closely connected to author and cyclist Robert Penn. An ash tree that Rob cut down for his book The Man Who Made Things Out of Trees inspired the idea of Twmpa Cycles. Andy, a furniture maker based in Hay-on-Wye, was commissioned to produce something from the tree. As Rob’s passion is cycling, Andy was thinking about making a wooden bike frame. However, time was against him, so the idea got parked and he produced a writing desk for Rob instead. However, when the pandemic started, Andy picked up the bike idea again and built his first wooden bike.

In September 2020 he launched his first bike, the Twmpa GR 1.0, which is perfectly suited to the local terrain. His bike design was inspired by the plethora of backroads and small lanes, which often lead to forest roads, and on to and over hills. One thing led to another, and he realised that he wanted to produce a bike that allows him to knit all those different things together. A bike which is the perfect tool for Powys.

Andy Dix

Andy Dix

The first and successive lockdowns gave Andy the opportunity to get to know the local neighbourhood like the back of his hand. As this was the case for many, he saw the rapid rise in the popularity of gravel bikes in Britain as an opportunity to start his own brand. The back roads in Wales often deteriorate and become gravel tracks, so a gravel bike seemed most suited to ride on the roads and terrain around his local area. Lockdown presented endless opportunities for Andy to explore, escape and slow down, and to discover all the intricate details of the green lanes of Powys and the lesser visited areas.

His goal is to establish Twmpa as a genuine competitor to other gravel bikes. For him it’s easy to view wood as a novelty product, because there are very few wooden gravel bikes out there, but his reasons to use wood are not about novelty. Andy believes that wood has particular properties, such as absorbing vibrations, that makes it well suited for bike frames.

As mountain biking has been around for such a long time, Andy embraces the newness that is still attached to gravel riding. While most areas have been well-explored for mountain bikers, the great thing about gravel riding is that it opens his eyes to areas that he otherwise would not experience. Especially in Wales, which has masses of open country and a very low population density.

Twmpa gravel tour

Twmpa gravel tour

Twmpa gravel tour

Circling around Andy’s local area in Wales, this route is an exhilarating mix of the various types of terrain that gravel bikes enable you to explore. From narrow lanes to wide open hilltop tracks with stunning views. At times, the riding will push you to the edge of what’s possible, both uphill and downhill. But with a good dose of handling skills and good legs, this route is one of the most scenic in Great British Gravel Rides.

Get to know more iconic players in the gravel riding scene in Markus’s book Great British Gravel Rides and discover some of the best gravel routes in Britain.

Great British Gravel Rides book

Great British Gravel Rides book

Published: Apr 25, 2023 Edited: Apr 25, 2023

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