Markus Stitz: Great British Gravel Rides
Apidura Ambassador Markus Stitz is a keen adventurer and explorer and having completed the likes of the Silk Road Mountain Race and the Atlas Mountain Race on a single speed bike, you could say he is a master of off-road riding. Originally nonplussed by the rise of gravel, Markus gradually came to realise it was more about the community than the trails and fell in love with gravel bikes and gravel riding. To celebrate and share the joy gravel riding and the gravel community have brought him, Markus has now released a book detailing gravel routes all over the UK – Great British Gravel Rides.
Having ridden gravel for years on his rigid single speed mountain bike or his Kinesis Tripster, Markus had mixed opinions about gravel-specific bikes and what gravel has become. He soon realised that gravel is not defined by the type of bike but much more by the opportunities it offers and the community around it.
When I wrote my first article, my opinion of gravel riding was still closely defined by the bike I rode. Gravel bikes had drop bars, 700c wheels and a geometry that was close to a road bike. Tire clearance wasn’t as big as it is now. Back then the 41mm tires were much more than my road bike, but still significantly less than my mountain bike would allow me.
When researching this book in the summer of 2021, my own definition of gravel riding had changed significantly. Gravel riding was no longer defined by a certain type of bike, but much more by the opportunities it offered and the community around it. Since I picked up my first gravel bike, I hardly touched another bike. I have successfully finished the Silk Road Mountain Race, at times much more intense than my round-the-world trip, on a fully loaded drop bar bike. When I look back on my round-the-world trip now, more than five years after completing it, I think that in the truest sense my longest ever journey on a bike was a gravel bikepacking trip.
Keen to share the freedom and opportunities this newfound love of gravel riding had brought him, Markus set out to ride with gravel cyclists around the UK to discover hidden gems and shine a light on them. His book shares routes from across the UK, alongside tips and guidance on how to tackle them.
Cycling’s popularity has surged during the various lockdowns we endured since a virus has changed our lives. Before the pandemic, far-flung places like Kyrgyzstan, Morocco or Chile got me excited for gravel bike rides. The Silk Road, Atlas Mountains or the Carretera Austral provided not only dream routes, but also material for magazines and films. All of a sudden, my world became so much smaller, but it was my bike and the community of people around me that still made it richer. Even though most rides in 2020 started at my front door, I could still have adventures, no matter how small they were.
I used the journeys I undertook for this book to discover Britain from a different angle and understand better what connects us as human beings. I was warmly welcomed wherever I went and discovered a country that has much more to offer than just good gravel riding. Researching the routes and speaking to people gave me a good insight into the country I made my home in 2009, and personally, I think I learned much more than any news programme would manage to teach me.
While I love the tranquillity and focus of solo journeys, I think that bikepacking and gravel riding are highly sociable experiences. There is something nice about riding side by side next to each other, looking forward and sharing the same direction. You can discuss difficult topics even with people you have hardly met before, and often there is plenty of time to chat on gravel rides. On some of the more technical sections you’ll need to switch to single file, but most times you can share a gravel path next to each other. While quiet roads allow for that too, those are far and few between in Britain, so gravel really is the most social type of cycling.
The research for Great British Gravel Rides was a great experience. On the one hand, I got the opportunity to catch up with friends I had known for longer, on the other hand, I had the opportunity to meet people I hadn’t known before. The book portrays everyone I rode with because I think a real human being is much better suited to inspire people to ride a certain route other than just a route and my advice on why people should ride it. The personalities of the riders are reflected in the routes, in the pictures and in the upcoming documentary about the book. The whole process made this a much richer experience than simply cycling trail by trail by myself.