Gravel Culture: #RideDrinkPie
Gravel Union On
19 February 2021
The rise in popularity of gravel riding has been nothing if not impressive, but what about gravel riding clubs? In the UK at least, in most towns there’s usually a local road, TimeTrial or Triathlon club and a few groups of MTB mates who meet up once week for a night ride. Roadies often dabble in a bit of winter ‘cross. After the rise in popularity of road sportives back in the day, there was a related growth in internet-based clubs, plenty of Strava racers and the forming of new clubs with less of the traditionalist backgrounds.
Yet gravel riding clubs don’t seem to really be a thing?
Aside from all things bike-related, I work as a painter and decorator. A few years back I was asked by a local bar owner, Martin, to come and paint the toilets in his bar, appropriately called “Drink?” We got chatting and Martin explained that he thought he should tidy the place up a bit as there were a few craft beer bars opening up locally and he wanted to stay ahead of the competition
Painting obviously gave me far too much time to think. I knew I loved gravel riding, I knew there were others out there who felt the same. I had friends dotted about the place to ride with, but no club ride like I used to do with road clubs. I asked Martin how he felt about a regular ride being based from his bar, and more importantly, could we bring our bikes inside? Thankfully he was game for the idea.
Tuesday night was the quiet night in Drink? so we chose that. Drink? didn’t have a food license and we decided that going riding then drinking wasn’t good without food, so the plan for pie was added. Martin was able to pick them up from his local farm shop individually wrapped.
#RideDrinkPie was born.
We started out small, I think maybe 7 of us on the first ride. We had to pre-order the pies on the Drink? Instagram account so that Martin didn’t end up with too many. We knew we wanted a ride with ‘No-Drop’ rules which was open for anyone with tyres above 33mm. We also knew we wanted a ride that encouraged women as much as men. A friendly ride.
We never really knew if it would bite, but we were certainly going to try. Each week we’d arrive, pies duly ordered in advance. A warm welcome to join us was sent out on social media and to any of Martins’ customers who had told him that they rode. There were ‘cross bikes, gravel bikes, DH bikes, XC bikes, fat bikes, full suss bikes and sometimes a mix of all of them in one bike!
Slowly we grew in numbers. That first summer I remember one ride with women out numbering the men! Our route always consisted of a loop in and around our South Pennine hills before heading back before Martin closed at 9pm – just in time for beer and pie.
Winter was coming and we knew the numbers might drop off as summer dust turned to winter slop and cold wet mucky rides. Martin wasn’t bothered by our muddy bikes and muddy kit, but he did feel sorry for us looking cold and wet. One evening he announced that he had arranged for a large hot cheese pie to be delivered, made by the couple who ran Cafe Solo three doors down. My gosh it was good!
Hallo’ween rides in fancy dress. Christmas rides. Pride rides. They all became woven into our calendar. We kept growing, John had joined us with his really rather excellent design skills and our themed rides suddenly started to have rather pretty invites and adverts. The bakers got competitive with Celia and Nicky going head to head with birthday battenburg cakes. What was happening was more than just a pub ride - it was the only group ride I’ve ever known where non-riding partners would come along for the social element! We were growing into a community.
The jumble of mixed bikes all riding out together for the pure love of just getting out was forming new friendships and experiences. Weekend rides started getting arranged. Events were attended. New bikes and new beers were all shown equal interest and were frequently washed down with hot cheese pie. What was lovely, even in the early days was the way everyone wanted to protect the attitude we had all nurtured. No teasing anyone about having a lesser bike or kit, but if you drank bad beer then that was totally fair game for some abuse!
Soon we realised that we probably ought to affiliate to one of the governing bodies for cycling so that we had some Public Liability insurance. We knew British Cycling wouldn’t like the word ‘Drink’ in the club name so it was abbreviated to #RDP. We only had the basic Chairman, Treasurer and Secretary roles and kept any paperwork to a minimum. We also didn’t want to end up with too much in the way of club funds sat there, so we came up with ‘All events are free to club members, or it costs £5 and includes club membership’. Then promptly organised a club event to get our subs in. Any excess went in our local Mountain Rescue team collection box.
Sadly, and probably for his own sanity, eventually Martin the Hop Father sold his bar and as he did, we decided we’d outgrown the space and we were welcomed with open arms to a bigger bar just down the way at Vocation.
Time has passed, we now have three #RDP babies, one club romance and countless rides with friends. There’s been many new members, new bikes and more fun. We realised that we ought to have something a bit like an AGM, so duly gathered in the back of our new home at Vocation with our large reserved table and 20 taps of beer to choose from. There were so many of us now in the club that we didn’t feel as able to cater for very new members. Nobody wanted to split the main ride into groups, that would be far too traditional. The Monday Night Buddy ride was born. The Tuesday riders would take turns to ‘buddy’ a new comer.
The Buddy Ride began to grow, it meant the ‘steadier’ riders from Tuesday were suddenly the faster wiser riders on a Monday and able to encourage and share knowledge with the newbies. The Buddy riders, to give them some credit, rode all the way through the harsh UK winter of 2019.
Then, well, you know. COVID. All rides and plans were in the bin.
Or where they?
Of course not! We might not have been able to ride together and drink beer but Rosie cleverly invented #beerienteering What’s that you might ask? Simple, you hide a can of beer somewhere up in the hills and make up a riddle or clue or pictures for the others to find it. It gave a lovely feeling of being able to do something together but apart…. oh, except when Celia hid a cake up the hill and there was nearly a mass stampede!
Having our British Cycling affiliation (and so having to stick to their regulations) meant that for now our rides are on hold. We can meet as pairs to ride and then it’s back to an online ‘zoom’ bar afterwards for a digital catch-up.
I wonder if we are the first gravel club in the UK? Maybe it doesn’t matter? What does matter is that through bikes we’re able to forge great friendships and community.