The Dutch Strade Bianche.
A few months ago I was alerted to a new kind of cycling ride in and around Mill (NL). It was called the Brabantse Strade Bianche and as the name suggests. It involves a lot of gravel roads mixed with tarmac roads in between. For those of you who are not familiar with the real Strade Bianche in Italy, a very small history lesson, with thanks to Wikipedia.
The Strade Bianche, oficially called Strade Bianche - Eroica Pro, is a road bicycle race in Tuscany, central Italy, with a finish in Siena. It has been held annually since 2007, on the first or second Saturday of March. The name Strade Biacnhe (Italian for white streets) stems from the historic white gravel roads that are a defining feature of the race. More than 50km of the total distance are raced on dirt roads.
There has been a lot of development the last 12 months on grvael bikes. Specific bikes for riding on dirt or gravel roads. And I do sort of get the appeal for gravel bikes, although I would then buy a cyclecross bike.
This race would be suited to use that kind of bike. Wider tyres, more clearance and maybe even disc brakes. Would be perfect.
But me, and my mate as well. We'll be using our full on race bikes with 25mm tyres on about 6bar / 85psi of pressure. Good to mention, we both weigh around 73 kilograms. If you're a heavier rider then I would advise putting in some more pressure. Also worth mentioning. We are using a normal clincher set up with Schwalbe Light inner tubes. If you're running tubeless you can get away with lower pressure without running the risk of a pinch flat.
Coffee before the ride.
While waiting for our friends from Scope cycling. My mate Piet Boom and I grabbed a cup of coffee and discussed various things. Most of which are pointless. But fun nevertheless. One of the more important ones was how we notices this ride attracted a different kind of cyclist.
When you ride a Gran Fondo or a sportive there is always a kind of competitive side to the ride at that attracts a specific kind of cyclist. Not everybody is, but most of them are. With this ride however it seems to be different. All kinds of cyclist turn op. Some on gravel bikes, some on mountainbikes and even some on hybrids. We really liked it. Cycling is for everybody and everybody should be able to enjoy these rides.
There was also a very relaxed atmosphere. No pressure, no talking about times, just talking about bikes and the weather. It's nice to start the day like this.
Complimenting each others bikes.
When our friends from Scope cycling arrived we finished up our cup of coffee, complimented each others bikes and got on our way. The guys from Scope cycling, Nieck Busser and Rik Kusters are actually the founders of this relatively new brand. And they are the ones that told us about this special ride. With another friend of them joining in on the ride there were now 5 riders, all on Scope R5C wheels. Very cool to see, and also very cool to hear, as they all make the same noise in the wind.
"It's inspiring to go as fast a possible."
Initially we all said we were going to do an easy ride. But after just 4 kilometers we hit the first gravel road and then the fun started. One of us started accelerating on the gravel and everybody joined in. This is the fun part of riding with friends. There is always some sort of competitive part of the ride, whether it's sprinting for a town sign or just racing each other on the flats. For me, this is what makes cycling fun.
As for the gravel roads. It was a beautiful summers day, and that made the roads at some points very tricky. But fun nevertheless. I think that for some of us it's just inspiring to ride as fast a possible in any conditions.
First flat tyre of the day.
Just before the first stop, Piet had the honors of having the first flat tyre. With all the loose gravel and rocks, this was inevitable.
But, being a bike mechanic, he had this fixed in a mere 2 minutes. Very impressive.
After the well deserved stop, we filled our bottles with water and went on our way. But after just 10 kilometers, on the next gravel section it was Paul's turn for a flat tyre. When trying to pump up the new tyre he broke the valve. So another inner tubes was needed to fix the flat.
Then, about 25 km further it was Rik's turn. 3 flat tyres in one day, surely that would be enough. But no. With just 24 km to go Paul had another flat tyre. This time, a pinch flat from running his front tyre onto a rock. At this point we started counting our inner tubes and there were only 2 left. So, rather scared, we hit the road again.
Trying to get away from each other.
On the tarmac leading up to the last long section of gravel Nieck and I rode a steady but hard pace. Rick and Piet stayed a little behind and Nieck and I had a little race on the gravel.
I started the gravel in front and choose the right side of the road. Nieck choose the left, which was the better choice. This road was probably the worst of them all. Very loose and very dry. As I hit a small bump in the road I had to keep my legs still for a second but that gave Nieck 5 meters of room. 5 meters became 15 and I was faced with a chase. Luckily there was a corner coming up, in which I was planning on closing the gap with a brave move. But to my luck, Nieck ran a little bit wide and I was back on his wheel and moved straight to the front. We hit the tarmac and pressed on towards the finish, in a sort of duo time trial.
4 kilometers before the finish Nieck got a call from Rik. He, unfortunately had another flat tyre on one of the last gravel sections. Piet was with him but his last spare inner tube turned out to be already flat. With not inner tubes left, the only solution was to ride to the finish and pick him up by car. So we did.
A beer and a laugh.
After freshening up and putting the bikes on the cars we had a drink together and discussed the ride. The verdict was very simple.
It's an amazing ride, and we recommend this ride to anyone who like's a challenge. The route was well thought off, the signs were very easy to follow and the resting stops were in the right places.
Regarding our choice of bikes. We stick with our racing bikes. In the end, you can have a puncture on any bike and it has as much to do with luck as with tyre choice. Piet, Rik, and Paul all had a flat tyre, but Nieck and I didn't.
We also really enjoyed each others company. We barely knew each other and yet we had an amazingly fun day together. Maybe that's mostly to do with one thing. We love everything cycling related. Nieck, Rik, thanks for telling us about this great ride, and i've enjoyed your company.
And Piet, mate, thanks for coming along on this beautiful ride. Always fun riding these adventures together.
Thanks for reading my story today and i'll write to you tomorrow. Please feel free to leave a comment below.