2021 Brother in the Wild: An Event for All

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Last month, around 250 riders gathered in Dorset, UK, for another Brother in the Wild—two days of bikepacking, gravel grinding, music, bike demos, and fireside talks. Find a fantastic gallery of photos by Dan Monaghan and a thoughtful reflection written by Mike White of Boneshaker Magazine here…

Words by Mike White (@boneshakermag), photos by Dan Monaghan (@cadence_images)

Bikepackers love to dangle stuff from their bags. Birkenstocks. Mugs. Tiny parmesan graters. And, for the first time at Brother in the Wild, dangle-discs. Keyring-sized wooden tokens that prove we’re part of the crew. There’s a photo competition on this year, to capture the best shot with a well-dangled disc.

“Yeah baby, shove it in the ice cream! Now look at me! That’s it, you minx. Okay, give it a lick…”

We’re midway round the weekender’s sun-baked Sunday ride, and our bid to capture the winning photo is getting silly. But ice cream and being silly on bikes are a big part of what this super chill two-dayer is all about.

Brother in the Wild 2021 UK
  • Brother in the Wild 2021 UK
  • Brother in the Wild 2021 UK
  • Brother in the Wild 2021 UK

2021’s event must be my fifth or sixth Brother in the Wild. In the early days, they had us bouncing through the bluebells in the New Forest. August this year saw the Bros’ first foray into Shropshire’s squelchy hillscapes; Brother in the Wild also happens in Munich, Hamburg, Bordeaux, and Wellington, but its true home has to be the Isle of Purbeck.

Here, in a wide sweep of field, Brother Cycles’ brothers Will and James Meyer welcome a few hundred riders and their tents, vans, and bikes. The format’s comfortingly familiar. We roll up, hang out, dawdle over Dorset’s ups and downs in loose, friendly groups. We stop for photos. For pasties. Ice creams. Shandy. Sea swims. Esoteric snacks and unexpected tequila shots.

We laugh at how “gravel” isn’t really a thing in most of Britain. Gravel is hoof-churned bridleways, blackwater bogs, sand traps, tractor tracks, singletrack, pine needles, chalky gullies, flinty footpaths. It’s roots and rocks, gorse and gates. So many gates.

  • Brother in the Wild 2021 UK
  • Brother in the Wild 2021 UK
Brother in the Wild 2021 UK
  • Brother in the Wild 2021 UK
  • Brother in the Wild 2021 UK
  • Brother in the Wild 2021 UK

Party pace? Pastie pace? Panting all the way pace? Brother in the Wild has always been a ride you take at your own speed. A ride that’s not really about the riding. It’s about the vibez, dude. The friendliness that pervades every encounter, mile after mile, year after year.

Long-awaited after COVID-19 cramped last year’s gathering, this year, the Meyers pulled out all the stops: the Velo Domestique caravan slinging breakfasts and boozes, Crossfire Cooking banging out pizza as fast as they could, The Way Out Back brewery pulling pints, Hush Club’s shimmering DJ booth bringing beats and martinis in the moonlight. Wizard Works showed up with beautiful bags to covet, team Teravail kept the tread-fondlers and PSI geeks happy. Cool cans of caffeine-buzz came from Jimmy’s Iced Coffee, tasty mid-ride fuel-ups from Outdoor Provisions, last-minute bike tune-ups from the Woods Cyclery crew. It felt like a gravel-specific festival.

The routes, ranging from 25-ish to 50-something miles, took us out along humming lanes, through ancient woodland, heather-purple heath, and down flint-clattering tracks to swim in the sea. We gasped at the cold, shared tiny towels and toiled back up the hill in salt-lined shorts. The trails were dusty-dry and the sun beamed down. Beer gardens beckoned.

Brother in the Wild 2021 UK

We rode like we had nowhere to go and all day to get there. Everyone waited for everyone else, looping around Purbeck’s wonderfully varied terrain, admiring glittering sea views, swooping escarpments, witchy copses, and the puff-puff-puffing of an old stream train across the valley below. Kestrels hung in the air.

As darkness fell, the big screen flickered to life back at camp, the Adventure Syndicate’s moving, laugh-out-loud Resolution Race film a highlight alongside a clutch of cool vids from Brother and friends.

Sat on straw bales, we gathered for the Fireside Talks: tales of the Second City Divide, of bikepacking with a baby, and a conversation about inclusivity in adventure cycling with Steezy Collective lynchpin Taylor Doyle, ultra-distance rider Vera Ngosi-Sambrook, and Fasted 500 founder Zahir Nayani.

  • Brother in the Wild 2021 UK
  • Brother in the Wild 2021 UK
  • Brother in the Wild 2021 UK
  • Brother in the Wild 2021 UK
  • Brother in the Wild 2021 UK
Brother in the Wild 2021 UK

You look around at the bikes themselves – retro clunkers, fat bikes, carbon monstercrossers, tractor-like 29ers, Brother’s own beautiful creations, even an MTB tandem – and there’s diversity and difference everywhere. Then glance up at the faces. And wow, are we white. And majorly male. It was so good to hear inclusivity discussed at an event like this. So good, as a cis-white-middle-aged-middle-class man to just shut up and listen. To hear voices and perspectives that need to be way more prominent in the oddly un-diverse world of bikes.

There’s work to be done to broaden the reach of this affable, easy-going community. To make sure that underrepresented groups in cycling – BAME, Women, LGBTQIA, etc. – are made aware of and made to feel welcome at events like this. And we can all help: looking outside our own social circles, actively reaching out to those who are missing when we look around at the faces in the firelight.

Brother in the Wild 2021 UK

Vera said later on Instagram, “As the only visibly black person at the event, it was difficult to answer the question of whether I felt ‘included’. Was I treated well by everyone? Yes. But was I also acutely aware of my presence as the only black woman, and pondering the question of why there weren’t more black and brown people around to enjoy this spectacular event? Definitely yes! Most of us live in echo chambers, surrounded by people who look like us and are from similar backgrounds and so those are the people we share opportunities with, the people we welcome to the table. But we can challenge ourselves to open up those circles for more enriching and wholesome experiences, hear of new stories, hang out with different people.”

Zahir’s take was similar, “Events like BITW and The Woods Cyclery’s annual Grand Rando often aren’t even on the radar of many BAME cyclists. Grassroots dissemination of such events and initiatives to marginalised communities is the first step in seeking increased participation.”

  • Brother in the Wild 2021 UK
  • Brother in the Wild 2021 UK
Brother in the Wild 2021 UK

Will and James are already working on making BITW 2022 as inclusive as they can. If you’re planning an event – or just planning to attend one – ask yourself how you can do more to open up the scene to everyone who might enjoy it. Because events like Brother in the Wild are truly great. Fun, friendly, life-affirming in all the right ways – an experience that deserves to be shared as widely as possible. Here’s to seeing a whole load of new faces on the trails next year.

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