Grav. Grav. And Double Grav! the Bicycle Academy at Grinduro Scotland

Words by Jack Watney, photos by Adam Gasson

And now here they are! The most daredevil group of daffy frame builders to ever whirl their wheels in the WACKY RACES. Competing for the title of Grinduro’s wackiest frame builder. The bikes are approaching the starting line.

First, is the TBA GXC driven by Tom Sturdy. Next is paratrooper Will Barcode on the TBA Splat Grav. Flying through the air is the Rad Roamer piloted by Ted James. Maneuvering for position is Andy Carr on the Spoon Customs Fat Tracker and right on his tail is Pi Manson on his Caledonian Carrier.

Sneaking along last is the unmistakable Petor of Dear Susan Bicycles riding his award-winning ‘Mike Rotch’…

“Grav, Grav. And double Grav!”

There’s no escaping it. The line-up for this years Grinduro frame building contest heavily resembled the Wacky Races start line. As a relatively new member of The Bicycle Academy team it was my real pleasure to join the chosen builders on an adventure around Arran Island.

Things were already getting pretty wacky before we set off. Grinduro comes hot on the heels of Bespoked – The UK handbuilt bicycle show. Just as we’re recuperating from one frame building sprint race we start another. The logistics associated with coordinating five disparate bicycle builds, all undertaken by different builders, in different parts of the country, to a tight time scale means that most of the builders were excitedly working right up to the wire.
As I left the workshop to collect the rental van I noticed Andrew (Founder of TBA) and Tom (Head of Education at TBA) performing a mesmerizing double dance with several cans of Spray.Bike decanted into a squirty bottle. A questionably painted bicycle frame and a Columbus carbon fork come out the other side. Don’t ask questions, they got the job done. In the queue for the rental van my phone buzzed repeatedly with WhatsApp notifications from the builders…What time is the ferry? When are the tyres being delivered? How long is the drive? Can we ream and face a headtube in the ferry car park? Creative problem solving is an essential skill for every frame builder… not just because time planning is often an inherent weakness.

Grinduro Scotland takes place on a small island a short ferry trip from the mainland. Frequently referred to as Scotland in miniature it features a seriously high density of Instagram friendly topography and a pleasingly comprehensive absence of mobile phone reception. A quick pre-ferry trip to the shop for some local cuisine (shortbread and Irn-Bru) and we’re good to go. As the ferry nears the island the misty mountain tops and patches of dense green pine trees come into focus. It’s obvious that this beautiful, somewhat remote island is a haven for those seeking some form of adventure. The island offers beautiful coastlines, incredible mountain peaks and an opportunity to feel closer to the wild. But I‘ve got other priorities, I’m here for the ice cream, fudge, gin and of course the miles and miles of incredible cycling trails… Land ho!

We roll off the ferry and my phone reception immediately vanishes, I couldn’t care less because I’m too busy being distracted by Arran’s incredible landscapes. We’ve arrived a day in advance and the frame builders will be rolling up over the next 24 hours. Their conversation in the WhatsApp group has included some awesome sneak peeks of their frame builds, general banter and distressingly casual last-minute requests for random bike components. The message thread will have to take care of itself for a bit, the hype is building and problems are getting solved, with any luck we’ll have some cool bikes to ride.

We arrive at the Grinduro village (Arran High School) and make ourselves at home. Tents are set up, bikes are unloaded and we marvel at the wonder that is The Arran High School Mountain Bike Club workshop. A fully kitted out workshop including a suite of mountain bikes, a wall of tools and everything you would need for a weekend living in the woods – The children of Arran are a lucky bunch.

The next morning the builders begin to appear, bikes are assembled, tested and soon after the public begin to arrive. As each race registrant arrives they are handed a Rapha musette bag stuffed with purple merch, contents include: Giro Grinduro socks, chamois cream, Clif bars, a special edition Fabric water bottle, miniature Arran whisky and the all-important purple voting token. Which of the five awesome bicycle creations will win the hearts of the masses? Let the chin scratching, tyre squeezing and fillet stroking commence! Votes are placed and everybody settles in to enjoy a preparatory evening of Relaxin’ ahead of tomorrow’s Maxin’. Except Ted. He’s already Maxin… He’s always Maxin’.

