Introducing Brad: writer, producer, and partnerships manager at road.cc/off-road.cc – and as of last year – QUOC's Head of UK Sales. In this feature, he takes us through his insights into off-season training and a few tales from his winter adventures this year.
Winters in the UK are pretty bleak for riding. I’m based in London and tend to mainly ride around the South of England where the winter weather can only really be described as ‘meh’. I recently read a stat that stated we had only had 1.2 hours of sunlight in the last 16 days. Yeah, it’s dark, grey and tends to be wet.
Because of this, a lot of people escape to warmer climates to ride, however, with the current pandemic crisis we have going on, I didn’t want to risk travelling, so looked for other ways to get out and see what winter riding is all about, closer to home.
That led me to look at the road less travelled, or more specifically, off-road completely. I’m a road racer and rider, but I knew I needed to switch things up to get me motivated to ride throughout winter, outside. For me, winter riding isn’t about power numbers, training plans, staying fit etc. it’s about exploring, enjoying the adventure and falling back in love with riding so that when it comes to Jan and I start training for racing again, I’ve got the hunger to do so.
Fortunately, as part of my ‘job’, I get the opportunity to document slightly mad rides. This tied in perfectly with my plan of switching up my riding and focusing more on off-road adventures, starting with the Dorset 330.
The Dorset 330 is a route in the South of England curated by off-road rider Harry Griffiths. The plan was to showcase that you can still find new adventures during winter, you just have to change your mentality a little. For example, riding 18 hours over two days, bringing along gravel shoes that perform well on and off the bike is something to consider, especially as there is a fair bit of ‘hike-a-bike’.
The ground and terrain tend to be heavier, which in turn, means you’re having to output more power while riding slower, plus, the harsher conditions do take a toll on your bike, increasing the chances of punctures and mechanicals. But, if you’re prepared, with the right kit and mentality, it can be just as fun as the adventures in the summer.
Sunrise to Sunset (or Sunset to Sunrise, as the case may be)
You’ve probably seen or heard about loads of people riding Sunrise to Sunset on the longest day, the Summer Solstice, but it had been done, and I wanted to test myself through the night. I hadn’t done a huge amount of night riding, so it was going to be a challenge, riding 4 pm - 8 am, but it excited me to go out and do something new, exactly what the winter is for.
Tom, at The Woods Cyclery, had kindly drawn up a route around the New Forest, the perfect playground for this sort of ride, arguably some of the best gravel riding you will find in the UK. Night riding is a whole different ball game, especially off-road, but even on the road. Your attention needs to be kept at all times, which I found out the hard way. As we were filming some content for road.cc, I had the GoPro out, but it’s pitch black and you can only see so far ahead of you. All of a sudden, I hit the deck, having not seen a massive branch sticking out into the path. This was at 60km, we still had 150km to go, I couldn’t give up now however, I had snapped my handlebar, but the adventure was calling my name so I decided to truck on.
Again, if it wasn’t for switching it up in winter and trying something new, I wouldn’t have had this crash which, in turn, makes me a mentally stronger rider that can overcome challenges. It wasn’t ideal, but at the end there is a story to share and a memory to look back on.
The last of my Winter adventure series saw me take on the Festive500, in one go. 500km in one go would be my longest ride, so I decided to use the gravel bike, for comfort, but mainly stick to the roads. Mapping out a route on komoot, I set off at 3am, into the darkness and into the all too familiar British winter drizzle.
The trend I see nowadays is people trying to find a ‘do-it-all bike’ and I think a gravel style bike, that can take up to 45c tyres, is the way to go. The second October hits, I’m straight onto my gravel/winter bike and the summer bike doesn’t see the outdoors until April. Not only because I want to keep my summer bike dry, I’ve got the gravel bike set-up for harsh winter conditions and longer days in the saddle, so it was the perfect compatriot for the 500km.
Ultimately, what I’m trying to get at is, if you’re based in a country that has harsh winters, look at switching up your adventures and trying new things: new places to visit, a slower pace that is more about working the mind than it is the legs. You’ll become a better rider for it, well, I have, anyway.
Words, videos and routes by Bradley Shenton
Photos by Finley Newmark