This year’s gravel highlight event - the Dirty Reiver, took place last weekend and it was full of bikes of all shapes and sizes. Before we get to the bikes, though, I wanted to share some of the vibes from this year's event.
When the Reiver kicked off on Friday with the sign-up and gravel expo, the sky was blue and the moods were high - but there was a grey and wet cloud looming over the challenge everyone was about to embark on the next day. With a 90 per cent chance of rain, it was not looking like an easy ride for any of the distances.
Despite some riders taking part in the Reiver to set fast times on top-of-the-range bikes, or to define whether they are in shape for tackling even more extreme gravel events such as the Traka, this event is not a race. It is a challenge with three route options: 65km, 130km and 200km and each participant can decide to cut their ride short if they don’t feel up for the full distance, and there are no podium spots for those that smash through the courses in record times.
After the registration and carb-loading of Friday, Saturday came along with looming grey skies and heavy clouds, and the 1,700 riders all queued up to the line for the start. It conveniently started to drizzle just as we got through the start gates and onto the course.
About 200 of those participants were women, which is still a minority category in this big event. That is why we've also highlighted some more women's bikes here - to bring them to the forefront.
This year, the course featured some alterations from last year but it was no less relentless. For the full 200km course you were looking at 3,600m of elevation, and both of the shorter courses were not lacking in the hill department, either.
What bike was the best for the course then? I guess, the age-old answer would be: “The one you have”. There was no single trend visible: there were a lot of suspension parts seen on gravel bikes in the form of suspension stems, seatposts and suspension forks, and hardtail mountain bikes were a relatively popular option, as well. But then again, there were flat-bar gravel bikes and even a few rim-brake bikes out there! You can really tackle the challenge with various set-ups, but perhaps the below bikes can work as inspiration if you're planning to take part in 2024...
Katie Hughes’ Fairlight Secan
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes Fairlight Secan.jpg, by Suvi loponen
I caught Katie Hughes just after she had finished riding the 200km route on her Fairlight Secan.
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes Fairlight Secan-1.jpg, by Suvi loponen
The tyres are Terravail Rutlands, the groupset is Shimano GRX and the purple Chris King headset and Hope hubs add a pop of colour to the otherwise dark frame. And talking of the wheels - Hughes said she had built them herself - which makes them extra special.
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes Fairlight Secan-3.jpg, by Suvi loponen
The bags - under the saddle and on the handlebars - are both custom-made.
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes Fairlight Secan-4.jpg, by Suvi loponen
Claire Matthew - Liv Devote and Marie-Louise Ridley - Cervelo Aspero
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes Liv Devote.jpg, by Suvi loponen
Claire Matthews was enjoying a well-deserved after-ride drink with her friend Marie-Louise Whitley when I caught up with the two riders and had a closer look at their bikes.
These women completed the 130km route riding it all together and based on their cheery vibe after, they had a great time.
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes Liv Devote-1.jpg, by Suvi loponen
Matthews was riding a Liv Devote equipped with Shimano GRX and a dropper seatpost. As many, she had also equipped the bike with a handy top tube bag for the snacks and two bottle cages - with side access because of the small frame size.
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes Liv Devote-3.jpg, by Suvi loponen
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes Liv Devote-6.jpg, by Suvi loponen
Ridley's small Cervelo Aspero was similarly rocking a dropper seatpost and Shimano gearing.
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes Cervelo Aspero.jpg, by Suvi loponen
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes Cervelo Aspero-2.jpg, by Suvi loponen
Saddles are a very personal thing but Ridley said she finds the ISM PR 3.0 saddle comfy and, clearly, it had got her through many hours on the saddle.
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes Cervelo Aspero-3.jpg, by Suvi loponen
Sarah Round - handbuilt Smithy
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes custom Smithy.jpg, by Suvi loponen
Round’s custom-built steel Smithy features Rohloff internal hub gears, Brooks saddle, Hope hubs and a very nice green colourway (under all the dirt).
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes custom Smithy-3.jpg, by Suvi loponen
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes custom Smithy-6.jpg, by Suvi loponen
Flat handlebars were not a rare sight at the event as the course is pretty much either going up or down a hill and flat bars can offer a little more relaxed riding position.
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes custom Smithy-2.jpg, by Suvi loponen
Ruth Harris - Surly Straggler
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes Surly Straggler.jpg, by Suvi loponen
Harris completed the 130km route on her blue Surly Straggler which is equipped with a whole load of Wizard Works bags.
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes Surly Straggler-2.jpg, by Suvi loponen
She had also opted for flat pedals and a Brooks saddle.
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes Surly Straggler-1.jpg, by Suvi loponen
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes Surly Straggler-4.jpg, by Suvi loponen
Ineke De Bondt - Fossil Causeway
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes Fossil Causeway.jpg, by Suvi loponen
De Bondt's Fustle was the first time I saw this Irish maker's bike in real life and the Causeway was her steed for the 65km route.
