A gravel event? Starting a stone’s throw from the River Thames? How much gravel can there be? What sort of trails are inside the M25 for goodness sake? These are some of the questions I heard in the runup to what was supposed to be the 3rd of 4 in the Pearson Inside Out Gravel series (another COVID casualty) and as it turns out there were more paths, tracks and cut throughs that people could believe possible!
A bright and warm Saturday morning in East Sheen (just north of Richmond Park, London) dawned and soon Gravel riders were pulling up from all directions. The start was cleverly managed such that riders arrived shortly before their scheduled start time and then were set off in groups of up to six. Most came with the route programmed into a GPS unit but some took advantage of the offer of a Wahoo ROAM to try for the morning and others stuck with someone who had the route loaded.
With a coffee from Pearsons to clear the head and having checked in at the start, we set off in small groups and headed southwards and up Richmond Park Road. I was in a group with friend, recent ex pro and Pearson Ambassador Edmund Bradbury aboard his Pearson ‘Off Grid’ carbon gravel bike. As we entered the park and turned onto the first smooth section of gravel known to locals as the Tamsin Trail he started to push the pace, bad news for anyone whos been mainly off the bike for 11 weeks since the birth of a baby girl!
A familiar road section through Kingston brought us to the Teddington foot bridge, a lovely opportunity to dismount, catch my breath and walk sedately over the river. After all, we’re not in a rush are we? Next, into Bushy park we keep is fast on the road and up and over Hampton Court Bridge.
The next gravel section begins at Thames Ditton and Esher Golf Club, we check to see if anyone is teeing off before shooting across the fairway, FORE! This section continues through a little of Littleworth Common with some light, fast gravel leading us to Arbrook Lane and then Arbrook and Esher Commons. For anyone questioning whether buying a gravel bike is justified when living in London I urge you to spend an hour riding around Esher Common, there are trails, undulations and beautiful bridleways aplenty and you could easily loose a morning discovering new forest and clearings.
Esher Commons featured the KOM for the day, a surprise 100m pitch immediately after a 90 degree corner that caught many a rider (including myself) in the wrong gear, ouch! Not long after the Common it was time for the Sportive Breaks feed stop, thank goodness! “How was that only 26km!? Im cooked!”.
With full COVID controls riders approached the visored Sportive Breaks founder Phil for a refill and a bar. The mood was jubilant, the weather couldn’t be more perfect for the event, dry underfoot and 20 degrees! I decided to let Ed carry on and chat with a few riders as they came through. I couldn’t help but marvel at the array of bikes people were using, were we at a road sportive there would only have been carbon road bikes but here riders had everything from commuters to steel tourers to cross bikes to old mountain bikes to new dual-sus 29ers to custom titanium and carbon gravel bikes. More to the point there were pairs of riders where one was aboard a 16kg Steel bike and the other on a superlight carbon cross bike and yet the magic of gravel being that these differences are less important, less important than a fun ride and a catch up away from the traffic.
The same with tyres, one brave soul had 28mm road tyres and between him and the 50mm knobblies on my gravel rig was every discernible style, size and tread of tyre.
Setting off at the back of the field it was back onto the commons, this time Ashtead and Epsom. A sunny Saturday meant lots of walkers, dogs and children sharing the trails. Lots of polite ‘excuse me’ and the odd gentle bell ring to let them know we’re coming through. Of course even the best diplomacy can fail and being at the tail end I bore the brunt of one little old lady’s anti lycra sentiment reaching breaking point. Despite slowing to a crawl and quietly calling ‘excuse me’ I was greeted by “OH BUGGER OFF!!” and a raised middle finger! You cant please everyone unfortunately, her family were quick to say “Grandma NO!” and apologised profusely and I carried on with a smile.
Cutting through Old Malden and back into Kingston we re-joined the Thames path and then back into Richmond Park again. The park has a rich variety of gravel routes and is a great place to start if you’re local and new to the trails.
Finally winding back down Richmond Park to the Pearson Shop the Signal Brewery tent was calling, a chance to have a socially distanced beer, a catch up about the route and discussing how things will be different on November 14th when the next event is scheduled to take place.
If you fancy a shot at the next Inside Out gravel ride in support of two excellent mental health charities then book your place HERE.
And to explore the UK’s best gravel routes outside of the M25, check out our weekly events on the Glorious Gravel.