Josh's Gravel Road to Dirty Reiver

Josh's Gravel Road to Dirty Reiver

Aug 26, 2020Josh Hobbs

Head of Sales Josh set himself an epic challenge for 2019 - The Dirty Reiver - Here's his journey so far....

I’ve always set challenges at the start of the year, whether that be to get to 2nd cat or climb an iconic mountain, but this year I wanted to do a distance challenge. I came across Dirty Reiver a 200km gravel race across Kielder forest in Northumberland. I’ve ridden 200km in one day before but on gravel it will be a whole different kettle of fish. I’ll be updating this blog with my training, equipment choice and the event itself.

Gravel riding is on the rise in cycling, some say it’s just old school mountain biking, but I say its great for taking you off the road and into some amazing scenery, opening up a whole new world in cycling. Bike manufacturers are starting to make gravel specific bikes to suit this kind of race, with lots of clearance for wide tyres and sometimes even 650b wheels.

I’ve always ridden mountain bikes, around the local forests as well as across the world. I’d like to say I am pretty confident when the going gets tough downhill, but riding a dropped barred bike with 40c tyres does require a slightly different set of skills. Trying to get round loose shaley corners can be a lot of fun but also a whole world of pain when you inevitably slide out. The event scares and excites me because of this, I hope you enjoy my journey to the event!

The bike

Gravel bikes are becoming more and more popular in the cycling world. Most manufacturers are bringing out a bike which can effectively do it all. These bikes usually have clearance for bigger tyres and mounts for a variety of different racks. In this part of the blog I will run you through my set up for Dirty Reiver.

The starting point was the Trek Checkpoint ALR 5 WSD. I’ve been a fan of the Checkpoint since Trek brought it out in 2018, a great looking bike at a good price. There’s a wide choice of specs and colours on the Checkpoint, none of them quite had the set up I wanted to go for, so I chose, in my opinion the best coloured one. It may be a Womans Specific model but there really is no difference between that and the standard version, a few tweaks such as stem length and handlebar width means the bike fits me perfectly. The frame gave me the option to run mudguards for the dark winter days and to add racks if I ever wanted them.

The bike originally came with Trek’s new R7020 groupset, this is a great groupset and the only thing stopping me swapping it over was me being a tart! I decided to go for Ulterga Di2 R8070, a reliable solid groupset that has stood the test of time. I knew that my requirements where going to be a bit odd for a stock groupset so sourced everything separately. One of the main things I wanted to do with this bike is make it 1x, but keep the Ultegra crank, after some research I found that Superstar components made a ring with a little modification would fit straight on, with it also being narrow wide it meant I didn’t have to worry too much about the chain coming off. I opted for the 44th ring as I knew I would be doing some commuting on this bike and wanted to keep the speed on the road. 


Next up was the rear mech, clutch mechs have been around on MTB’s for a while now, Sram bought it to their road bike groupsets a few years ago and last year Shimano joined the party with the Ultegra RX line. I have to say this is a very good piece of kit, the combination on the narrow wide chainring and RX mech means I have yet to drop a chain. For gear ratios, I am currently an 11-32 this give a great mix on road and off road. For the event I am planning on going to a Shimano SLX MTB 11-42 cassette. Although this will mean big gaps between the gears, I think the 42 tooth I’ll be a god send at kilometre 180!    

One of the best things about the R8070 groupset is the shifters, Trek have managed to keep them the same size as the rim brake alternative. I’ve never been a fan of the large non Di2 shifters from Shimano and R8070 are a perfect fit for my hands. For rolling along I opted for the Reynolds ATR carbon wheels. I have always been a fan of Reynolds wheels and have run them on many bikes over the years. They have a fairly big external width of 32mm and look a bit more like a MTB wheel. This extra width gives you the confidence when the going gets rough. Tyres are a big topic in gravel riding, what width, tread pattern and wheel size are all things to consider. I decided on the Bontrager GR1 Team issue tyre in 40mm wide in 700c. Aswell as being a great looking the tyre it can hold up on road and off road. Set up tubeless at around 50-60psi they are a perfect balance for an all round set up. As I get some more time on the bike, on and off the road, I will give a bit more of an in-depth review of the ride. It’s a great winter/ commuter bike and does everything I need of it. Full spec is below:    

Frame : Trek Checkpoint ALR 5 54cm

Fork: Trek Checkpoint

Shifters: Shimano Ultegra Di2

Front mech: N/A

Rear mech:Shimano Ultegra RX Di2 11 Speed

Calipers:Shimano Ultegra

Crankset:Shimano Ultegra with Superstar Narrowwide chaining

Cassette: Shimano Ultegra

Chain: Shimano Ultegra

Wheels: Reynolds ATR 700


Tyres:Bontrager GR1 Team Issue Tyre

Headset: FSA

Handlebars: Bontrager

Stem: Bontrager

Seatpost: Bontrager

Saddle: Specialized Power

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