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes Fustle Causeway-4.jpg, by Suvi loponen
De Bondt has equipped it with very sensible mudguards (they were much needed), three bottles, Shimano GRX groupset and plenty of The Adventure Club stickers.
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes Fustle Causeway-1.jpg, by Suvi loponen
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes Fustle Causeway-5.jpg, by Suvi loponen
Alison Davie - Cannondale Topstone
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes Cannondale Topstone.jpg, by Suvi loponen
Davie was riding this earthy-coloured Cannondale Topstone for the 65km route. She had Shimano and FSA drivetrain and was rolling on the WTB Nano tyres.
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes Cannondale Topstone-1.jpg, by Suvi loponen
Mike Jones - Schmicking Handcycle
DR_BikeCheck_MikeThomas_Castle.jpg, by Matthew Page
Mike was one of several riders to use a handcycle at Dirty Reiver this year, showing how accessible the event is for those using adaptive bikes. Mike was riding a Schmicking Adaptiv-Bike from the German company. Powered by a Bafang motor, with a reasonably large battery. Mike completed the 65km distance and said he had used less than half the battery.
DR_BikeCheck_MikeThomas_Display.jpg, by Matthew Page
The Adativ-Bike featured a 1x drivetrain, with 10-46T cassette and 26-inch wheels with Maxxis High Roller II, 2.3in tyres.
DR_BikeCheck_MikeThomas_Control.jpg, by Matthew Page
Alex Rafferty - Rå Valrarvn S limited edition
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes Rå bikes valravn-9.jpg, by Suvi loponen
It is hardly a surprise that those that work in the bike industry have some of the fanciest bikes, and mountain biker Rafferty's steel Rå Valravn is definitely one of them.
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes Rå bikes valravn-7.jpg, by Suvi loponen
This copper-coloured bike is built with Reynolds 853 double and triple-butted tubes and features a Rudy RockShox fork (which we saw quite a few of at the event) and a full SRAM AXS groupset. Neat details include the cassette complete with copper colour, and Rafferty has included blip shifters on the handlebars for easy shifting.
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes Rå bikes valravn-1.jpg, by Suvi loponen
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes Rå bikes valravn-8.jpg, by Suvi loponen
The wheels are Zipp 303 Firecrest and they're wrapped in Zipp Course G40 tyres. Rafferty successfully rode this bike through the 130km route. We spotted another Rå Valravn at the expo village - a bike owned by Arnold Tuinman, Rafferty's colleague.
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes Rå bikes valravn-12.jpg, by Suvi loponen
He had equipped his more road-orientated bike with Zipp wheels, the newest SRAM Force groupset and well, interestingly, also a bell and Tuinman's name engraved into the bottom bracket.
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes Rå bikes valravn-10.jpg, by Suvi loponen
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes Rå bikes valravn-13.jpg, by Suvi loponen
Ben Thomas - Lauf Seigla
DR_BikeCheck_BenThomas_Before.JPG, by Matthew Page
Ben was among the first riders back on the full 200km course on his Lauf Seigla bike. Multiple changes over the standard specification include lightweight Mt Zoom components, a Rotor ALDHU carbon chainset with oval chainring, and Rotor InSpider power meter. The Strada wheels were among the deepest seen at the event with SRAM Red AXS XPLR gearing and Restrap bags to carry all the nutrition and parts for the long course.
DR_BikeCheck_BenThomas_Fork.JPG, by Matthew Page
DR_BikeCheck_BenThomas_Chainset.JPG, by Matthew Page
DR_BikeCheck_BenThomas_Bagfs.JPG, by Matthew Page
DR_BikeCheck_BenThomas_After.jpg, by Matthew Page
Stuart Bower - 3T Exploro
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes 3T exploro.jpg, by Suvi loponen
Bower sped through the 130km route on this sparkly, custom-painted 3T equipped with SRAM/Zipp components and plenty of anodised details.
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes 3T exploro-6.jpg, by Suvi loponen
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes 3T exploro-5.jpg, by Suvi loponen
Chris Boardman - Boardman ADV 9.0
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes Boardman adv 9.0.jpg, by Suvi loponen
There were also a whole host of famous people at this year's Dirty Reiver. MBE Chris Boardman was one of them, and he was riding the Boardman ADV 9.0 gravel bike which he said is "pretty much set up as it was out of the box".
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes Boardman adv 9.0-7.jpg, by Suvi loponen
He's been riding this bike for two years and for this even ditched the mudguards but added a frame bag and an insta360 camera mount - Boardman said he has started to enjoy capturing his adventures on camera.
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes Boardman adv 9.0-6.jpg, by Suvi loponen
The bike is equipped with Shimano GRX 600/800 11-speed groupset, Boardman ADV wheelset and Goodyear Connector tyres.
2023 Dirty Reiver bikes Boardman adv 9.0-1.jpg, by Suvi loponen
And speaking of Boardman, we also spotted a new prototype Boardman gravel bike at the Dirty Reiver. It's a controversial one...
That's all the bikes we captured from the 2023 Dirty Reiver - there were many more we could've featured so if you saw anything super special, let us know about that in the comments below.
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