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6 tips for riding the Dirty Reiver, and other gravel races too

Words of wisdom from an experienced gravel racer, and organiser of the Dirty Reiver

You may have heard, team (that's me, Dave Atkinson, Mike Stead and Stu Kerton) are heading up north to take part in the second edition of the Dirty Reiver, a 200km gravel ride (it's not officially a race) in Kielder Forest next month. We've just got back from bashing around Salisbury Plain in fact, getting in some miles on gravel roads to dial in the bikes and equipment we'll be using and generally trying to get prepared for what lies ahead. 

- Team lines up to do the Dirty Reiver 200 gravel race

We're all a bit new to this gravel riding thing. Well, not me so much; I rode it last year, but for the other guys it's all new. Instead of me dishing out the advice, I thought it would make sense for arguably one of the most experienced gravel racers in the UK, and the man behind the Dirty Reiver, to offer some wise words of advice. I'm talking about Paul Errington of course.

He's kindly set aside some time in his busy schedule (that's what he told me) to put down some useful tips for anyone riding the Dirty Reiver. In fact, these tips would be useful for anyone doing any gravel race or event this year, and there are a lot more of them springing up across the UK all the time so the advice below certainly applies. That's enough of an introduction, we'll hand over to Paul now...

dirty reiver ridng shots 1.JPG

1 Build for comfort.

There is no way around it, 200km off road is a lot of saddle time. Even the early finishers will have seen 8 hours at least of riding time.  With that in mind the more comfortable you can make that time the better.  Spend as much time as you can dialling in your regular set up with some extended test rides.  You may find that lightweight saddle that has always been kind to you on your 4 hour rides turns a vicious little devil soon after that.

- 9 ways to make your bike more comfortable

2 Eat your way to the finish.

Don’t be solely reliant on the feed stations here.  You may find its a long time between them and the further you get into the ride the more topping up your body is going to need.  Ensure you have a well-stocked larder on the bike and that it is in easy reach.

- Tips for fuelling your sportive

3 You are probably going to get wet, so prepare for it.

If the chance of getting wet from above wasn’t enough, the course contains at least one opportunity to get the feet wet.  A dry set of socks and gloves will take up little room on the bike but will be a great mental boost when deployed.  Dirty Reiver organisers have outlined what you need to have as well as what you should consider carrying.

panaracer gravelking

4 Did we already say build for comfort?

Tyre choice is always a huge debate for any event.  Quite simply if you go less than 40c here you will be in for a rough ride.  Set up as wide as your frame will allow.  Tubeless is a great idea saving you the chore of changing a flat inner tube when the conditions may be less than optimal.

5 Don’t hang about

Finishing the event is all about consistency.  You don’t need to go fast but you do need to keep moving. The lure of the feed stations will be tempting but if you can try and limit your time there you will stay moving and stay warm.

6 The worst day on the bike beats the best day in the office

Enjoy it.  Make new friends.  Push yourself a little.  You may have some low points but that free finish line beer will taste all so much better when you have the finishers badge in hand.

- Check out Dave's Dirty Reiver bike 

Are you riding the Dirty Reiver? We'd love to hear how your preparation is going, so please do let us know in the comments below.

David worked on the tech team from 2012-2020. Previously he was editor of and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds, and you can now find him over on his own YouTube channel David Arthur - Just Ride Bikes

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