/  Centenary   /  Trails’n’Ales – A Gravel Odyssey

Trails’n’Ales – A Gravel Odyssey

This month we launched Century Lap, a special collaboration pale ale with our friends at The Park Brewery. To mark the occasion Harry Bunnell and a team of volunteers and route testers devised a 100km gravel ride in the Surrey Hills, finishing with an afterparty at The Park Brewery taproom. With just under 100 riders turning out and the rain holding off, it was a cracking day, which so far has raised £2,100 for Full Cycle Community Bike Project in New Malden. Gravel is known for its community spirit and inclusiveness, and this ride was no exception, welcoming riders of all levels on a real mix of bikes. We hear back from three Wheelers who took part.

Caroline Hemmington

When I moved to Chessington my Wheeler buddies said I had to get a gravel bike as a gravel route runs right behind my house. So I waited for the January sales and invested. Mainly, I use it for commuting but when Trails ‘n’ ales was advertised I thought I’d sign up – a bike ride with beer, what’s not to like? I didn’t think much more about it, except for a bit of panic when people said ‘100km on gravel, that’s going to be tough’. Turning up at Alpkit on the morning, I was so pleased to see Alessandra Scaduto and Nick Waddington as I’d joined them on Tamsin Trail park laps together in the weeks before. We set off.

Someone said a common phrase from gravel riders is ‘oh that’s where we are’ and it was said it many times! Everything looks different from a gravel path – you pop out on a road and find you’re somewhere you weren’t expecting. It was lovely to be out in fabulous countryside so close to home – there are so many different paths to be explored. We bumped into Ian Wilkinson and Richard Beard too, our cheery group was complete. My Garmin constantly said we were off course but the others’ made sure we were on track. My bike gears were slipping and sometimes it was quicker for me to walk the bike up the hills. Coming down the hills my brakes sounded like a cross-channel ferry horn, so probably not the most peaceful ride for my buddies (but they didn’t complain – to my face 😊).

Every now and then, I’d see some challenge and my body would just stop, not knowing how I was going to tackle it. With the encouragement and patience of the more experienced riders, we made slow but steady progress. Thankfully Clunkers sorted my dodgy gear slippage – if only they could have given my legs more energy…

It was a very social event. Cyclists stopped for a chat when they’d gone wrong, held gates open or just said a cheery ‘Hi’ when passing. Even the walkers we met seemed to get more cheerful as the day went on. I recognise I could do with some gravel skills training and some bravery… Big rocks and thick mud were a challenge (one of my cycling shoes is now brown from stepping down to steady myself) and sand was horrible. By the end, I was getting braver in the mud but not sure I’ll ever get used to the sand… It was such a fun memorable day, a real adventure and I laughed a lot! The pizza and beer were well-earned. Thanks Wheelers, especially Harry B, for another great experience on two wheels!

Alessandra Scudato

As a newbie graveller, this was a bit of challenge and I’m not gonna lie, I panicked a bit the night before thinking I wouldn’t have been able to complete the 100km route. There was also an option for a shorter one, but I like a challenge and the short option wasn’t really what I was aiming for.

Fortunately, the KWCC club is the BEST CLUB and I found myself riding with a small group of like-minded people where our goal was to take it easy, enjoy the nature, the trails away from the traffic and the spectacular landscapes Surrey has to offer. It didn’t disappoint.

The route was great, some technical bits but nothing too scary (thankfully no judgment when you jump off your bike and walk it when gravelling…!), places with stunning views and places I’ve never been before. We took our time to explore and really soak in the beauty of the Surrey green areas.

We stopped when needed and didn’t bother too much about the time, we just wanted to enjoy it. At about 70km in, pizza and beers were our constant thoughts, so we rushed a bit the last kms to be able to enjoy them, and such a treat they were! Well done to the crew who made this possible, this was really a great and fun event; things like this always make me think that really Kingston Wheelers is the BEST cycling club.

Nick Waddingham

As the sun rose on the first day of June 2024 a band of intrepid Wheelers and honoured guests geared up for the inaugural KWCC Trails ‘n’ Ales ride. This was to be an epic 100km ride through some of the best off road routes our corner of Surrey has to offer. Start was the Alpkit store, a wonderful shop selling camping gear, outdoor chic apparel and of course some off road bikes. Harry and Hans were on hand to sign us all in and then send us on our merry way, not before having a quick coffee and cake, and picking up stickers and the all important beer token!

Starting with a leisurely (for some of us!) amble along the Thames then into the commons around Claygate and Esher we soon started to spread out as groups into small pockets of gravelleurs (is that even a word?*). The weather gods had smiled on us as it was clear skies throughout. However the remnants of the week’s rain were dotted around in puddles and muddy sections so the advice to bring knobbly tyres was spot on.

The route had something for everyone – steep rooty ascents, technical gravelly descents and fire roads through beautiful forests. And the famous gravel ride cry of “Oh that’s where we are!” when coming out onto a road was heard many times. Also who knew there were so many hidden cricket pitches in Surrey?

The route advice was excellent throughout, with plenty of stops for snacks and toilets signposted. We opted for the Heartwork coffee for a well needed and deserved Sausage sandwich (other snacks were available). Also Clunkers came through with some very swift mechanical assistance for Caroline – top work chaps! From there it was a lovely bit of riding through the vineyards at Denbies before tacking Stane Street’s leg sapping rollers and back to Kingston for much needed replenishment. This came in the form of pizzas (I pretty much inhaled mine) and of course the incredible Century Lap ale that the Park Brewery made specially for us.

Overall a really great day out! Thanks to the organisers for putting on a wonderful event – already looking forward to next year!

*kudos for the best suggestions as to what the plural of gravelleurs should be (a pebble of gravelleurs?)