We wake up to a beautiful day, I unzip the tent and all that’s visible is mountain peaks and pine forests. The sun is coming out and as I walk to the shower I see Bill of the Rapha H-Van starting up the coffee machine. Breakfast is served, the smell of coffee and midge repellent is in the air – a fascinating array of different bikes begin to appear. I’m riding a bike I built precisely for this sort of riding, despite finishing it six months previously I’ve only ridden it off road a few times. I am surrounded by some of the most dedicated and experienced gravel fans – My brand new white mountain bike shoes make me self conscious but the crowd couldn’t be more welcoming. There are seriously good vibes in the air, people are happily discussing stage profiles, enthusiastically explaining their bikes choices and casually triple-checking tyre pressure.

Our wacky crew rolls over the start line and as I look around me I realise I am surrounded by some of the most exciting contemporary frame builders in the U.K – Their combined knowledge and experience is overwhelming – I’d be intimidated but they are a bunch of genuinely good dudes. Everybody is smiling and stoke levels are at maximum.
Ted spends the first few miles pulling wheelies up climbs that other people were struggling to ride up, Petor and I chat about obscure horror films and Pi shows me his best touring bike aero tuck.

Stage 1 is called ‘The Fireroad of Fury’ with good reason. Sergeant Blast (Will riding the TBA Splat Grav) and Lazy Luke (Andy on the Spoon Customs Fat Tracker) easily had the edge on this segment, each riding with skill and finesse. Drop bars and an aero position are half of the equation, a total disregard for personal safety the other. This is the first timed segment of the day and boy, it’s a fast one. The fireroad surface is loose gravel, it’s a relatively straight descent with a few ‘foot out’ tight corners. Within moments of starting the descent I can hear tyres screaming past, the bolder wacky racers take the lead immediately. We tear it past the ‘500 meters to go’ sign and the road pitches up slightly. Every single rider is laughing maniacally by the end of the segment, we pause to admire the views before setting off on the transfer section in search of Stage 2.

Stage 2 is called ‘The Lung Buster’. It’s almost 3km of uphill rocky terrain and I’ve been looking forward to it, I knew that it could be my best chance against my fellow racers. Sadly the last time I saw any of them was whilst I gracefully flew, upside down, though the air. I don’t remember much but Andy assures me that my double somersault, OTB dismount was a thing of true beauty. After dusting myself off and accidentally travelling a few dazed miles off piste it was clear that the other guys were either far ahead or far behind – I fly into Stage 2 solo. This track is rockier than I had imagined and it’s the first time I see people pushing their bikes. It’s too much for me, my gear and my skill level so I sling my bike on my shoulder and run the steeper parts. As the gradient slackens the riders around me are showing off their best cyclocross remounting skills, lots of swearing and plenty of grit sees people safely cross the finishing line. What these riders need is a reward, perhaps some locally made ice cream, fudge, lemonade and a nip of Arran gin? Hello feed station 1, I’ve been expecting you…What happens if I eat fudge ice cream with a chunk of chocolate almond fudge Clif Bar? Nirvana. The sun is out, everyone is laughing and blood sugar levels are soaring sky high, what a day.

Next up is a super fun transfer section down a grassy clearing between a line of trees and braken bushes. Taking in the scenery and enjoying the ride are both immediately ruined by the appearance of Dick Dastardly (My boss Andrew). I can hear him from a mile away berating the riders the knows (and careless walkers blocking the track) as he attempts to capture some distinctly average slow-motion video. He’s like some kind of crazed media diva although done with a humour that only those close to him understand and tolerate. We all ride away as quickly as possible in the hope that by the time he’s caught up his battery will have died and he will have calmed down (listen to audio file for a snippet of his apparent tongue in cheek rage).

The Grinduro race day is split into two halves – The Northern loop and the Southern loop. We’ve finished the ‘easy’ northern loop so now it’s time for a hot sit-down lunch, some coffee and a big chunk of cake. Perfect preparation for a challenging long gravel ride.

Stage 3 is misleadingly titled ‘The Lunch Roll’. Peter Perfect (Tom Sturdy riding the TBA GXC) has been talking up his chances. He knows it is actually a reasonably steep 5km long gravel climb and his road racing background has got him firing on all cylinders. He’s almost never ridden a mountain bike but he’s pretty certain he has a good chance of smashing out a good time on this one. The climb starts straight after a short gravel descent, Sergeant Blast gives him a full bore chain gang style lead out. They are out of sight within moments but they wait for me at the top, turns out that he wasn’t as fast as he’d hoped but he assures me it was the bike’s fault. Definitely not his. It’s a social pace once again, we stop to photograph the expansive view. What follows is an incredible stretch of rolling coastal tarmac featuring switchback descents, perfectly smooth surfaces and the Velo Cafe in Lagg at the routes most southern point. There is nothing that can make this better… Oh wait! I’ve just been handed a coffee and some caramel shortbread! The sun is beating down, we drink our weight in water and then continue. Grinduro and the Isle of Arran is awesome, a cycling heaven on earth.

