How do you stage a bike ‘race’ that delivers the correct party to race ratio™ ?
Answer : mix a ferry ride, a small but beautiful Scottish Island, 260 rad, open-minded individuals from around the world, whisky (the correct Scots gaelic spelling is ‘whisky’, Irish and Americans say ‘whiskey’), a big dose of rolling mixed-terrain and some lung-busting timed stages.
Welcome to Grinduro.
Special-stage racing is well established if you ride mountain bikes. In the drop bar all-road world, it has refreshed many riders' love of competition with an attractive format of all day group riding with friends, spiced up with starting a stopwatch every few hours.
I’ve had my eye on Grinduro ever since the first one popped up in California in 2016. One year later, the team behind Grinduro felt it was too good not to share…so they searched long and hard and found the perfect second location. Somewhere remote enough to feel like a true adventure, yet with good enough infrastructure to make it accessible for a long weekend of dirt roads, lunchtime whisky shots and high fives.
My level of anticipation was high before I’d even arrived at the ferry from the mainland. Stories from the previous event were still ringing in my ears about sinuous fireroads weaving through forests high above shorelines and twisty, smooth singletracks that begged you to go faster and push harder than you might usually dare whilst on the drops.
Arran has a mystical aura. It’s a natural playground, outlined with an ever-changing coastline, dense forests and imposing peaks, not dissimilar to Jurassic Park. This year we were blessed with tropical weather but you can only imagine the toughness of the residents in the depths of winter. Maybe this is partly the reason for their famed malt whisky and creamy Arran Gold liqueur.
On the Saturday morning after a night of camping at the race HQ there is a notable excitement to the crowd gathered around the coffee wagon. Those flames of excitement are fanned by bolting a strong espresso and the sounds of a local bagpiper who serenaded the waves of riders off into the hills. Party to race ratio check one.
With the number of people starting together and lack of end to end timing, the rollout was relaxed and chatty. Some riders come from enduro and gravity sports, with their skill evident, they were comfortable popping wheelies rolling down the road still holding conversations and taking photos. I could tell this was going to be an entertaining day in the first 1km.
We soon hit the first special stage which is a short climb leading into a fast gravel descent. This stage was more a test of nerves than fitness. Which riders would be comfortable sprinting as fast as they dare whilst trying to stay upright in sandy, loose corners. After a regroup at the bottom we rode on to the first feed zone at Brodick castle. It was 10.30am but no one was saying ‘no’ to the heady mixture of locally made ice-cream washed down with a stiff Arran gin. Party to race ratio check two.
Next up a liaison stage and a chance to take in the scenery before the next timed segment. An undulating, gravel hill climb. It was bumpy and you really had to be on your toes the whole way up to spot the best line. Some bits were so steep that if you stood up you would spin out and lose traction so a clear run was important for a good time. With two stages in the bag, the figure of eight route brings you back to base to grab some food, coffee and refill bottles before setting back off for the next timed sections. Wolfing down a hot home-cooked meal mid-ride was a mega bonus and exactly what we needed. After the ice-cream and gin, no whisky shots were included, presumably to maintain the right amount of ‘race’ in the ratio.
Knowing there were still two stages to go we took it easy through the liaison. The third stage was also a gravel climb, not so steep this time, but long and winding, with the numerous hairpins giving it an alpine feel. Part way along, one of the other riders, Rachel, came past me. I wasn’t going to lose her so we played cat and mouse the whole way kicking up the dust off our wheels. That was a tough stage and I could now really feel my legs tiring, but just on cue came the afternoon feed zone at Café Vélo. It’s an awesome spot and with no real time restrictions people relaxed in the sun sharing their experiences of the ride and even having time to watch the last few km’s of the day's Tour de France stage, where no whisky or gin shots were witnessed. Here we also discovered the Scottish tablet – not a handheld touch screen but rather a fudge-like snack which I think is close to 100% sugar. It was the perfect pick-me-up to provide some oomph for the final stage.
The final stage delivered a true mix of everything - a rutted grass section was followed by a technical single track through the woods. This was the most varied segment of the whole race, it had it all and to succeed you needed to be fit, brave and have some ninja handling skills. Crossing the timing pad people were gathered at the bottom, recounting tails of almost losing it here, or getting pinged offline by a root there. Thankfully the organisers had made the finish a short ride away. With weary legs and big smiles, we rolled down the road to the race village, ready to re-balance the ratio with some party.
It had been a big day out on bikes, seeing some stunning places and exploring an island that many have never been to. But what I think will get people coming back for more next year will be the after party. The whisky was flowing, the dance moves were going off and it starts getting wild after the awards ceremony. No doubt there were sore heads and sore legs the next day…not that people will be put off. I’m signing up for next year already.
If you fancy signing up for next year’s edition you can eye up the route on Komoot.
This will help you prepare for the distance, elevation profile and importantly, in this case, the different terrain types. There are also user photos to tempt you, get excited about what to expect and get a feel for this great event which has something for all who are prepared to commit to this new style of riding.
Words : Gaby Thompson // Photography : Chris McClean