If your buddies came back from a riding weekend with tales of purified cherry cake and rock’n’roll in military barracks, you’d probably think they were pulling your leg – and even more so when there’s doubt about whether they consumed more calories than they exerted despite riding 125 km with 3,500 metres of climbing. What sort of a weekend was this?
The answer begins with a question: what’s the Gravel Fondo? Although if you’re waiting for a definition, I’m afraid we’ll let you down. As the name hints, this brand new event brings with it a whole lot of gravel and endurance – much like a regular Gran Fondo then, although we aren’t exclusively talking about cycling here. The Gravel Fondo is explicitly not a race; it’s just a ride with optional Strava segments, although the winner is announced later. ‘Everything goes, nothing’s obligatory’ is the vague motto. So it’s clear from the get-go that the event is more of an ‘attitude’, than an over-ambitious format to test your muscles and ego. Could this be the fairest sort of event, where you can ride how you like and have fun? It sounds pretty promising, right?
It wasn’t just the cool, casual two-day event format that lived up to the word ‘promising’ – the route around the Black Forest was fairly unbeatable too. The first day served up 75 km and 2,000 metres of climbing, while the second day was shorter and snappier with 50 km and 1,500 metres of climbing.
The route doesn’t take in many ‘famous’ places in the typical sense, but you might be familiar with Black Forest jewels like the Feldberg mountain and the Schluchsee and Titisee lakes in the south-west corner of Germany. Looking down at your power meter wasn’t recommended; the general consensus opted for water-based scenery admiration over watt pushing.
However, checking your average speed was inevitable as you were fairly reliant on the GPS due to the only partially marked route – but fortunately, the event organisers had ensured all the riders had the download of the route to follow. There was a choice of completing just one day or doubling up for the weekend, which was appreciated by those with family commitments and those expected to button up and endure a Sunday Roast at the grandparents’.
What’s the price of a good weekend?
The entry fee of € 70 had prompted some initial groans, but these had been firmly silenced by the second day. Compared to an Audax, € 70 is a fairly grand sum – but there are some great benefits included, like the organization, after-ride BBQ (suckling pig and pulled pork!), German beer brewed in the Black Forest and on-site services like SRAM Mechanical Support, a range of rental bikes, GPS computers for rent, Red Bull Event Car and a live band. Plus, those indulgent mid-ride refueling stops were worth a few dollar. And no, we aren’t (exclusively) referring to the traditionally clad Black Forest frauleins, who met your culinary whims, but rather the otherworldly brilliance of the coffee from Freiburg’s Biosk van that teamed perfectly with the Black Forest cherry cake. Can it get better than a coffee stop with views over the Schluchsee lake after a heavy night? Unlikely, right – and that brings us to the topic of purified cake, but more on that later.
After so much coffee and cake, we mused over whether we’d consumed or exerted more calories. But if you find yourself pausing to consider that in all seriousness, then perhaps it’s time for you to stop reading here. And we’ll just carrying on having a good time…
The military barracks, pioneering spirit and rock’n’roll: Cycling for peace
Around 100 riders proved to be made of pioneering spirit as they took part in the very first Gravel Fondo on 15 and 16 October. The event was staged at some military barracks at the foot of the Feldberg, and this area didn’t just serve as the start and finish location but also accommodation and party venue. Given the abundance of barbed wire, there was some initial skepticism, however, this was soon abated. After all, where else would our bikes be safer, and aren’t those high fences quite well positioned to hang your cycling kit out to dry?
The ultimate Gravel Fondo bike
Don’t worry, joke question! Although it is a justified one: do you need a special bike for the Gravel Fondo? It’s a toss-up: a bike with disc brakes and comfort geometry and features would be your best bet. Most riders were out on cyclocross bikes, which meant that Focus had quite a strong presence (sorry, Votec). Then there was everything from an Open U.P. with mountain bike tires to carbon race bikes with 23c tires. We spotted some riders putting knobby tires on their road racing bikes too. The only criteria the bikes had to meet was the presence of dropped handlebars. Mountain bikes weren’t permitted.
The mountain bikers in the field were reminded of the early days of enduro.
Gravel Fondo rocks!
What makes a good weekend? Friends? The location? The activity? Rock’n’Roll? A healthy consumption of alcohol under the premise of a party? The watts you’ve pushed? It’s an answer that we’ve all got to make ourselves. The fact is that who cares what you do, it’s how you do it that counts – and that’s what was so decisive at the Gravel Fondo. The how: as one big family, looking out for each other, having fun. This applied equally to the riding and the time before and after it, rendering the Gravel Fondo one seriously legendary weekend.
We’d like to pass on the biggest and most heartfelt thanks to the initiator of the Gravel Fondo and Votec brand manager Stephan Geiß for his love for detail, to the event organiser Rik Sauser and to Florian Joeckel, the founder of Guilty, who, as host, tended majestically to the barometer of fun throughout the event.
If your friends heard this tale, they’d probably think you were mad. So for any readers who don’t just want to re-tell our tale but experience their own, you can sign up for the newsletter to keep up-to-date with Gravel Fondo news in 2017.
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Words & Photos: Robin Schmitt