If you expect gravel riding in the UK to be anything like the United States, where the boom really took off, you might be disappointed. Although there are some areas of the UK that have fantastic stretches of gravel roads from the South Downs Way to the forest roads of the Scottish Borders, we simply don’t have the extensive network of rural, wide and mostly traffic-free gravel roads, or ‘groads’, like North America boasts.
What we do have, however, is arguably more exciting. A patchwork of landscapes knitted together by slivers of singletrack, by rocky doubletrack trails, by undulating bridleways and moorland tracks. Not only do we have gravel like you could buy at a garden store, but we also have slate, sand, rock and mud. In essence, in the UK, we are blessed with a multitude of different surfaces for off-road cycling, all of which can make riding drop-bar gravel bikes a bit more spicy!
Here I’ve brought together some of my favourite non-gravel ‘gravel’ Tours from all over England and Wales that’ll really test your bike handling skills. Of course, most of these could easily be ridden on a mountain bike too, and you can always get off and hike any parts that you feel uncomfortable with.
Not for the faint-hearted, these often more technical routes will take you off the beaten track to new areas of the UK that are frequently overlooked. Forget the Ridgeway, the gravel trails of the Peak, the forestry roads of Scotland or the gravel roads of the Cambrian Mountains; these Tours are for gravel riders seeking something a little different.
As a lot of these Tours feature more tricky riding, I’d recommend a gravel bike with tyres no narrower than 40mm, with decent tread and reasonably high pressures to avoid any pinch-flats on rockier sections.
Who knew that Surrey, tucked down in the South East and just a stone's throw from bustling inner-city London, could be such an off-road paradise? Countless trails from bridleways to byways and quiet lanes snake between ancient woodlands and over heath covered common land, which is protected under the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.This Tour takes in some of the best sandy tracks from Frensham, which is easily accessible by train. If you're a cyclo-cross fanatic then this makes great training for sand pits, with some really quite deep and challenging sandy tracks along the route! If you're new to riding on sand, the trick is to keep your weight back by moving your hands from your hoods to the tops of the bars and keeping momentum by pedalling through it.You'll ride south from Frensham train station, past the Brewery courtyard on a sleepy bridleway and either over or through the River Wey to get to Frensham Common. Here, oodles of bridleway tracks await. You could ride here for hours! This route takes in some of the best trails, from sandy pathways with views over the ponds to a 'pump track' trail through the trees that's a real blast! You'll also head east to take in Thursley Common National Nature Reserve, with wide, reddish and sometimes rocky tracks around this bowl of wild landscape in the heart of the South East.Ride over Yagden Hill and Culven Hill on your way back to Frensham. There are plenty of ace cafes in this gorgeous town for a post-ride coffee or meal before making your way home.
From the centre of Sheffield, also known as 'the Outdoor City', straight out into the Peak District National Park, this Tour is a great one for gravel riders that like to push the limits of drop bars off-road!Heading from the city up onto the well-known Stanage Edge, you'll face some stone slab causeways to test your bike skills, although there's usually a gravel road alongside if you'd rather stick to that. If it ever gets too tricky, remember you can always hop off and walk!Although not excessively long at 18.6 miles (30 km), this is a great testing route for a short blast or after-work ride in the summertime. Why not take a picnic with you to enjoy from the Tour's furthest point, Goliath's Groove.From the station in the heart of Sheffield, you'll climb on the roads out to the north-west where you pick up Coppice Road, a gravel byway towards the Redmires Reservoirs.After a short stint on the quiet road, you have the choice of stone slabs or gravel road as you make your way to Stanage Edge. On the way back, you'll descend the brilliant forest roads of Wyming Brook Drive before returning to the city.
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Who said you need to get out of the city to enjoy riding off-road? Urban gravel is a delightful thing; exploring all-too-forgotten shortcuts, expansive parks surrounded by streets of houses or riverside trails just a short ride from home. It gets even better in the winter, knowing that you're never too far from home if the weather turns sour or if you get too cold! One of the wonderful things about cycling in Bristol is that it's openly encouraged, with great and developing infrastructure in many areas. When it comes to riding off-road, all of the Bristol parks welcome 'considerate cycling', and as there are many green spaces like this in the city, it is really your oyster! This Tour takes in Eastville Park, the gravel viaduct trail over Royate Hill, the magnificent Stoke Park with the landmark yellow house and a jolly along the River Frome. It's a circular loop from Bristol's cycling hub, Business As Usual, and you can easily access this along the Bristol to Bath cycle path from the centre of the city.Little of this Tour is actual 'gravel', but rather riverside dirt trails, grassy park fields, leafy woodland single track and traffic-free cycle paths.Once you get a taste for urban gravel, there's no going back. This is just a small insight to some of the incredible riding to be had within the city limits of Bristol. Think of how much more there is waiting to be explored!
Okay, admittedly there are some actual gravel roads in this Tour from local rider James Deane, but there's plenty of sandy, muddy and stony tracks too!At over 70 miles (113 km), it's a pretty long gravel route, so makes for a great weekend day ride. It starts and finishes at Phoenix Cycleworks, a really friendly bike shop that's conveniently placed close to the Icknield Way and the Peddars Way (see komoot.com/collection/959316/ancient-bridleways-of-central-england-icknield-way-trail and komoot.com/collection/900448/norfolks-hidden-gravel-highway-peddars-way).There's also a great place for a pit-stop about halfway around too at The Gog, a farm shop and café near Cambridge.A gravel bike really is the best tool for this route, with lot of connecting lanes and off-road segments. Don't expect finely manicured gravel trails though; these are a mix of farm tracks, ancient roman roads, grassy and sandy byways and rutted single tracks. Have your wits and your bike handling skills about you!Even though the Tour is pretty long, you may be relieved to read that it's pretty flat, with some gentle hills but nothing too devilishly steep!
Prepare to be transported into wild, remote country as you leave the charming town of Machynlleth behind in search of some pretty techy trails on this Tour. Instead of easy and manageable gravel roads you'll find slippery slate single track, rocky double track trails alongside Nant Y Moch Reservoir and an aptly named descent; 'The Chute'!Don't underestimate the distance on this one. 32.7 miles (52.6 km) might not seem like much, but as this is pretty challenging riding, it'll probably take you some time. There's quite a big river crossing to navigate too, so this route is best avoided after heavy or persistent rain.From the centre of Machynlleth, head south-east along the Afon Dulas onto the unsurfaced roads past Mynydd Bychan, including the wide gravel switchback climb.You'll need to wade through the Afon Hengawn as you take the spectacular double track road alongside Nant Y Moch Reservoir. This'll really test your handling skills!After taking the scenic road around the southern and western shores, you then have the challenge of the sheep track bridleway to cross back over to Bryn Moel, before heading north to descend The Chute. Take heed of the warning signs here and go easy on the loose slate surface, before returning back to Machynlleth to finish the Tour.