Riding the Dirty Reiver 2017

5am. The sun glistens on the reservoir, and bounces off morning dew. Kielder Forest - the largest forest in the UK, sits silent; its paths and tracks ready to welcome the largest gravel event in the UK - The Dirty Reiver 200.

A Reiver was a border knight - an armoured horseback rider, patrolling the border between Scotland and England.

Today, 800 riders will take to the same trails and tracks that were ridden by the Reivers; except these riders will be on a plethora of cyclocross bikes, 'gravel' bikes and mountain bikes.

200 kilometres of flat-out dusty racing…

The Dirty Reiver starts at Kielder Castle

The Ride

Massed in front of Kielder Castle, the pre-event kit chat continues; as it has done for the preceding months.

What tyre width are those? How's that Lauf suspension fork? Have you double wrapped your bar tape?

Personally, I'm more concerned about how many flapjacks I can wolf down at each feed station, and whether I have enough supplies in my back pocket…

7am. We roll down the hill from the castle, along the road for a short section, and then plunge into Kielder Forest.

Gravel tracks take us from shady forest onto open heathland. Miles of expansive trails, punctuated with surprise climbs and off-camber gravel bends.

The mass start is soon strung out. I decide to split from the small group I find myself in; opting instead to ride within my limits, and play the 'tortoise' race tactic, which has worked well for me in the past.

By 10am the sun is strong, and I've passed through the first well stocked feed station. I'm pleased to say I managed to grab 4 pieces of flapjack, and a banana #fuelfortheride.

90 kilometres in, and my legs are feeling accustomed to the challenging terrain; whilst my mind is getting accustomed to the rear wheel drifting round the gravel apex of every corner.

110 kilometres. Two feed stations passed (more flapjack, banana and Jaffa Cakes consumed). I am riding solo, and picking up several places from riders who went into the red early on.

At 140 kilometres, I pass a duo of riders. Ant White (a well known endurance mountain biker) is one of the pair, and jumps on my wheel as I pass. For the next 20 kilometres Ant and I swap places, and shelter behind each other in the building wind. We rush into feed station #3: he foregoes the food, whilst I miss the drink. 200 kilometres on 2 bottles was not on the plan, but I dare not lose that wheel...

By 170 kilometres, we can see the Kielder reservoir coming back into sight. Having ridden a lap of the lake the day before, I move my hands down into the drops and push on: a smile spreading across my face as I take in the swooping pinecone strewn trail.

As I roll onto Kielder Dam, and then onto the final 'straight' home, I glance back to see that Ant has dropped off. There's nobody in my sights ahead, so I just lay my forearms on the tops, and push on for the final road section.

A little bit more twisty singletrack, one last energy gel, a sprint up the hill to the Castle, and I cross the line.

07:51:04 hours of riding. 3,250 metres of climbing. 4th place out of 800 riders.

The challenge, excitement and diversity of mixed surface endurance racing makes it clear why this kind of event is getting such a great following.

One big day out. One great day in the saddle.

Kit Choices

Despite trying to abstain from the rampant kit-chat, I had made some customisations to my bike and kit for this event.

In fact, it was pretty much a custom 'gravel' bike build, and a very carefully selected set of clothing and accessories.

The Kona Rove Ti

Built around a titanium Kona Rove frame, my bike for the Dirty Reiver was fitted with a Lauf suspension fork, 44cm carbon handlebars, and a SRAM 1x11 drivetrain - all to provide added comfort for hours in the saddle.

The day before the Dirty Reiver I made a very good decision to upsize my tyres to the Panaracer Gravel King 40c Tubeless. The added grip, bounce, and puncture protection was very noticeable, and very beneficial.


My clothing choice was all about being versatile and comfortable. I opted for ¾ length Windstopper shorts from Gore Bike Wear, as well as the Gore Bike Wear Windstopper Power Zip-Off Jersey.

A GripGrab Cotton Cap, GripGrab Raptor Gloves, and GripGrab High-Cut Summer Socks protected my extremities. The only other piece of kit I took was the superb Gore ONE 1985 SHAKEDRY Jacket (which luckily remained stuffed in my Restrap framebag for the duration of the event).


To keep me grinding through the gravel, I took a few additional accessories to normal.

These included a Lezyne Rap20 Multitool (so many tools!), a Lezyne Road Drive Pump, 3 spare tubes, a spare gear cable, and a few other bits. My navigation came from the the Lezyne Super Enhanced GPS.

One for your bucket list

The Dirty Reiver took inspiration from the Dirty Kansas - a huge gravel race in the USA. This second edition on UK soil has the same incredible mix of fun, drama and challenge.

I can see this event growing rapidly year-on-year, and I thoroughly recommend adding it to your bucket list.

I'll be back for sure; and I am also avidly hunting down other 'gravel' events, both in the UK and abroad.

'Gravel' is growing, because it is such great fun to ride.

My ride for the Dirty Reiver (before the tyre change)

Pre-event planning

The tyre debate was an enthusiastic one

Dry and dusty (and windy) trails, the day before the event

Recon ride around the lake

I was pleased with my last minute switch to these 40c tyres

Before the event: last minute prep

Carrying capacity from Restrap

I was very pleased with the set-up on the Kona Rove Ti

Badges for winners!

Pie stop at Teebay Service #PieForMike

The drive back down south

The spin home


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