‘Gravel grinding’ is a fashionable term in the cycling world at the moment, conjuring up images of epic adventures riding through beautiful and remote landscapes, the only sound being the crunching of stones underneath your wheels. Riding dirt roads bridges the gap between road riding and mountain biking, and also offers a chance to ride swiftly and safely without being surrounded by cars.
Then there are the bikes: resembling racing bikes to the untrained eye, the difference is in the rugged tires, designed to tackle different types of unpaved roads and paths. Powerful disc brakes are also considered de rigueur for such riding, where being able to stop very quickly is essential.
I would be lying if I said that the hysteria surrounding ‘gravel grinding’ (or whatever your preferred name for it is) hadn’t rubbed off on me. I have a bicycle designed to be ridden both on and off road, and I was keen to explore the unpaved roads surrounding Berlin. For this reason, after seeing it advertised on facebook, I was very keen to get involved.
Tortuga Cycles is a bike shop in Prenzlauer Berg which caters less for pure road riding and more for gravel/touring/adventure cycling pursuits. Brooks is a prestigious British company renowned for its high-quality saddles, some of which have stayed more or less unchanged for over 100 years.
The event was organised by Brooks and Tortuga, using the shop as the starting point. We arrived just after 9am, and were greeted by Luca and Mirko from Tortuga with a welcome espresso. Bregan from Brooks was already on hand, fixing riders up with Brooks saddles to try out for the ride.
By about 10am, around 30 riders had assembled, my girlfriend unfortunately being the only female rider in the group. There were a variety of beautiful bikes both inside and outside the shop, most set up with heavy duty tires for the day’s muddy course. One brave rider had even brought along a fixed gear.
The idea for the day was to have two separate rides: 50km at an average of 20km/h and 70km at a 24km/h. After separating the men from the boys (and girl), the group was split into two, ourselves wisely deciding to ride the shorter, slower route.
We set off together, riding north out of Prenzlauer Berg through Malchow, then Blankenburg, then Karow. After about 10km, the two groups split off from one another, with the faster guys embarking on a slightly longer route including a short race, the winner of which winning a free Brooks saddle.
The ride was mostly off-road, covering everything from canal towpaths to dense, smooth gravel and muddy forest single track. Unfortunately, the weather was cold and wet, making what would have been a relatively straightforward ride a lot more taxing, due to how slippery the course was. Although my bike has pretty capable Clement X’plor USH tires on it, something a little chunkier would have been more suitable.
The highpoint of the ride was a loop around Schönower Heide, a nature reserve north of Berlin, where we had the opportunity to ride near wild horses, buffalos and deer. The route eventually looped back down to Berlin again, before finishing in a Pankow cafe for food and drinks compliments of Brooks.
With supportive guidance from Jambi, the ride was a pleasure, and a great opportunity to meet some other local riders. It was also great to see just how much gravel/track stuff is available right on our doorstep here in Berlin. I will definitely be riding these routes again, albeit next time in slightly dryer weather.
Here are a selection of photographs: