GROADS LIKE THESE : Gravel Thunderbolts Adventure

Written by Ali McGregor of Chainsmith Bike Shop

My Gravel partner Nadine and I were prepared for a fight. Our opponent was the Thunderbolts Gravel Ride, a 2 day adventure hosted by the Boys at Graveleur.

Hearing stories of this legendary ride had us anticipating a great challenge. Nadine and I were plastering on war paint from the get go.

Early on we conjured images of exploration through Australian landscapes, and I often thought of Paterson’s bush bash tales from The Man from Snowy River

“The wild hop scrub grew thickly, and the hidden ground was full of wombat holes, and any slip was death.”

B. Paterson, The Man from Snowy River.

SYDNEY GRAVEL BIKES

The best approach to intensive training, we thought, was to expose ourselves to risk. It seemed to make sense that we smash ourselves and our bikes.

The terrain consisted of MTB trails; they were scrubby (near impenetrable) bush ridden with technical rocky trails, often indistinguishable from the thick surrounding forests.

We later learnt that, compared to a majority of Thunderbolt attendees, our preparation was extreme.

A deep love for these preparation weekends however, was growing inside us both. After all you’ll agree, wilderness so close to the City is incredibly appealing.

Lost, and often carrying our bikes through wild environments, became our thing.

Always out of reception, our friends and family pondered on our mental health. I mean, “NO ENTRY” signs on fences in our minds became another challenge for new found skills.

cyclocross as gravel bike

women riding gravel

The Thunderbolt Graveleur

ASK ABOUT THE THUNDERBOLTS ADVENTURE

By the time the Thunderbolts came along we were scaling those six foot fences like weather worn commandos. Our bikes were like weapons, flung over fences and if not ridden then carried everywhere we went.

Braving monstrous fines for trespassing was one thing, riding through rough terrains was another. Anyone of you who’ve stuffed leaves into busted tyres to keep them rolling, or pulled out a meter stick inside your derailleur then jimmied the busted mechanism to work beyond a single speed knows what I’m talking of.

Our outings at times were on the edge, testing our survival skills. It became imperative one of us update our First Aid. The other should read up on Bear Grylls.

We’d come back to Sydney laughing but limping. Nadine’s Boa ratchets needed total rejuvenation, the sole of her shoe jammed in her back pocket. Myself? I also lost blood, and two pair of my best Salice glasses to the Mountains.

bruises gravel ride

 

 

 

 

 

Our almighty Chainsmith mechanic shook his head after every Weekend that was more thrash fest then gravel saunter.

I tell you, if I’d a video crew out there we’d give Alby Mangel a run for his money.

When the Thunderbolt hit us, we were ready. The boys James and Mike of Graveleur had done well to organise an amazing precarved route through Countryside.

Nadine and I felt our skills, developed from radical exposure to severe conditions, were sharp.

Unfortunately Id not catered my training for endurance. Boy did I suffer for that.

WOMEN CYCLING Q36.5

And so the story of the Thunderbolt 2019 unfolds. To liven things up, I’ll start it from the second day…

Crossing another of the dozen streams, I was splattered with dirt and mud and dust. My legs ached and my underarms throbbed.

We’d all spent 2 days climbing and, with an exception to one other rider behind me, I was separated from my pack.

Nadine was miles ahead. She’d fallen down some steep hill with a bevy of boys around her.


gravel rash cycling

Nadine did a great job throwing herself into the gravel and, (as we call it), had to pull herself out of a Pina colada moment. Realising she’d lost some skin, cut through her favourite Velocio kit, and was in need of stitches, Nadine decided to push hard through the next 70km to get some proper Doctor assistance … But this story shouldn’t be hijacked by a legitimate medical moment. Which is why you only get to see her gruesome photo of blood and glory in small format.

 

 

 

“And he raced them down the Mountain like a torrent down its bed…”

B. Paterson, The Man from Snowy River.

Nadine rode away like some Super Heroine Avenger, her vest cape flapping in the breeze.

In the meantime my own pain became real. I was joyed to later see in photos this pain mimicked in the faces of other riders. Backs arched over bikes whose logos proudly blazoned only days before were now hidden behind thick dust.

Along the course of the days, photography extraordinaire Bob Barrett was intermittently glimpsed behind his lens, capturing our inevitably difficult moments as well as our ecstatic highs.

Bob captured dirty contorted faces with genuine smiles below tired eyes. He caught numerous breathtaking skylines. Bob eternalised the boys jumping creeks and those riding through intrepid sandy corners. And of course, he photographed bikes. Lots of bikes.

In brand and style they varied. There were fatbikes, enduro, MTB, gravel and CX. Like a thoroughbred, my Dedacciai CX with her steadfast frame refused to flat and held up every hill. I’d wanted to test the Wilier Jena Gravel (weeks later we’d review with a blog on the Jena), but I was glad to have my familiar dependable Dedacciai on these tough roads.

Believe me, the beauty of those mountain views was savoured, the vast fields with their bubbling brooks were appreciated. But my body was wrecked.

thunderbolt adventure

Corrugated descents hit my arms like meat tenderisers. And the bumps internally pummelled my legs. Ever felt your calf muscles separating themselves from the bone. I recon you can imagine. I was actually there.

gravel adventure thunderbolt weekend

Mentally preparing for the last 30km’s, I imagined beer on the horizon. I was vaguely stimulated by this image. But stuck in the now, and not the imaginary, a creek crossing was before me. That crossing was about to be annihilated by my speeding torpedo self.

Cranking up some speed with pedals spinning madly, seconds from entering the water, I saw it ….

 

“Yikes and WHOLLY SHIT! That’s the biggest black snake I ever saw!!”

blue belly black snake

This is not the actual snake, but positive this Blue Belly Blacksnake was the breed. (Photo credit to Stephen Mahony)

If you’d been there you’d have heard me yell those words.

Its head arched back. It coiled a foot from my leg. And I shat myself. Not literally, metaphorically of course.

At that crucial moment flooding adrenaline took over my body. Yihhaaa! I was laughing at the world again like a psychotic. I friggin love this! That adrenaline lasted 10k.

Seriously. This is the stuff of which gravel dreams are made of.

gravel riding australia

So what would you take back from this ride? The landscape. It was ever-changing, dramatic, cruel, romantic, inspirational and breathtaking.

At one moment you’re soaring over mountain ridges, the next you’re cutting paths through deep gravel and plummeting into some forest. You pop out into a field somewhere and glide along with the kangaroos, you’re coasting over rollercoaster hills and dreaming of icecream.

Then, sand bites and the wheels dig in, and your quads are jamming down at the pedals harder than your beating heart. Meanwhile your upper body is tight and holding you upright.

CX BIKE on gravel

It takes every limb and muscle for your senses to keep up with the rapidly changing moments.

10km ’s I struggled through headwind. Of course, it started to rain. I boggled a farmers mind when asking him directions. “You rode what!?” Yep, all 220km’s so far. “You’re an idiot”.

Actually, he didn’t say that, but I felt he was thinking it. I was thinking it. I didn’t even put the map into my Garmin. Idiot.

thunderbolt ride 2019

I could no longer judge how far I was from beer. And it hurt. Thank god some boys rode by and offered a wheel, which I ungraciously stole for the 5km it took to get us to the pub.

Afterwards in the haven of the local waterhole, dirt wiped from our faces and chicken hamburgers lining cyclist stomaches, our hands clenched beverages where once had been a handlebar, and the stories began.

gravel weekend with the Graveleur

One bloke swore he secured a KOM after being chased uphill by a protective cow. Another guy was stared down by a wild Brumby stallion standing in the centre of the road with the mares flanking him. I even heard spottings of wild dogs.

Many riders had fallen, but all had risen to ride the remaining kilometres.

Even Nadine who’d taken herself to get stitched was wearing her contagious smile.

Near 100 people joined the 2019 thunderbolt adventure. 95% were male, and 100% were crazy.

On that note, both Nadine and I’d like to say, there’s a surprising lag in female representation getting on the groads. Thats strange, and we wonder that its because gravel riding’s relatively fresh for the mainstream market. Maybe women just haven’t caught on?

