Last years Grinduro was a biblically wet. Riders battled with a day long deluge and all the mud, grit and slippy bits that go along with it. Clearly undeterred, Grinduro returned for 2018 and it must have been a surprise when they stepped off the plane in all their waterproofs only to be met with scorching sunshine (at least by Scottish standards). For the last few months we have been at the receiving end of an incredible summer. Trails have been dusty and our jersey tans are now well cultivated.
If you don’t know what Grinduro is about. Its part gravel race, part enduro race and part rolling party. The course is made up of four stages over 80km with 1800m of climbing with healthy portions of both “maxin’ and relaxin”. The enduro format is great, for the four stages you give it everything you have and the rest of the day is spent cruising around the beautiful island of Arran with your friends.
Last years Grinduro was a masterpiece of organisation and this year was no different. Booked in, luggage stowed and we were on the boat that would take us over to the island. Last year we were glad of the bus that shuttled us through the storm to the event but this year we decided to cycle. A big group pedalled down the road, everyone excited for a great weekend of riding bikes. Signed on, goodie bag received, I found my friends and pitched up the tent.
Race day arrived and everyone was busy having breakfast, chatting and prepping bikes and kit. Soon everyone was lined up and rolling out of Lamlash. The course was reworked from the year before, a couple of familiar stages as well as some new ones. I was looking forward to getting redemption on some of last years sections and maybe seeing some of the views this time.
Soon we reached Stage 1, a fast gravel descent that would quickly get everyones heart rate up. This has a rolling start ensured maximum speed. I had left my bike in the big gear and even then I was spinning hard the whole way down. Bikes were skittery and every corner was a gamble as tyres floated over the top of the loose surface.
I flipped my wheel into my smaller off-road gear and it was onto the first feed station for some morning gin and ice-cream, both locally sourced and delicious.
Stage Two was an overgrown landrover track climb that had a number of steep pitches that required some grunt to keep things moving. This was a hard stage as there was no way to manage effort due to its unknown length and frequently changing pitch. This wasn’t as much of an issue for me as on fixed there is only one available effort level. Line choice was key to avoid getting stuck behind people or in boggy bits which would suck your momentum.
The ride back to the Grinduro HQ was a superb mixture of single track and double track through lush fooliage. Everyone was stoked for a quick lunch and getting back on course.
Stage 3 was a rolling gravel climb and the longest stage of the day. I hit this segment at warp speed, the gradient matched perfectly with my gear and I powered on as long as I could. The gradient ramped up near the end where things became more of a struggle and I grinded hard around the upper corners.
The next connection had some fun sections of trail that descended towards the coast road. It was a lovely cruise to the Velo Cafe and the next feed stop where I stuffed myself with Tunnocks Caramel Wafers and Irn Bru.
The connection ride to stage 4 was an all time showcase of the best gravel riding the island could offer. Long swoopy gravel roads with the stunning views that we had missed out on the year before.
Back up the bottom of stage 3 before diverting off past the Giants Grave and tackling the steep switchbacks to Glenashdale Burn. Last year I had to resort to walking this segment (which was probably the fastest option) but this year I rode it. In the dry this section was still very difficult and I wasn’t the only one that had the fear of being ejected out the front.
We then got to ride the single track from last years stage 2 which had been a mess of mud and slick wet roots. This year free from the pressure of timing and with the knowledge that grip existed meant that I could really enjoy the technical turns.
We didn’t know what to expect from stage 4 but as this was the last effort of the day it was the time to let everything hang out. Starting with a horrible lumpy grass track that, although it was downhill, required a lot of effort to maintain speed. This spat you out into an unexpected gravel climb where I passed both Jack and Benedict much to their surprise. The climb turned to a descent and Benedict roared past me in top gear. The course dropped into a flowing rooty singletrack that even on a fixed gear was a lot of fun. This was definitely the stage for mountain bikes to excel on and I had a number of moments where I clipped my pedals on off camber sections.
High fives were had followed by a nonsensical sprint finish into the Grinduro HQ. Time for finishers photos, beers, food and prize giving. Unfortunately the latter was delayed as there was an issue with the timing for stage 4 which was a real shame, especially as this was a stage that I had felt particularly strong on. Never the less I was stoked to walk away with a 3rd in the Single Speed Category*.
So on to my bike. Everything was going to feel faster over last year thanks to the beautiful conditions. However my upgrades for this year made a big difference and my Surly Steamroller continued to surprise me in regards to how capable it was off road. Sporty on the climbs and playful on technical sections. The longer fork and powerful braking noticeably improved the stability and control on the faster descents.
Fixed gear is probably not your choice for gravel riding so what’s the ideal bike for Grinduro in my opinion? If you are wanting to win, you will need a bike that can span a number of disciplines. Gravel bikes are getting slacker with bigger tyres but in my opinion a lightweight XC mountain bike is going to be the fastest at an event like this but probably not by much. If the conditions are inclement then a real mountain bike will likely pull ahead. A big part of this comes down to tyres, more grip and comfort go a long way with little sacrifice until you are faced with a very smooth surface. For short stages like Grinduro I am unconvinced that drop bars have any benefit over the extra control that risers offer. The true answer is bring the bike you enjoy riding the most** and have as much fun as possible.
MAKE FIXED GEAR GREAT AGAIN
*Fastest fixed gear rider.
**Assuming it has tyres that are at least 35c.