Bespoken Word: Is Grinduro the future of cycling?

Bespoken Word Grinduro
(Image credit: Stephen Smith)

I’ve just got back from an ace weekend in Wales where there was a type of riding to suit everyone but the party was as important as the pace. So is Giro Cycling’s Grinduro gravel event concept an inclusive insight on a very positive future for riding?

So what is Grinduro?

Started in California a few years ago, Grinduro is basically a gravel version of an Enduro mountain bike race. A long untimed loop (or loops) of great riding and great scenery punctuated with challenging timed sections that you can take as seriously - or not - as you want. As it’s a gravel event there’s potential to put all sorts of terrain into the timed mix, too. The 2021 event at Machynlleth had flat-out gravel climbs, off-piste sheep track across to mountain ridges, twisting, diving forest singletrack and a final A-line section that would have been tasty on a mountain bike race. 

These are linked with an even broader mix of riverside cycle paths, quiet back roads, farm tracks, mountain pasture, roller coaster man-made singletrack, rocky scree, vertical crawler climbs, open moorland trails and of course plenty of actual gravel fire road both up and down. To keep you going there’s a disco stop hosted by Red Bull and a mid loop food stop, but most of all there’s a bunch of the most diverse riders I’ve ever seen at an event. And that - for all the stunning views and crazy whoop and holler Whacky Races race train down the last A-line section - is my most positive memory of the whole weekend.      

Bespoken Word Grinduro

The course featured everything from traditional gravel to rowdy mountain bike sections (Image credit: Stephen Smith)

All riders, all abilities, all bikes

We’re talking about genuine diversity in the political/ethnic sense, too, with a whole crew from Ride for Unity as well as individuals of every color laughing their way around Wales. That’s so great to see at a UK event where normally the only different skin tones on show are varying amounts of caucasian tans. While Grinduro actively encourages a flamboyant party vibe it was pretty clear that all the other spectrums were being repped on the hills and the after-ride hang out where DJ sets and live music accompanied the free food, beer and gin and tonic that your event ticket got you.

The event was genuinely inclusive in terms of how you approached the riding, too. While everyone got a printout of their segment times and the category winners were cheered and clapped and mates compared segment times of their own personal battles that certainly wasn’t the focus of most post-race chat. Walking through the food tent or the chill-out zones it was clear that everyone had pulled their own favorite parts out of the event. Some had smashed the timed gravel climbs, some had groveled them. Others were still replaying crazy overtakes on mates on Section 4’s A-line while others had found the B line a challenge and walked several sections on course.

That was reflected in the bikes being ridden, too. We saw traditional touring bikes with cantilever brakes, city hybrids and custom steel utility cruisers complete with welded front baskets and MTBs of every retro, XC race and enduro flavor. Needless to say, there was every type and budget of gravel bike from custom exotic to supermarket economy some laden with every bag imaginable and others totally stripped for speed under skin suited pro racers. The best bit was that you couldn’t predict the performance based on anyone's appearance or bike choice either.

Guy Kesteven racing Grinduro Wales

Enduro formatting keeps racing to specific timed segments with the rest of the ride keeping to a social party pace (Image credit: Stephen Smith)

We got stuck behind mountain bikers on singletrack and smashed on a fire road climb section by a single speeder with a frame bag big enough to live in and even the pro riders didn’t have the top times to themselves. Before and after the event the latest gear from Grinduro sponsors Canyon, Maxxis and SRAM was getting as much attention as the gallery of artisan hand-built bikes on the other side of the finish line.

Despite a mid-afternoon Saturday finish there wasn’t the usual exodus of riders either. Maybe it’s just a sign of how good it felt to be back in a field with a bunch of other people after so long in isolation but the feel in the field was as welcoming and relaxed as it was on the trail. Because the timed sections were only a tiny part of the overall ride time it was the first ‘race’ I’d never heard anyone losing their shit after being stuck behind another rider. What I did see was loads of people finding new pals out on the hills. Held open gates or a couple of criss-cross passes on different sections becoming a rolling, laughing chatting coalition. Riding groups who’d set off together scooping up solo riders, people with mechanicals or morale issues being helped out by smiling strangers. Back at base, we re-met people we’d not seen in years, made genuine connections with faces we’d only ever seen in selfies before, bumped elbows with people we’d only ever ‘insta liked’ previously and been introduced to totally new friends of friends who we were still dancing with when the music finally got turned off.

Bespoken Word Grinduro

Grinduro is all about the positive vibes (Image credit: Stephen Smith)

Cycling utopia

And if I’m making this all sound like some kind of cycling utopia then to be honest that’s how it felt. We certainly had it lucky in terms of weather as predicted storms held off in favor of dry and dusty trails and a warm glow sunset over the mountains around Machynlleth as we collapsed into the Red Bull bean bags before heading off for a dance when we’d had enough liquid encouragement. Being handed an ice-cold Stohk beer or Red Bull as you crossed the finish line, grabbing a free G&T from Wahoo or unlimited coffee from Break Fluid definitely helped to put the grin in Grinduro, too. While the very nature of gravel means there’s no way you can create a course that’s perfect for everyone all the time the twin loop format around the stunning scenery and trails just south of Snowdonia had sweet spot sections for every sort of rider. The ‘coming out of Covid’ element is obviously a big boost to the vibe of any event this summer and hopefully, there’ll be a similar ‘it feels so good to be back out with mates’ atmosphere at the upcoming UK events like the Malverns Classic and Ard Rock Enduro or even local races.

And maybe for you, an event that focuses more on your favorite type of riding will be an even better experience, with more riding that suits you and more of your kind of people. As a reflection of a much more diverse, inclusive and welcoming future for riding though I’ve come away absolutely buzzing from Grinduro. It’s also been a brilliant reminder that when hate, rage and rant seem to flare up more easily than ever, getting out on your bike with others is always a great way to remind yourself that people are actually a lot more positive and great to spend time with when pedals, not keyboards, are involved.

Guy Kesteven

Guy has been working on Bike Perfect since launch in 2019. He started writing and testing for bike mags in 1996. Since then he’s written several million words about several thousand test bikes and a ridiculous amount of riding gear. To make sure he rarely sleeps and to fund his custom tandem habit, he’s also penned a handful of bike-related books and talks to a GoPro for YouTube, too.

Current rides: Cervelo ZFS-5, Specialized Chisel, custom Nicolai enduro tandem, Landescape/Swallow custom gravel tandem

Height: 180cm

Weight: 69kg