Tuesday 21st September 2021
One thing we were curious about when moving over was the level of gravel offering Northern Ireland had to offer. We knew it was good for road and MTB trails but what about the stuff in between? Back over in the South East particularly, there's plenty of trails and gravel segments you can link up. Not so much here on first impression so when we heard about the Lakelander Gravel Grinder, we enquired and they have kindly allowed us to cover the event this year. Set just before the border in Fermanagh, the route mainly takes place inside a geopark all full of sweeping gravel trails. Sounds right up our street! We through some questions over to Darren Tapp who has been running their social media and someone who also made the move across the Irish Sea...
Hi Darren! Thank you for taking the time to speak to us about this year’s version of the Lakelander Gravel Grinder. I know you have been helping Rowan McMahon (man behind the gravel) with the pre coverage of this year’s event but can give you us a lowdown on what makes this ride the one to be at?
Hi Ben. An odd thing first was how I meet Rowan and Eddie. About 4 years ago on a cold wet day out in the middle of nowhere, Rowan had been doing all his home work on the Lakelander Gravel Grinder and was out with Eddie doing a recce of the area and seeing what would work for the route.
I was riding my gravel bike (a Cannondale slate at the time) up Belmore mountain and had seen this 4x4 stopping to open a gate. I was thinking I’m about to be told to “get off my land” as I’d never seen anyone up around there. Rowan was very very surprised to see anyone up there and cycling on a gravel bike to boot. As soon as I opened my mouth and spoke he picked up my English accent and said, “You're Darren? Your name has popped up before”. Spun me out a bit. In the middle of nowhere 2 guys in a pick-up and they’d heard of me. Turns out Rowan had been talking to another local guy Brian Leonard who had said about this English guy up riding all of Fermanagh's gravel!
So back to the question with all the riding I had been doing up around the vast area of Fermanagh gravel. Rowan sent me a mock up of the route. Crazy enough we both had a very similar route down. It’s a very tough 100km, in fact one of the toughest 100km you can do on a bike. People think Fermanagh is flat but in the big bog 100km you climb 1800 meters. In the 50km little dog you still climb 850 meters. Fermanagh is a beautiful place, with stunning scenery you really get the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere. It’s feels eerie at time, but that’s what makes it such a magical place to ride a gravel biking. Not just out but out out.
The Lakelander Gravel Grinder was a big hit from the first year. I knew Rowan and the Lakelander Gravel Grinder crew were on to a hit.
Perfect country side great forestry tracks, with a great mix of gravel roads, rough, smooth, woods, open areas, single track and fire roads it has it all. Both routes 50km little dog and the 100km big dog are very challenging whether you're a first timer or a pro looking for a tough day in the saddle.
We’ve dabbled in a bit of gravel back home, the discipline is picking up speed in popularity and competition it seems. Finding gravel trails here though has been hard to spot, is it a case of using forests and farm tracks for your gravel fix?
You can mix it up so much with a gravel bike. A good look on Google maps can be quite useful and you will be surprised what is out there. I try and link up as much off road as I can on my rides out.
Can you give us a bit on your riding background? Have you always been into gravel or have you mixed it up in the past?
My background was mountain biking from the early 90’s (before that BMX in the 80’s) I was lucky to be mountain biking in the early days. Going from XC to downhill, trials and dual slalom. I was lucky enough to be sponsored by Fat chance bike and Yeti cycles UK in the mid 90’s. I even managed 3 magazine front covers.
I moved to Northern Ireland 10 years ago and got into road biking. The roads are so quiet around Fermanagh it’s great. Won a couple of local road racing and in 2016 won the Lakeland cc club championship.
At around that time I was getting an interest in the up and coming gravel biking thing. Still wasn’t sure if it was something or not. Did I need this odd bike and where would I ride it. I now know its the perfect bike for me and where I live. Gravel biking takes me back to the early day on my mountain bike.
We’ve had a couple of mishaps on our gravel bike (who hasn’t?!), some our fault, some due to the nature of gravel riding. What would be your top 3 tips for gravel riding?
Tip 1 - get a tubeless set up always keep your sealant topped up.
Tip 2 - be prepared spare chain link, spare tube, spare derailleur hanger. If something goes wrong and your in the middle of nowhere you need to get back to a humanity.
Tip 3 - good pair of cycling shorts, something with a good pad. Again be prepared a rain cape even on a nice sunny day.
What machine are you riding in this year’s Gravel Grinder?
This year I’m riding a Northern Ireland based bike. The Fustle GR-1 Causeway with full Shimano grx and a dropper post. It’s great to support the small local brands
What’s the route like? I’ve heard there’s one big climb in there, should we be scared?!
It’s tough like I say earlier. It not flat anywhere your either going up hill or down a rough washed out decent. It very challenging and very rewarding to finish. Lough Navar has its Navar ending climb which is a shock to the system.
What’s your aspirations next year? Gravel grinding abroad?
I would really like to hit up as much Irish gravel as I can and get over to Wales for their Grinduro, that looked fun this year.
Final question, most memorable moment gravel riding so far?
Every time I go out and find somewhere different to ride weather its just around the corner or 25 miles down to ride. Just exploring on my bike. That feeling of being not just out but out out
Thank you for your time and hope to see you on the course although I expect you’ll be lapping us in no time!