Dorset Gravel Dash 100 ’16 – 29th May 2016
Karen and I again returned to Swanage for the 3rd running of the Dorset Gravel Dash. We rode the inaugural Gravel Dash 2 years ago, but missed it last year due to a diary clash. Anyway, we loved it 2 years ago, so we were back for more!
The Dorset Gravel Dash is inspired by the gravel grinder race format from the US, where long single loop races take riders out into vast wilderness areas on forest roads. Here in the UK we don’t really have the same extent of wilderness to give massive single loops on gravel, so Charlie Hobbs of Bikemonger fame has come up with the UK model giving one big 100mile loop taking in all sorts of terrains and surfaces. The ride takes in coast paths, forest track, bridleway, tarmac, singletrack, unavoidable puddles, mud, massive climbs, rocks, roots….everything really! There’s a mass start from the Red Lion pub at 8am, then you tap out the 100mile loop returning to the pub at the end! Simple. Well sort of. Self-sufficiency is required. This isn’t a sportive. There are no signs, no marshals, no energy product-sponsored feed stations and none of the bad riding associated with sportives either!
There was a bonus halfway bacon-cake stop though…nom nom. There is a single ‘Broom Wagon of ETERNAL SHAME!’ , so really you have to be self-sufficient and navigate and manage yourself. And good for it too. One final thing – it is not a race. It is a reliability trial.
Karen and I chose 29er singlespeeds for the Gravel Dash. Certainly a geared hardtail, or cross/gravel bike would be quicker, but singlespeeds are good endurance bikes ensuring you don’t overcook it on the flat, saving your powder for the hills. We set off and soon got stuck into the first big hill from Ulwell up to the ridge and onto Corfe Castle. We were rewarded with stunning views immediately, before descending towards the coast and the Lulworth ranges. This section packed in the hills, before eventually we headed north on flatter ground through Moreton Plantation and towards the ‘beer long-cut’ at Puddletown Forest. Here Charlie had set a short technical loop comprising a steep climb then fun singletrack descent packed full of loose berms, roots and drops. Great fun on an mtb. Probably quite hard on a drop-barred cross bike. On completion of the ‘beer long-cut’ there was meant to be a swig of beer, but the leaders had downed the lot already. Ah well, we carried on north through the ‘field of a thousand bumps’ – as it sounds, then up the long climb of Bulbarrow Hill, the highest point in Dorest. At the top, we stopped at the official Gravel Dash cake stop for the bacon cake.
The descent from the Bulbarrow was fast and loose, before dropping down to Blandford Forest and onto Hambledon Hill. From here we picked up some relief from the hills on a former tramway before some tough climbs over a couple of hill forts. The expanse of Wareham Forest then gave some welcome fast-rolling forest tracks before we headed to the dunes and heathland of Studland. We returned to the coast at Old Harry Rocks, before a final tough climb up Ballard Down saw Swanage come back into view. One final fast a loose descent down WhiteCliff and then a cruise down the seafront and back to welcoming cheers in the pub. Yay! We came in at about 10 hours 40something. Karen was 3rd lady. We refuelled on fish and chips and had a drink and natter in the pub. Good day out!.
Here’s the technical stats:
Rode: We both rode steel 29er singlespeeds running 32:18
Consumed: 6 big bottles drunk and I ate 2 big bags of jellybeans, 8 rice bars, 3 slices of bacon cake and 1 banana followed by the best cod n’ chips in the world at the end. Karen – similar, but a bit less.
Well done to Charlie and his team for another great Gravel Dash. See you next year.