We’d like to highlight, gravel isn’t just for the boys… There’s so many adventurous soles pent up in Cities. You’re inspired by promises to escape the traffic and driver attitude, the buzz and fumes, the claustrophobic hard man-made surfaces. You burst at the thought of hitting #groadslikethese.

There are wild places for us all to explore. And there are heaps of like-minded grounded people to share the experience. This is what the Graveleur boys bought together – a community of individuals coming from all areas of life, bonded by the love of bikes and the alluring call of adventure outside.

The Chainsmith Team each own gravel bikes, and we’re all energised by the thought of getting out each weekend.

So we’d like to ask, What are you waiting for? …

ali from chainsmith

 

 

Ali is a contributor to the Chainsmith Blogs. Co-founder of Chainsmith Bikes, there’s nothing Ali prefers more than to share how awesome it is to get out on bikes.

For any further information about upcoming rides with Graveleur, email James and Mike at info@graveleur.cc

To chat bikes, what to wear, where to go, and how to get involved, chat to Ali at Chainsmith info.chainsmith@gmail.com

Convict 100

 

The Convict 100 is one of the longest running and most challenging mountain bike marathon races on the calendar – this year it was held on 5 May 2018.  This event has been able to survive a declining number of events and still attracts people to the event each year, many of these people are new to mountain bike racing.

While numbers where down on previous years, there was a great buzz in the historic town of St Albans – which becomes the Race Centre for this event every year. The event offers a number of distances – 44 km, 68 km and 100 km.

Admittedly a gravel bike is probably not the preferred bike of choice for this event, however I decided to enter the Cyclo-cross category for the 68 km event with my bike of choice being my Curve GXR aka Kevin.

The highlights for me on this day where the first 5 km of the event – I was in the top 20 of the field until we went off road!  Nevermind.  The other highlight was the final 10 km.  This was a gravel section where I settled into the drops and held a strong pace until the finish – there was satisfaction passing many riders as I rode into the finish shoot. With the final highlight being finishing on the podium.  Overall result was 77 over the line out of 358 (3:45 mins) – finishing in the top 21 % of the field.

The Convict 100 runs through the convict trail that connects Sydney to the Central Coast and Hunter.  The terrain is mainly rocky sandstone, fairly technical in nature and is usually best ridden on a bike with suspension. I chose to run a set of Curve 650b carbon wheels for the race – a great choice considering the lack of suspension. The WTB Nano’s where flawless – set up tubeless I managed to avoid any major mechanical issues.

This event features some great gravel segments.  This descent was awesome.  I managed to negotiate the next corner – only just – as I had to unclip, dab my foot to take off some speed so I didn’t end up riding down the embankment!

Thank you

Thank you to Maximum Adventure for running this event and keeping the people interested in racing Marathon MTB races.  The photos featured in this story where taken by Outer Image Collective.  And finally thank you to Curve Cycling for making rad bikes to go exploring on – the Curve GXR aka Kevin loved the event.

Looking forward to racing again soon.

James

Instagram: @jr_w

Maximum Adventure’s Convict One Hundred, St. Albans 2018

CX Season Is Here

You know how it is, when you have to wait for something that seems a long way off, and you are really looking forward to it, and then one day it finally arrives and its like “Yippee!”.  That’s how it feels now that CX season is underway, although as you might wonder about my mental stability, at around 20 mins into a 45 minute race when your heart rate is at 90% and you realise you are only half way, you do have to wonder why?

Well the last two weeks I’ve been lucky enough to jump on a Cyclocross bike and it really is a great way to get some fitness and have some fun riding bikes.

This week it was the first round of a 4 race series hosted by Central Coast Cycling Club and it has all the hallmarks of being a great series.  A reasonable turnout, lets face it, I’d love to see it double or triple in size.

The course was great fun with just enough climbing and some pretty technical little single trail descents that would be challenging enough on a Mountain bike.  There was a great long sandy section and plenty of barriers to practice your dismounts and re-mounts. Our Masters “A” grade was a pretty tight affair with two riders taking off like scalded cats from the start line.  As I couldn’t quite match their speed, I just found my threshold and went about keeping that pace for the next 40 minutes.  Fellow NSCC rider Dave O’Connell was never far behind and was unlucky to drop a chain on the last lap but that left me to soft pedal over the line for 3rd place.

There were some pretty cool sponsors there, a local craft brewer (Six Strings Brewery), a local coffee Roaster (Natomi Coffee) and a new sports product on trial called Athletes Gel.  James who is as sports physiologist has developed this product as a pre and post workout remedy for sore muscles.  Backed by a lot of Science, its a completely new take on the old Dencorub/Deep Heat/Tiger Balm idea.  Only this one really works, just a 5 minute massage with James special recipe and the legs already began to feel rejuvenated.  I’m looking forward to trying this out over a period of time to see if it really can help with recovery.

Here are a few pics

Love this shot of Garry Millburn exiting the sand pit with the sand cascading up off the back tyre.

Fellow Graveleur enjoying the applause from fellow beardy man

Mike Iz negotiating one of the many barriers on course

Thanks to CCCC for putting on a great morning of cycling and to all the supporters

Photo credit to Gary White Sports Photography

Keep riding

Mike

Thunderbolts 2018

I’d seen the photos and heard the reports from last year.  Thunderbolts Adventure was a ride not to be missed again and I had it firmly in the “A” column for 2018.  Little did I know that just 2 weeks out I’d be called up to “run” the damn thing.  All jokes aside, I was stoked to be invited by co-founder of Graveleur, James “Ned Kelly” Wilson, to fly the flag for Graveleur and just be there to see the ride got off to a great start.

My prep was less than ideal to the point where I was driving up late Friday night through driving rain after a challenging week of life.  Upon arriving at the Roundabout hotel, I wasted no time in doing as little bike prep as possible (I’ll get to that in the morning!), and I dozed off into light sleep to the dulcet tones of the local 80’s revival band droning away the night.  Come morning, I felt refreshed and ready to take on this monster of a ride.  I had a couple of false starts getting out of the hotel room and then realised I had no idea where the ride started.  Nice work Mike! After a frantic message back to HQ, I found the meeting point with minutes to spare.  The introductions went like this…

“Hi everyone, I’m Mike, sorry I’m late!” …..crickets….tumbleweed…awkward

Still, after a few handshakes and a quick whip around of names and ensuring all were ready for a REALLY BIG SELF SUPPORTED (#ItsYourRide) ride, we rolled out and I figured the least I could do was sit on the front in the wind for a while to make up for my disorganised self.

After a few k’s, the conversations in the bunch took on a friendly note as we marvelled at the mist lifting out of the valley.  The rain had abated for now and we were treated to a glorious sunrise start to the day.  We stuck together for the first few hours holding a nice tempo and everyone was revelling in the crisp clear country air, giggling at the few weir crossings at who could get across without getting their feet wet…..yeah no one!

Before long we hit the first climb and this would the time when the bunch splintered as people were content to set their own pace up the mountain.  Cam headed off into the distance, it wasn’t until later I learned he was a G2I Div B winner, so yeah, he can ride a bit.

I kept Morgs on a short leash and that’s the way it went for most of the day, it’s always a great pleasure to find a comrade content to match your pace, chat away, admire the views together and just enjoy the sheer pleasure of listening to miles and miles of gravel pass under rotating rubber.

As we climbed further, the weather turned from mild Autumn to something resembling pretty dismal winter’s days, cold and wet, but nowhere near enough to dampen our enthusiasm. The other “interesting” fact about the climb was I found I had nowhere near enough gears.  My 1st gear was a quad crushing 32rx42f, and Morgs wasn’t much better equipped so we learned to grind….and grind and grind.  Did someone mention this was a steep climb? Putting it simply there are 2 REALLY big climbs on this ride and on the second climb there was a fair bit of letter posting going on as I weaved my way up one pedal stroke at a time.

Michael (and partner) plus Andy were close to the summit with water, bananas and sweets which was very welcome.  Adam also provided great support from his motorbike and had his own adventure to tell at the finish! The climb continued a little further on with more cold mist, but then like magic as we passed through the Polblue Trail gate, it was like someone flicked a switch, and we were greeted with beautiful blue skies, cotton ball clouds, warm sunshine and dusty gravel.

Photo Credit Charl. I’d recognise those wheels anywhere 🙂

The descent down to Moonan Flats was great fun, but the hamburgers that greeted us at the café for lunch were even better.  The locals welcomed us warmly and not with a little intrigue as we signed the checkpoint at the pub and carried on our journey…how far have you ridden?…..yes, I’m know you don’t like to drive that far…..sigh.

We saw Cam for a few minutes before he set about putting even more time into the rest of us.  Everyone else followed us into the café not long after we’d ordered so it was great to share a few stories and just enjoy the fellowship of the ride.  Fuelled up, Morgs and I set out for the second climb.  The profile appeared to go straight up and I was seriously worried about how I’d ever ride up it, but thankfully, the profile on the Garmin was not accurate and for the most part the climb was manageable in the saddle.

The second passage along the ridge top of the Barrington’s was really the most stunning country you can imagine, with lush green pastures, green grey ghost gums and countless flocks of rosellas and other birdlife dazzling before our eyes on smooth gravel roads.

The next descent was pretty rocky and I ended up getting a little tear in the side wall of the rear tyre.  Thankfully Morgs pulled out his trusty plug tool and the leak was patched in no time.  By this stage I was starting to fade a little, so I bid farewell to Morgs as he powered on and I took a little time to get some more food in.  Even though the last 40km are nett downhill, there are a bunch of tough little bergs to get over so at this point it was just a matter of keep moving and don’t look back.  One final rain shower passed over just before sunset, but the rainbow view was well worth it.

My final challenge as the light began to fade was whether I’d have enough battery left in my lights, ummm ok so chalk up another lesson learnt for the day.  I hadn’t counted on needing them at this end of the ride so once again I was reminded of the importance of thorough preparation before a ride like this and having a backup plan.  Thankfully the route stuck to mostly quiet dirt backroads into Gloucester and I was thankful for the full moon lighting the track well enough.  Yes, the iPhone torch did come in handy too.

Upon reaching the finish at the Roundabout Pub, I found Cam had already showered and cleaned up.  Morgs hadn’t got in long before me and set me up with some much-needed replacement carbohydrates in the form of an amber fluid.  Perfect!

Thanks to everyone who came out for what was truly an epic day on the bike, and especially to those who supported us in their motorised vehicles.  It’s sometimes hard to explain everything you experience from spending 12 hours perched upon a bicycle saddle but it’s a day that I won’t easily forget. And for all the right reasons. Its also worth reflecting on the fact that at the end of the day, all were present and accounted for and each rider had a story to tell of adventure, fun and perhaps just a little adversity that required some effort to overcome.  We are about gravel riding for everyone and we hope to see many more of you join us in 2019.

Keep Riding

Mike

Yarramalong to Wollombi

Leaving Yarramalong shops (coffee) this ride heads out a quite rural valley. You head up the gravel Cedar Brush Climb (6.8 km @ 4.7%) and down Murray’s Run. The descent (and climb on the return) down Murray’s Run is sealed but once you’re in the valley it turns back to gravel on and off.

Then you spend a few K’s on the sealed Great North Road heading North West. This is the busiest road on the trip.

Finally turning left you head the back way over a small rise and fun gravel descent. Don’t miss the turn right turn on Yengo Rd or you’ll end up with a bigger adventure! Yengo Rd takes you through some flat farming country into Wollombi where there’s a Tavern for refreshments. If you want to shorten the ride look at heading straight on to Laguna where there’s also a shop and cafe before the return.

Return along the same route. You’ll notice the sealed climb up Murray’s Run, but it’s worth it for the descent down Cedar Brush Rd.

Usually suitable for normal road bikes with care. We classify the dirt roads as easy.

Cedar Brush Creek Climb

Known by the locals this climb is one worth traveling to. You’ll climb your way from the farms near the creek up through the forest. The road conditions here regularly change from smooth and tacky to a bit washed out.

There’s nothing too steep for the 6.8 kms at 4.7 %.

The road that keeps giving

The section of gravel along Yengo Rd is flat and pure. It keeps surprising you when you think you’re nearly there, but there’s more to travel until that beer at the pub.

Plan Your Cycling Adventure

This information is intended to help you plan your gravel adventure. It’s a recommended classic gravel ride, that’s why we recommend it (yes we’ve ridden it, multiple times). You will still need to plan your cycling adventure. Road conditions can vary and can be closed. Know where you’ll fill up your water from. Mobile phone reception will not be available for most of these routes.

You will still need to plan your cycling adventure. Road conditions can vary and can be closed. Know where you’ll fill up your water from. Mobile phone reception will not be available for most of these routes.

Check the weather. Confirm the route and your navigation with another source and know how you’re going to navigate (without phone reception).

Enjoy the ride and post your photos to the Graveleur Facebook Discussion page.

Let us know what you think of the route in the comments below.

N+0 Just Go and Ride your Bike

Are you a self confessed gear junkie? Each year do you find that there’s some new component or frame that you simply must have. Do you love it when a more compliant frame is released? Do you love it when when someone announces a tire that rolls a tiny bit faster or has more grip in the corners (or so they tell you)? Do you love to hear that you can have more gears on the rear and less of the front. 1×13 anyone?

The bicycle is so refined now that each new piece of gear is only a tiny iteration in a long line of refinements. There’s always someway to make it better. And we must have these new improvements.

Bikes have become more and more specialised. We’ve got bikes for racing crits, endurance rides, training, gravel, racing CX, racing XC, enduro…

This specialisation isn’t just between these big categories. For gravel we’ve have the fast all road bikes. We’ve have CX bikes (yes I know it’s not a gravel bike, but really? It’s a bike that rides gravel just fine). There are the bikes that can take 40c tires. We’ve have touring oriented adventure bikes, monster crosses and drop bar mountain bikes.

I’m sure you have a need for each one of these bikes.  My next ride might be 70% tar and the 30% gravel will be smooth and fast – I think I need a Specialized Diverge. But the one after that there’s some washed out fire trails so I need something with 40c’s, perhaps I’ll take a Niner. The weekend after that I need to take some bike packing gear so I need a Salsa with all the bells and whistles. Then I saw a rad video of some guys using 650b wheels with MTB tires on some single track and it looked awesome, I need that too.

We suggest it’s time we take a long hard look at ourselves and why we ride bikes.

When you tell someone you’re a cyclist I’m guessing you don’t say “Hey I’ve got an unhealthy materialistic preoccupation with upgrading and buying new bikes and gear because it’ll make the world better.”

Or  “Somehow I feel that I’m missing out if I don’t have the latest.”

Perhaps “I think it’s just fine that only after a month of having a new bike I’m already planning my next build.”

Then we have the pressure from other cyclists.

“You’re not running hydro brakes? What are you thinking?”

“Are you telling me that you’re not on 1 by yet? You’ve got to switch over. It’ll change everything.”

“Manual shifting is so imprecise. I’m so happy I have electronic shifting.”

We have jokes about it too.

“N+1”

“My biggest fear is that when I die my wife will sell my bikes for what I told her they cost.”

Like I said, I’m a gear junkie. I love new gear and yes I have a very nice near new bike with top tier components. It’s admired, and not only for it’s bright orange colour.

Our obsessing is also because our culture values what’s new and innovative and the pursuit of these things.

We think we are obsessed with gear because we love cycling (well duh). When we can’t be riding we constantly think about and research riding, bikes, frames, wheels, gears…We think about it all the time.

We want this to change.

Exploring in the Snowy Mountains

We are not going to stop thinking about bikes all the time. But we are going to spend more time on obsessing about adventures. Dreaming of trips and reading ride reports (this is why Graveleur will have stories – the community needs to hear yours).

We are going to spend time studying maps and looking for interesting places to ride.

We are going to think about how we can make rides more interesting and fun for the other cyclists. About how we can encourage riders to try something a little bit further from the centre of their comfort zone (open gravel rides).

Remember:

A new bike will not make you a better cyclist.

An upgrade won’t make a difference.

Experience is everything.