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In May 2020 I became part of the 8bar bikes gravel team. I was super stoked, flashed, excited and did not really know what this all meant. Due to Corona it was unsure whether gravel events would take place or not. I thought, oh well, I feel comfortable on my bike. I know that I can go long, I can go all-terrain, I can race, I can go adapt, it will be okay.
About the event itself: The Holy Gravel is a non-profit event. For the registration you have to donate an amount you choose (recommended was 1 % of the worth of your equipment) to a charity organization called Caritas in Hamburg. That’s it. You’re in. Then you get some info mails: the code of conduct and most importantly the track. The track is all that is provided to you from the organizers: it is a GPX file and tells you where to go. Also, it provides some waypoints with information like where you could possibly find water or shelter. But the route planning is up to you! You get to chose between a 555 km and a 750 km long track. The most important rule is: stay on the track! The time doesn’t matter. There is no ranking. There is no prize. It is just about the experience, about nature, about the passion of cycling.
So, I came to Berlin. Over 10 hours by train from Constance. I received my brand new team bike called „8bart„. On Friday morning I took the train to Hamburg. I met Jule my team mate in Hamburg and we stayed the night at Johanna Jahnkes place. In the morning, after a bowl of warm porridge, we rolled to the starting point in Hamburg all together. At 8:00 a.m. in the morning on Saturday the gravel race started.
Everybody at the starting point looked super prepared. Fancy bikes, fancy bags, fancy bike computers, fancy hawaii shirts. Luckily, I had the sponsored equipment (8bar bike, Ortlieb panniers, Wahoo computer). This was absolutely necessary for this type of race. To be honest with you: without the sponsorship, it would have been difficult for me to afford all of this.
But it was not only the the equipment that was outstanding for me. It also corresponded with the level of cycling experience that was represented at this event. I was (with one other expetion) the only person with flat pedals and with no previous gravel race experiences. I was the rookie. And I felt intimidated.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOUR FIRST GRAVEL EVENT
Here are four tips for all gravel rookies!
No. 1: Make sure you have a good bike. It does not have to be a brand new gravel bike, but it should have wider tires (38mm or more), good brakes, comfortable geometry and a robust frame so you can spend some 8+ hours in the saddle. Add some sort of bikepacking bags to it (see No. 2).
No. 2: Make sure to be self-sufficient and carry your own food, camping equipment, a powerbank and tools. You need some space in your bags for some stuff: a tent or tarp, a mat, a sleeping bag would be nice. Food like bars, nuts, bread, sweets and some water bottles to refill. Tools and spare parts to fix a flat tire, a broken chain or to help somebody else out.
No. 3: Have some sort of cycling computer. I used a Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT and uploaded the tracks via my phone onto it. It worked great, no worries with the battery or the maps. But you can also use your cellphone if you have a proper case for it to go onto the handlebar. It is nice to be your own captain and not having to rely on other’s navigation skills. Yes, you do end up in smaller groups and most people have a cycling computer. But it’s a great feeling to be independent.
No. 4: Go at your own pace! Do not stress about the other people’s fancy equipment, their speed or their whatever (like I did). You will be fine. The people at the Holy Gravel were all REALLY NICE and also really helpful. Communicate your needs. If it is too fast, if you are hungry, if you have to stop to buy tampons, whatever it is, tell your mates! They will understand.
HOW TO RACE GRAVEL
So, you have a bike, you have the track and you have no idea what you are doing like me? Basically, you just ride. And when you are hungry, you eat. When you are tired, you stop. It’s all your choice. Who you want to ride with, how fast you want to go, how much and where you want to sleep is up to you (usually it’s camping preferred over hotels, speaking of self-sufficiency). But „the track is the track is the track“ (quote Jule). There are no short cuts. You are not cheating anybody but yourself. If the track says to carry your bike up some 50 stairs, you do it. It will be worth it. This is the fun about it. Somebody put lots of thoughts into this. The track provides. Just give it your best and have a good time doing it!
SO WHAT’S DIFFERENT?
If you come from a roadcycling or a biketouring background
like me, I would like to tell you what I found was the difference to both other
types of cycling.
Gravel is harder than biketouring is. Why? It is more intense (for me: faster than biketouring). You spend way more time in the saddle, you have less recovery time, you ride challenging tracks with sand, roots and other difficulties included, you just reach your limit faster.
Gravel is more exhausting than roadcycling is.
