The Dirty Reiver (Video): Bikepackers Testing Gravel

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With the concurrent rise in popularity of bikepacking and gravel events, the two are becoming increasingly intertwined. Here’s a double feature with two videos from Bombtrack and Ortlieb featuring several bikepackers taking on their first gravel race. Plus, thoughts on the ride by Marc Maurer, Jona Riechmann, Matty Waudby, and Franzi Wernsing…

Event photos by Franzi Wernsing, rider portraits by Matty Waudby

The Dirty Reiver 200 (200km) and Dirty One Thirty (130km) are off-road cycling challenges based on the gravel grinder format found predominantly in the midwestern United States. As with other gravel events, the Dirty Reiver has a lot in common with bikepacking group rides and races — a similar supportive camaraderie, long, punishing days in the saddle, and good times with bikes on abandoned two-track. Two different companies, Bombtrack and Ortlieb, created videos to capture the spirit of the event. Further down, you’ll find some thoughts on the race by several people in the bikepacking world.

  • Dirty Reiver Video
  • Dirty Reiver Video
  • Dirty Reiver Video
  • Dirty Reiver Video
  • Dirty Reiver Video

Matty Waudby

Matty Waudby (@getwildmatty)

“The Dirty Reiver has an air of mystique around it, and I found it made me question myself. Could I do the distance? Would I do it in a reasonable time? Was my head up to the challenge? I normally take a very relaxed approach to my riding, stopping at interesting things, taking photos, and chatting to locals. This is the vibe I prefer on an extended trip, I’d rather enjoy the moment than make the biggest mileage. I did a couple of training rides for the Reiver and found the hardest thing was to keep riding and not stop at a beautiful vista. A few friends and I did an overnighter to a bothy a few days before the event and it was great as the distance wasn’t too far and I could quench my thirst for photos, stories, a relaxing pace, and camping.

On the day of the event my intention was just to have fun and ride with everybody else. I soon found that my competitive side caught up with me and I got involved in all the overtaking and maneuvering at the start. This hampered me towards the end when I really began to struggle. I went into bikepacker mode, noticing all these awesome spots to pitch up for the night. Obviously I didn’t have my camping gear with me, but it made me consider doing the same route again over two days at a steadier pace with a bunch of friends.

I went tubeless on 650×2.4 Continental tyres and they served me great. I think the ideal tyre is probably around 2.0 fast cross-country style and set up tubeless. Fast enough on the smooth gravel but importantly allowing you to monster truck the rugged descents.

I felt pretty beat at the end, but loved having a beer with everyone and cheering on the other finishers. It really is a great feeling coming up the last hill before the finish to have everyone cheering you on! I also swore I wouldn’t do it again straight after, but a few weeks later the bug is already there again. I’d like to do more gravel events, especially multi-day ones, but I’d probably aim for something like the Torino-Nice Rally or the Romagna Bike Trail and do a more leisurely pace with a few friends. The camaraderie with other riders during the event was awesome and it’s my main memory from the day.”

Marc Maurer

Marc Maurer (@ma.rc_m and A Journey Beyond)

“The Dirty Reiver was my second gravel challenge, after riding the Dirty Boar in Belgium last year. Of course, such a ride is different to the bikepacking things I normally do. For the Dirty Reiver, I chose the Bombtrack Hook gravel bike, because it is faster and lighter than my usual bikepacking rig, the Bombtrack Beyond. I wasn’t scared by the distance (I’ve done much longer rides before), but I was bit scared by the elevation as I’ve never ridden 4000m of elevation in one day on gravel. I was definitely excited to ride this event, but I wasn’t there to race, I was there to ride, have fun, meet people, and make it to the finish line. Luckily, I had no mechanical problems, no punctures (I was on 40mm WTB Nanos with tubes), and I could ride the whole time. But, at a bit over 10hrs of riding, it was quite a tough day on the bike for me and I suffered a lot because of cramps all throughout my legs. Normally, I’m used to riding until I don’t want to ride anymore, taking breaks to eat and lie down when I feel like it – what you might call my ideal “bikepacking rhythm.” This time, though, it was definitely a different approach to riding, but it was a really good experience to discover that I can handle it as well. Maybe it was just the beer I had at the finish, but after the race I felt surprisingly good and was already dreaming of riding it again next year!”

Franzi Wersing

Franzi Wernsing (@TalesOnTyres)

“I have never attended anything like the Dirty Reiver before. Nor have I ridden 200km with 3500m of elevation in one day. Naturally, I felt a little nervous looking at the route beforehand, and that’s mainly why I decided to sign up for the shorter option, the Dirty One Thirty, a 130km loop. However, once I was in the saddle I became so captivated by spirit of the event, the supportive attitude between the riders, and the beauty of the landscape that I ended up riding the whole distance instead. Crossing the finish line after 12 hours on the bike felt exhilarating. Not only had I pushed myself beyond my own expectations, but I’d also gotten to share this experience with many other awesome people along the track. I think it’s always good to try new things, and in this case I got totally hooked on something I didn’t anticipate enjoying. Now I feel encouraged and curious to try out more challenges like this, and maybe I’d even try a multi-day challenge.”

Jona Riechmann

Jona Riechmann (@TalesOnTyres)

“I really enjoy riding long distances and pushing myself beyond my limits, which is why I’m planning to attend some multi-day bikepacking races this summer for the first time. The Dirt Reiver was a good test ride for me, as I’ve never done anything like this before. After traveling the world by bike at a leisurely pace for the last few years, focusing on pace and distance was a new experience for me. I usually ride a Bombtrack Beyond Plus which has such a different feel to the Bombtrack Hook 2 that I borrowed for the Dirty Reiver, but definitely loved riding a fast, unloaded bike for a change. I’m looking forward to more events like this!”