7 tips to nail your first gravel event

When you make your gravel riding debut at one of the UK's biggest events you learn a lot

Dirty reiver rider
(Image credit: David Patterson)

Stealing a glance down at my shoes halfway round the Dirty One-Thirty, I marvelled at just how lavishly they – and the bike – had been painted. A new pale-grey colourway had apparently permeated every crease, fold and machined surface of, well, everything. I could only imagine what my beard, scruffy at the best of times, now looked like. 

It was a stark contrast to the early kilometres of the ride, during which the pack of riders I was part of was enveloped by a cloud of dust that was doing a worryingly good job of coating the insides of mouths and noses. All the same, it looked like a scene from some iconic race like Unbound Gravel in the US Midwest rather than North East England.


Where is the race held?

Kielder Forest, Northumberland, England

Race distances

 200KM / 123KM / 65KM 

When is the 2024 Dirty Reiver?

Dates have yet to be announced but entries open on the Dirty Reiver website on December 1

How to get there

Kielder is around 30 miles from the nearest railway station, so driving is the order of the day, unless you’re hardcore enough to add 60 miles’ riding to your trip (chapeau!). From either the north or south, a motorway will get you to either Carlisle or Newcastle, from where it’s a 40-50 mile drive on A and B-roads.

Where to stay

The event features camping or space for camper vans. Kielder itself is very small, with little accommodation, but there is plenty in the wider area. We stayed in the town of Hexham, around a 45-minute drive south of the event HQ.

Bike shops

There are three bike shops at Hexham, but that’s 30 miles from the event. With plenty of brands showcasing their kit, you may find what you need at the event HQ at Kielder Castle. Better still, ensure your bike is well MOT’d and bring all the spares you might need and more.

Which bike should I ride?

The majority of riders were using gravel bikes at the Reiver, but plenty were using hardtail mountain bikes, and even full-suspension e-bikes for the 65km Dirty E-Reiver. The event recommends a minimum 33mm gravel tyre but in the inclement conditions we experienced, 38mm  might have been a better option.

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After cutting his teeth on local and national newspapers, James began at Cycling Weekly as a sub-editor in 2000 when the current office was literally all fields. 

Eventually becoming chief sub-editor, in 2016 he switched to the job of full-time writer, and covers news, racing and features.

A lifelong cyclist and cycling fan, James's racing days (and most of his fitness) are now behind him. But he still rides regularly, both on the road and on the gravelly stuff.