Stage 4 is called ‘The Final Fling’ but we aren’t there yet. We’re spread out across miles of incredible winding fire road. Rufus Ruffcut (Pi on the Clandestine Caledonian Carrier) is in his element. His bike is built for this stuff with high volume tyres, upright position and fully laden panniers on his self made racks. God only knows what he had in those bags but we’re all pretty sure that whatever it was could have been left in his tent. Crazy fool. He rides with our very own Professor Pat Pending (Petor of Dear Susan on Mike Rotch) who, at this point, is floating along in a world of his own, high on life (water bottle weirdness), nature and good vibes.

This is where the length of the ride starts to take its toll, every other rider I pass tells me about their fully cramped up legs and dehydration while I am deep in the swathes of a dizzy headed sugar bonk, dreaming about salty food. I’ve heard that Stage 4 is really technical… my legs and arms are getting the fear. Later on, in the evening Petor struggles through tears of laughter to describe the hilarious moment that Andy is completely incapacitated by sudden cramp… only managing to relieve it through a series of bizarre dance movements and stretches. He understandably jumps straight on the first ride back to the Grinduro village securing himself his wacky racer character name Lazy Luke and a hard-earned DNF on the results sheet. Smashing it through those early stages must have caught up with him. I keep it quiet but I was so close to doing the same thing, and I wasn’t the only one.

As we get closer I keep wishing I’d built a bike like Captain Caveman (Ted on the Rad Roamer). His BMX and stunt riding background mean that he can’t wait for Stage 4, the techier the betterer. He’s spent today pulling manuals, jumping over EVERY feature imaginable and generally behaving/looking like an excited half-naked pirate. Where did his T-shirt go? 
Stage 4 turns out to be amazing – the rooty, technical section at the bottom is lined with enthusiastic marshalls and they’re properly into it. They shout encouragement as each rider takes on the course. I burned through my rear brake pads several miles ago so I hit it all at full speed, I imagine Captain Caveman taking each jump ten times faster. I think by this point we’ve all accepted that Ted is the man we all wish we were. Hairy, skillful and the definition of RAD. I stick around at the bottom of the stage and join the marshalls in their heckling. It’s a great atmosphere and it’s only the onslaught of the midges that encourages me to crack on in a hope that I’ll leave them behind.

Everybody is totally cooked by the end. We head to the beach for more ice cream, we swap stories about close calls and cramp dancing. We check the results and all make our excuses before eating even more food ahead of the evening’s entertainment.

Now that the race is over, it’s time to find out who won the public vote for favorite hand built bike. We prize open the sealed tin voting cans and carefully count the all-important purple tokens. William HJ Chippendale triple checks our count and we establish a winner of the public vote. The results were tight but the TBA Splat Grav took first place BUT it definitely wasn’t rigged because the TBA GXC came last.

The rest of the TBA crew spend the evening running Grinduro bottle opener brazing mini-classes in their ‘shit disco’ easyup kitted out with smoke machine, lasers and a boom box pumping Deep Purple into the night sky. The rest of us drink posh gin, do some Realxin’ in the Grinduro lounge, watch the live music and enjoy the company of other passionate bike riders. The combination of incredible riding conditions, excellent attention to detail and a party focused vibe make this is a bike race like no other. The Isle of Arran served up one hell of a party. At Grinduro the race is barely half of the story.

Grav. Grav. And double Grav!

Disclaimer: We know that Captain Caveman wasn’t actually in the Wacky Races cartoon but we don’t care because there’s no better cartoon character to caricaturize Ted. The hairy bastard!

The Bicycle Academy Team!

Grinduro custom build by Clandestine

Grinduro custom build by Spoon Customs

Grinduro custom build by Ted James Design

Grinduro GXC custom build by The Bicycle Academy

Grinduro Splat Grav custom build by The Bicycle Academy

See more information at Grinduro Scotland!