There are a few rides that become almost legends in themselves or fly under the radar that only a handful of people seem to know about. For us North London Dirt was both. So when we had the chance to catch up with founder Philip from The Ride Journal to find out about this years ride we couldn’t have been more thrilled.
“After the success of last years North London Dirt it was kind of inevitable that my brother Andrew would suggest we do another one this year. So when he sent over a route early January I had a suspicion that this innocuous file would be the acorn from which a second event would grow”.
“But as with most good routes it all wasn’t plain sailing and there were some significant growing pains to be endured on the way. The first of these came to light on the first outing. Deep winter, frost coating the ground and a group of new friends who were unaware of how “freestyle” our routes can get in the early stages. It started well, with the earth so cold it was solid under tyre (mostly). The way out was great, instead of our previous event which headed North we were heading East”.
“The Olympic park gave way to small parks and assorted green spaces that Andrew had linked together, kind of a computerised version of Dot to Dot. About 1/3 through we found a few trails that had been trashed by horse traffic, bad drainage or badly draining horse traffic. Hey, we’re rugged, we can walk. But then we hit the proper game changer, or ride destroyer, the “field of tears.” According to the GPS it should have been a trail, but on the ground it was a field, a ploughed field, with what could have been a signpost a long way away across the field. We never got that far as bikes began to seize as mud got in everywhere. 1.5” mud tyres became frame clogging 2.5s and mechs picked up grass and even more mud. With our tails between our legs we dragged our heavy bikes back to the start of the path where we had to pull out clod after clod of mud. Here the damage was assessed. The grating sound of mud and stone in disc brakes could be lived with but the ripped mech wasn’t so good. Once singlespeeded we limped back to town. Once again the difference between a computer programme map and the real world had come back to bite us”.
“The next outing came at the end of February. The “Field of Tears” had been removed and the badly drained bridleways had been swapped out for more enticing alternatives. This route was already shaping up to be in the vain of many of our routes these days. Pressed for time, with work and family commitments, we are looking to get as much bang for our buck. That means riding from the door rather than heading out to the possibly more scenic home counties. But unwilling to give up on quieter trails it means we are on constant hunt for the interesting, the quiet and the less travelled routes. Cut-throughs, suburban bridleways, broken concrete roads… all fair game”.
“It was now mid March and we were making progress. Headwinds and sideways rain midway through made for a Flandrian outing. Funnily enough only half of the people we’d initially invited out could make it out this time. And once back we started thinking again about deep philosophical questions, what makes a great gravel ride? How much off-road can we put in? How technical can the route be? Is proper single-track allowed? How do you pitch it? There are as many ideas about what a “gravel ride” is as there are gravel tyres, so we wanted to strike a middle balance to keep as many riders happy as possible. One riders off-road epic is another persons leg spin but without anything like a ski run grading system we have to just tell people that it’ll be fairly technical. I’d say it was a solid red run”.
“One thing we were sure of was that like last year we wanted people to be surprised. Many people have ridden around Epping and the nearby trails so it’s hard to find something new, however we wanted to try to show people something that they may not have seen before. This meant further poring over online maps. Andrew had already discovered an amazingly obscure section of path between a cemetery and a trainline and we wanted to look out for more obscure sections like this. There is something deeply satisfying about nipping over a busy road, diving away from the traffic and disappearing along a sinuous sliver of single-track”.
“During mid July the event was officially launched, we’d managed to get loads of great partners to help support the event and we wanted to remind ourselves that what we were offering was good enough. The route was pretty much locked down at this point but still we were looking around and seeing if there was a better line, a longer piece of single-track or a quieter road that could be used, and if it did go in would it add to things or just be an addition for the sake of it. We also asked if it was responsible to put in a sketchy bridge crossing? With well over 100 riders hopefully barrelling along the single-track towards it the answer was obviously yes”.
“Its August already, most of the places have sold but we still want to iron out a couple of wrinkles, we were conscious that towards the end of the ride we were coming back through Epping in roughly the same direction as last year, was there a way to make it a little different without adding in a load of road? We change our route back from Walthamstow and by lucky coincidence we find ourselves outside the Wild Card brewery tap room. While having a drink we decide we should contact them to see if they’d sponsor us with some beer for the end of the ride when it takes place. Later that week we find out they do”.
“Late August and time for a night ride to clear litter and brambles. We head out after work on a balmy evening armed with secateurs. There are a few of the sections near the start that we know are getting a little overgrown as the summer draws on. Time to give a quick haircut to some of the bramble bushes to stop riders getting shredded jerseys and arms. We also do a litter run through the path that runs along cemetery. How people can drop litter is beyond but its not long till we have 3 bin bags full of the stuff. We do draw a line at picking up the dead rat that lies in the middle of the trail”.
“With just one week before the event we have one final ride through. The rat is still there. I thought something would have eaten it but obviously even the the scavenging animals around here have some dishes they wont touch. I take the secateurs with me and out on some of the far trails we do a little more pruning. Monty Don would be proud of the work we’ve done”.
“The day of the event comes and its time to hand it all over to the 118 riders who have descended on the Spitalfields Rapha clubhouse (who have kindly allowed us to begin and end the ride from here). While setting up we discover that the Hackney Carnival is taking place today, and our route crosses right through it. Oh well, its too late to change anything now”.
“Sadly we don’t get to ride the route on the day, but its very gratifying to see the riders coming back in for a cold beer. From the scorchingly fast to the party pace groups coming in at the end it looks like everyone has enjoyed it”.
“With the event now over its great to see that the thought, sweat and effort paid off. Not only did everyone come back from the ride buzzing (and not just from the ever growing nettles) but we also made a load of money for the St Mary’s centre in N16 which houses the homeless shelter, the food bank, the migrant centre and a whole load of other good things”.
“Thank you to all the riders who came and made it such a fun day and to these good folk who supported us: Brooks saddles, Condor, Cordel bags, Donhou, E5 Bakery, Karma Kola, Komoot, Loffi gloves, Leyzene, Pressure Drop brewery, Pretty Decent brewery, Rapha, The Spence Bakery, Stayer Cycles, Wild Card brewery”.
“If you’d like to try the route for yourself I’d be happy to send out a file to anyone who wants to email me firstname.lastname@example.org although if you fancy riding it I would love folk to make a donation to the cause too”.
Photos courteous of Wayde Finch, Anna Kubik and Dean Taylor