Forty-five riders, 280 kilometers with 900 meters of climbing, and two countries. Sleeping out in two (nearly) wild campgrounds, stops at two awesome cycling cafes and one well-timed heat wave. All the fruit pies, ice-cream, coffee, shared snacks and supermarket sweeps. Brightly-colored kits, wild swims, hardpack, ankle-deep sand, cobbled streets and everything in between. This is the story of the Lowlands Rally, a bikepacking weekender hosted by the European clothing brand, IRIS, in collaboration with komoot, and documented by renowned photographer, Ashley Gruber. If you couldn’t tell already, it was a weekend we won’t soon forget!
What’s A Women’s Rally?
Pioneered by komoot and headed up by endurance athlete Lael Wilcox, these women’s rallies center around internationally renowned bikepacking routes such as the Torino-Nice Rally, Granguanche and Montañas Vacias. We’re also excited to share the news that we will have future rally routes in Slovenia and Arizona!
These rallies gather women, non-binary and trans bikepackers of all ages, nationalities and experience levels to take on these challenging multi-day off-road routes in a very different atmosphere than mainstream cycling culture would otherwise offer.
Why do we need women’s adventure events like this?
After taking part in the 2022 komoot Womens Torino-Nice Rally, IRIS saw the opportunity to bring this unique experience closer to home. They wanted to see if we could capture the thrill of these grand adventures, surrounded by like-minded riders, and bring that magic to a local group of women in the Benelux region of northern Europe.
After all, IRIS and komoot have a shared mission to enable more women to participate in adventurous bikepacking challenges, and smaller-scale events like these help riders overcome some of the barriers faced. Condensing a multi-day adventure into a weekend also helps to make outdoor adventures like these accessible to all.
The event was also free to enter, with self-supported riders only needing to pay for their travel and meals, the cost of the campsites already covered.
The IRIS x komoot women’s weekender would be far from the only event inspired from the komoot women’s rallies, with Sara Bukies’ Swiss women’s weekender, the Tannus Taster Women’s Weekender in Germany, and the UK’s Sisters in the Wild East Devon Trail Rally, all also feeding off the good vibes and welcoming more women into the fold.
So what’s the Lowlands Women’s Weekender?
Covering 280 kilometers over three days on the Belgian border linking the Dutch cities of Breda and Maastricht, with two designated low-key campsites along the route, riders were free to ride at their own pace along the recommended route.
The Friday entailed a warm-up ride linking Breda to Alphen over 85 kilometers, the second day covering 110 kilometers to the outskirts of Weert, and, finally ,on the Sunday riding another 85 kilometers to finish in central Maastricht.
While the route had been meticulously pieced together by Komoot’s Community Manager, Carola Groeneveld, in collaboration with local riders Bjorn Kamman, Yorit Kluitman and Bram Tankink, a number of shortcuts were also offered, making the challenge more achievable in the event of tired legs or unexpected mechanicals.
The 45 riders set off from Kamu, a gorgeous cycling cafe in Breda, while a much-anticipated finisher’s pasta party awaited at the end of the weekender at Fixed Gear Coffee.
Riding with Aafke
Dutch cyclist Aafke Soet joined the IRIS x komoot Lowlands Rally with her mother, Ria, taking a train from Joure in the north of the Netherlands. They knew they’d reached the start in Breda when they heard the distant chatter of excited, happy women and reached the huge stack of bikes outside the cafe.
‘Thinking about that weekend puts a smile on my face,’ Aafke smiled. ‘The many laughs we shared, encouraging and supporting each other when it got hard and the beautiful roads we rode. I would go again in a heartbeat, meeting women from all over Europe who share the same passion; being out all day on the bike and in nature.”
Like all good things, the ride started with coffee, before heading out into the nearby forest of Mastbos for a group picture with all 45 women. Smaller groups of riders with a similar pace quickly formed, leapfrogging each other when riders stopped for breaks. Pancakes were snaffled and life stories were exchanged. By the time they arrived in Alphen for their first night of camping, they couldn’t resist stripping off for a refreshing dip in the pond in their bibs!
It was a long, but very beautiful day, Aafke reminisced, completing the 110 kilometer mixed terrain route with a couple more stops along the way including “the cutest little store I’ve ever been to.” With tents hastily pitched at the campsite in Weert, riders cemented their new post-ride dip cool off ritual.
The final day was the hottest, so plentiful cold drinks were savored along the 85 kilometer route to help Aafke, Ria, and the rest of the 45-strong group of women. Riding through the forested Hoge Kempen National Park on the final day provided some welcomed respite from the heat of the midday sun.
Riders rolled into Maastricht to conclude the weekend, heading for the bike shop and cafe Fixed Gear Coffee for the finishers party, swapping stories from the trail.
Returning to work at Vanmark cycling cafe, Aafke reminisced fondly about the trip, chatting with customers over coffee about the Lowlands Rally. “I had a fun weekend, being away with 45 other women for three days bikepacking, eating pie, drinking cold drinks and enjoying multiple bib dips,” she’d explain.
The response was unexpected, with furrowed brows trying to imagine the sight of 45 women riding together. “I didn’t feel like convincing another man again,” Aafke explained, “so instead I’d say, ‘would you like another coffee?'”