Dirty Reiver off-road bike challenge comes to Kielder

Gears are being tweaked and chains oiled as final preparations are made for one of the UK’s biggest off-road biking events.
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Kielder Forest is the venue for the legendary Dirty Reiver challenge, being staged by Forestry England and Focal Events on Saturday, April 22.

More than 1,600 bikers will set off to tackle a single lap of up to 200km through the dramatic scenery of the 63,000 hectare (155,000 acre) woodland.

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Such long distances are usually associated with top road-racing, but forest cyclists will use special ‘gravel bikes’ to negotiate tracks, hills and valleys. With their hybrid design - part mountain bike, part road bike - they have taken the world of cycling by storm.

Kielder is hosting the Dirty Reiver Challenge. Picture: Mark Pinder/Forestry EnglandKielder is hosting the Dirty Reiver Challenge. Picture: Mark Pinder/Forestry England
Kielder is hosting the Dirty Reiver Challenge. Picture: Mark Pinder/Forestry England

Taking part will be ex Tour de France riders, including Chris Boardman, former Olympic pursuit champion and now England’s first ever Cycling and Walking Commissioner. He's keen to promote greener and healthier travel. And although there’ll be plenty of super-fit athletes present, the key to this year’s event is breaking down barriers.

He explained: “Having ridden a bike personally, professionally and for fitness for more than 50 years, it’s truly wonderful that it’s still possible to keep discovering new ways to use this marvellous machine.

"Gravel riding for me is the exciting sweet spot that sits beautifully between mountain biking and road riding. Whilst road riding is still an enjoyable way to explore, dealing with traffic isn’t something anyone enjoys. Gravel meets my needs perfectly: no traffic and a bit of personal challenge all wrapped in spectacular surroundings. It’s where I feel at home.”

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A special E-bikes category has been created for the first time and a team of eight disabled bikers, working with the national Experience Community group, will use specially adapted bikes – mostly hand pedalled – to take on the challenge of a 60km lap.

Craig Grimes, from Experience Community, said: “It’s fantastic that the Dirty Reiver will have adaptive riders taking part for the first time this year. The equality of access to events such as these for disabled people is so important so that we can also enjoy these amazing trails.”

Kielder is regarded as the UK’s spiritual home of gravel biking. Now funding of £150,000 from Northumberland County Council is set to strengthen that reputation.

Working with a range of agencies, including Forestry England, the aim is to create exciting new waymarked trails stretching between Hadrian’s Wall and Kielder Forest.

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Alex Maclennan, Recreation, Public Affairs Manager Northumberland with Forestry England, added: “The Dirty Reiver event has really stoked our ambitions. This project will help pay for routes to be created and waymarked giving bikers, or indeed horse riders and walkers, confidence they can navigate even in the remotest spots.

"In Kielder we have a massive asset which is the 1,000 miles of forest roads. That’s as far as Land’s End to John O’Groats. It can transport people away from roads and traffic and into the wilds. That underlines our message that the nation’s forests are here for everyone to enjoy.”