Armed with the Romero Titanium CX from the competent hands of the Californian bike company Stinner, we found ourselves in the German capital to take part in the King of Gravus. The special thing about Berlin isn’t just its virtually unrivalled wealth of culture and history, but the fact that you can explore the entirety of this compelling city by bike – providing you’ve got the right one!
But who is the King of Gravus? Fair question, but it’s probably better if we begin by asking : what is the King of Gravus? Partially revealed in its name, the event has a multitude of features. Ken Bloomer, Enve’s European marketing manager, joined forces with Paul Niemeyer from Strava to create this half-day event during the Berlin Bicycle Week, with the initial concept being a joint ride in teams of four. Over the course of the 65 km route, there were four specific Strava segments too – from cobbled sprints to a singletrack section, right through a tarmac time trial. The route wasn’t just littered with various challenges and multiple types of terrain – it was a genuine ride down memory lane for the capital.
With nods to iconic former residents and key moments of Berlin’s tumultuous history, the route touched on notable locations such as Marlene Dietrich’s stomping grounds, sites of motorsport speed records and harrowing scenes of the once divided city.
At just under 70 km, the route headed out through the tarmacked urban jungle before weaving along sandy singletrack, gravel lanes, cobbled sections and fire roads, which kept riders on their toes. Naturally it incorporated sections from the German national cyclocross champs in Kleinmachnow, as well as some steep, hard climbs.
On this chilly Friday morning, no one could deny that while capital cities weren’t necessarily made for bikes, they’re definitely compatible with each other. Our international group consisted of the stipulated four riders: a Norwegian, an adopted Berliner, a Spaniard and a southern German. After us, four other teams followed at five-minute intervals (clearly to avoid congestion on the aptly-named singletrack sections). The mission was clear: ride together, cover the four Strava segments and enjoy the post-ride BBQ.
From West to East and back
One of the last remaining stretches of the Berlin Wall was our first encounter with history on the route, leading us along the Teltow canal to Potsdam. We rode by bridges where remnants of the border’s former dominance were easily to spot. Despite the fact that the Wall fell over 25 years ago, the disparity between the East and West is still visible, and not only in the architecture. Our bikes provided the ideal opportunity to swap perspectives and get closer to history, placing it side-by-side with the current situation. A truly international ride, the presence of so many different nationalities, including East and West Berliners, Southern Germans, Californians, Italians, Norwegians, Spaniards, Danes and Australians proved how, as cyclists, we’re united by our passion and the desire to have fun – plus, it confirmed that bikes don’t discriminate.
Stinner Romero Titanium CX
Speaking of bikes: the Stinner was my faithful steed, well equipped for the challenge with a marginally aggressive tread on its Schwalbe One tyres, offering decent grip on the forest floors and badly maintained roads, although the tread lacked the necessary depth to dig into the sections of sandy ground, making my pedaling a bit futile. On the descents the bike was a veritable tour de force with stable and smooth handling. In terms of braking, the SRAM Force Disc performed superbly, and the SRAM 1×11 drivetrain had a satisfying secure hold on the chain. While on the bumpy sections, there was some irritation with the cables as they insisted on flapping around; the rest of the ride passed in pure tranquility. Using the Chris King hub on the custom Jones wheel, it was interesting to note the gradual crescendo of the freewheel – initially silent, the hum of the ratchet got louder by the second. The titanium frame, forgiving and comfortable, was really able to exploit its benefits on the cobbled sections. The dropouts unfortunately didn’t fully work with the DT Swiss thru-axle, as the adjustable lever only has two possible positions.
No coincidence as it’s Germany’s most ridden segment, the route followed the Avus race track for the day’s final Strava segment, which also donated its name to the event: the King of GrAVUS.
With four segments in total, only a minority of the participants really went hammer and tongs for glory, as the idea of a sociable ride took priority. The first segment was a brutal cobbled climb that took no prisoners – incidentally, I went full gas here, but my iPhone later failed me. Given the whole ‘if isn’t on Strava…’ train of thought, you could argue that the ride didn’t even happen for me. But whatever, I was fortunately able to overlook the technological downfall and surmise that it had been a brilliant couple of hours in the saddle, cementing new friendships and seeing a whole other side to Berlin.
A wonderfully off-beat and innovative event in the heart of the German capital, the organisers nailed the perfect synergy of performance, fun and culture, with a BBQ and craft beer to round it all off. Held at the same venue as the Berlin Bicycle Show, we tucked into pulled pork, chili con carne and some vegetarian delicacies too – after all, this is Berlin, anything but your regular meat-and-two-veg city. We reckon even John F. Kennedy would be impressed with so much diversity and consideration for fellow beings!
Here’s the route of the 65 km gravel adventure if you want to have a go.
Words: Robin Schmitt Photos: Jeff Curtes // Klaus Kneist