Markus Stitz’ guide to the best gravel cycling in Britain captures the community spirit of the gravel scene and is sure to spark your sense of adventure.
After an initial period as a gravel sceptic, assuming that, “gravel bikes were simply another marketing move from the bike industry”, round-the-world cyclist and founder of Bikepacking Scotland, Markus Stitz, soon changed his mind. “Gravel riding was no longer defined by a certain type of bike, but much more by the opportunities it offered.”
And it’s those opportunities that his new book Great British Gravel Rides serves up on its 200-plus glossy pages.
“I wanted to write a book that portrays the huge variety of routes suitable for rough-stuffing in Britain,” he notes in the introduction. “I see this book as a source of ideas to embark upon your own journeys.”
26 routes in England, Scotland and Wales
In his source you’ll find 26 routes varying in length from 19km to 605km. Each is graded from ‘easy’ (suitable for all fitness and skill levels) to ‘expert’ (for those with a very good level of fitness and expert riding skills), and recommended by someone from the local area. University professor Louise Chavarie introduces us to her 59km Lomond Hills route, West-Yorkshire lass Emma Osenton takes us on a 32km lap of the Upper Calder Valley, and Andy Dix, a furniture maker based in Hay-on-Wye, brings us his 72km adventure in Powys.
These personalities share insights not just on their chosen routes but on their own cycling journeys, and it all helps add a distinctly human feel to the book. You’re not just browsing a collection of routes – it feels like you’re being welcomed into a community that’s keen to have you, to share its secrets and spread the joy that its sport can bring.
Clearly, these personal connections to the routes are important to Stitz, who notes that he hopes the book helps portray the world of gravel cycling, “as one which has made a good start towards a journey in which neither race, gender or age present a barrier to participation.”
Great detail backed by GPX
The route descriptions are detailed, directional and descriptive, with notes on the terrain, the landmarks to look out for, café pit-stops, bike shops and even other local loops you can link up with. It doesn’t stop there: you’ll find guides on the best time of year to ride the route, tips on suitable tyre choice and even info on bike-friendly public transport that will get you to the start.
In addition to the colour double-page maps, you can download GPX files of the routes, so you don’t have to cram the book into your frame bag or back pocket.
Tips for the new and not-so newbie
The book also has info and advice on things like navigation, choosing a bike, a tyre guide, tips on bike prep, staying safe when out on the trail, details of access rights (which differ across the countries of the UK) and repair hacks (like using a bank note as a boot to fix a badly damaged tyre).
Spark your sense of adventure
Great British Gravel Rides is a book designed to spark (or feed) your sense of adventure, filled with an enthusiasm that’s infectious. It reminds me of the lo-fi and laidback hippie-happy spirit that enthused and infused the mountain biking scene in the late 80s/early 90s, capturing a cycling scene that’s not about being the fittest or fastest, unconcerned with who has the lightest, most expensive bike.
As Stitz himself says, “a Great British gravel ride is a cycling adventure, but it is not defined by a certain amount of elevation gain or distance. In my opinion, cycling should not be painful; it should be fun.”
Great British Gravel Rides – Cycling The Wild Trails of England, Scotland & Wales is published by Vertebrate Publishing, Sheffield. Get yours for £25 at www.adventurebooks.com.