Why? It is longer and more technical than roadcycling. There are super steep
ascents and descents, tricky trails, you sometimes have to carry your bike. The
descents do not pay off like they do on the road. You will have to go slow on
the descents and also slower on the flats. Overall, it is good practice for
To be continued:
part II: Coping with having my period, sleep deprivation, water and food supply at the Holy Gravel.
part III: My set-up for the event and insider tips that I learned from the Pros at the Holy Gravel.
Got any questions? Shoot me a message or leave a comment.
Ich hatte die Ehre mit Martin von Biketour Global über meine Südamerikareise zu reden. Wir reden über Geschichten aus Kolumbien, Peru, Bolivien, Chile, Argentinien und Brasilien, über das „als Frau alleine auf Tour sein“ und warum es gut ist, manchmal gar nicht so einen konkreten Plan zu haben. Viel Spaß!
To ride gravel is to ride mostly unpaved, all-terrain roads. It’s about mixing your passion of cycling, nature and adventure. Sometimes it is also combined with some racing, but in general it is not about „winning“. Gravel bikes are robust, versatile and fast. They usually have bigger tires (38mm or more), I’ve seen mostly disc brakes and tubeless, they do not have suspensions like MTBs do, they come with a dropbar, they often have mounts for all kinds of equipment like racks or bottle holders etc., so you’re always ready for some bikepacking. Compared to cyclocross bikes they have a more comfortable geometry since they are build for endurance and long days in the saddle. Overall, it is more about exploring the wild nature on a reliable bike and less about performance & speed. It’s a really fun and new kind of cycling to me, totally different to what I have done before.
One of the most important questions (or maybe the most important one?) to anything is – “why?” What’s the reason why we put effort, time and energy into something? What’s our true motivation? What is our desire or wish or dream behind our actions?
We tend to find a simple answer like “because it is fun.” Or “because I am good at it.” But what if traveling by bike is not so fun sometimes, it is exhausting and maybe painful. And what if I really don’t know if I am good at it? I mean there are a lot of people that are way better*. (*add anything here like: better bikepackers, better photographers, better adventurers than me). I want to look at these two answer more closely.
“Because it is fun!”
Fun can be anything. Going to an amusement parc is fun or eating lots of chocolate and watching movies is fun. So, is traveling by bike really fun?
Jenny Tough says there are two types of fun. “Type one fun is the kind of activity that’s fun all the time, like maybe skiing or something when you’ve got a grin permanently on your face.” Okay. So for me, it is clear that I am not going to travel by bike for type one fun. Biketouring can make you cry and scream. It can be hard. It is definitely challenging.
But Jenny says “Type two fun is different – it’s the kind of fun which can be very miserable at the time but literally the moment you stop it, you love it and you want to do it again.”
I feel this. Type two fun describes exactly the kind of fun I found on my bike. And then there are the rough days, without sun, with rain and wind, without lots of smiling. But during these days (especially looking back afterwards) I felt like I became stronger. And more independent. I learned to be in charge of myself. And I learned that it will pass. Clouds come and go – and so do hard days. When you realize this, you realize you can do it. You don’t let that control you. And of course, there are fun days in the sun where everything is amazing. These days are part of it, too 😊
“Because I am good at it!”
We are not born as professionals. I had to learn to ride a bike when I was young. And it’s the same for bikepacking. I had to learn to travel by bike, too. Just because you are not good at something now, does not mean you become good in it. And comparison does not help anyone here. Who defines what’s good and what’s not good?
Why the heck am I doing this?
I travel by bike to feel free. That is my reason. And to feel free is not always to feel happy. But to feel alive and to learn. I can learn to be independent, strong but also vulnerable. I learn to be responsible for my actions and in the moment. Traveling by bike is pure, unique and for me, the best way to move freely. Without having to be the best at it.
Buuuuut there are a billion reasons to travel by bike. After going into some detail, here is a list of more reasons why to travel by bike that is relevant to me:
you can expand your social cirle and meet amazing people
First things first: How do you even start planning a bikepacking tour?
Here are a few „to do“ lists to get started. Planning is just as individual as traveling. I want to give you some ideas and inspiration. One thing I know for sure: if I can do this, you can do this, too!
In the beginning I only wrote for friends and family. I documented my trip on Instagram, loved to take photos and let my peeps at home take part in my travel through my stories. More and more people started engaging and following me. I realized what I was doing was something inspirational for others. I began to write more regularly, answer questions and give more details about my life on the bike. Some followers started to plan similar trips and asking me for advice. With this blog I hope to give more ideas, insights and advice for anyone interested. My goal is to spread the word about bikepacking. It’s a wonderful way of traveling, because it combines keeping fit and getting to know other countries and people. Also, it is a sustainable and healthy way of traveling – for you and mother nature.