The Big Country
By Andrew Brown, 10 September 2020
Under the big skies of west Norfolk, our intrepid correspondent enjoyed a great day out with Big Sky Riding on as many surfaces as you could want on a debut gravel ride.
Contact on twitter @justridethebike
West Norfolk is maybe not the first place you think of when planning a gravel bike route. But it should be. What I experienced on the first Sunday in September at the tail end of a lockdown summer was good enough for anyone that likes the idea of testing their bike handling skills on gravel - in fact a range of surfaces. Because the Brew, Bike, Beer route put on by Steve and Alec of Big Sky Riding boasted field stubble, gravel, flint, mud, water and sand. The circular, windy route (that’s not wind that’s twisty turny, spirally) wound its way out of East Winch via Castle Acre, Little Massingham old Roman roads, forestry tracks, bridleways and old drove roads.
Brew Bike Beer is an adventure ride, but this was the test event of what Big Sky Riding hope to establish as a series of bike experiences. Why experience? Because, in the spirit of Just Ride the Bike the aim is not to race, but have fun and hopefully experience a bit of nature, a dose of wellbeing and, allowing for social distancing, meet and talk with new faces who share a love of having fun on a bike.
One of the best bits about the day - and it was a proper day out, 9.30 meet, 10.30 ride out and 3pm return for beers and pizza - was the idea of being in touch with nature. It was lovely to drink low alcohol beer provided by local brewers, Adnams. Even better to pause occasionally and absorb what was around us. And if we needed fuel we could eat tasty snacks from Outdoor Provisions. Like Wild Oak Workshops these sponsors had bought into the spirit of the ride. Part of that is about being green - riding eco and we reckon that we generated very nearly net zero of waste from the ride.
On the route there was minimal tarmac and what there was I had forgotten about. There was no grind. In places there was little grip, but there was no battle or grimacing. It was sheer fun. At times I was on the edge of my comfort zone - but that’s no bad thing as we all need to put ourselves out there, but do it safely.
Steve and Alec stress the fun. I was in a group of riders the Big Sky Riding duo had hand picked and there was some impressive kit, a bit of bravado and plenty of millimetres on the tyres (I don;t think I saw one tyre less than 40mm) backed by some good bike handling. So I had good people to follow who charted firmer ground. Where it became sketchy I had the wise words of Steve or Alec to guide me - which was excellent.
That’s what impressed me most. Yes, the Wild Oak Workshop start and finish was idyllic (wild bees, wild ducks and wood fired pizza plus a self composting toilet - thanks Katie) but the route planning, leadership and schooling of the group said to me that anyone trying out a gravel bike for the first time would be in good condition hands. The 64km route means you need to be fit - but you can learn your bike skills along the way. Or maybe review them whilst lying in the sand (three times).
I’d not ridden on sand like that before. But it was hugely entertaining (for everyone). Fishtailing in sand was new for me. And Sandy Lane was not a euphemism, but an old drove road that literally became like a dune - maybe not like in The Hill climbed by Sean Connery - and I resorted to hike a bike. The flint is worth a word of warning. Tubeless could be worth investing in, or adjusting the pressures a bit or just adding extra sealant.
Great day out. 10/10. Top tip? look out for information about Big Sky Riding plans for the autumn winter and 2021 by checking them out on Instagram - the guys are keen to run another ride before the end of the year, allowing for social distancing rules. Whatever happens I know it will be slickly organised, backed by great sponsors and be a fantastic day out under the big skies of Norfolk.
All credits: JRtB 2020