Grinduro vs Gritfest: which enduro-style gravel race is best?
Rock up with your mates and blast it, even the rain couldn’t put a damper on either of mega weekends - here’s what you can expect
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I’ll just start by saying that both of these gravel events were absolutely fantastic. I’ve done a lot of circuit and road racing, and it’s nothing like this – you can’t beat the blend of competitiveness and laughs that stems from the enduro format of these events.
Both were held in Wales this year, and both – as goes the stereotype – were hit by large bouts of rain. It’s a little unfair as there were actually blue skies on either side (really!) but no matter the conditions, it didn’t put anything of a damper on the fun!
Still, at least in terms of influencing my experiences, the bad luck with the rain kept at least that variable ‘controlled’.
But before we get into how the two events stacked up, let’s take a quick run through the format.
Enduro-style gravel events consist of timed sections across a set loop. Everyone has to complete the whole route, but your finishing position is only determined by your cumulative time over each of the timed sections.
Gritfest featured six such sections (three split across the Saturday and Sunday), whilst Grinduro had just four (although all of these were on the Saturday, but spread across separate morning and afternoon rides).
Both Grinduro and Gritfest used Si Timing’s system for keeping track of exactly how fast you were across those sections of the course. The chip takes the form of a little capsule that you wear on your wrist, secured by an elasticated strap.
The great thing about this format is that you can ride hard – fully satisfy that competitive itch – and then regroup with your mates and chat your way to the start of the next segment, and repeat. Ride hard and relax hard – best of both worlds for maximum enjoyment.
If you’re not there for the competition element, there’s no need to ride any harder in the timed sections – you can simply enjoy the glorious views for miles whilst following a well mapped off-road route.
But if you are in it to test your fitness and skills, choosing a race that suits you and prepping your bike are very important in preparing for your gravel bike event. Read on to find out what you can expect from these two enduro-style races in the UK.
Grinduro vs Gritfest: Format
Although both weekend-long events, the format of the competition differed slightly between the two.
The timed sections at Gritfest were split across both Saturday and Sunday, on a 83km (with 1,948m of climbing) and 59km loop (with 1,505m of climbing) respectively. So significant length rides on both days.
Grinduro, on the other hand, started with a short, optional prologue on the Friday evening, before packing all the timed sections into the Saturday.
These split over two separate routes, with a longer 42km loop in the morning, before coming back to Grinduro HQ for some lunch (pasta with meatballs, delicious). This was then followed by a shorter afternoon loop of 28km, packing in the rest of the timed sections.
As all of the timed segments in Grinduro are over and done with by the conclusion of the Saturday afternoon loop, you can fully relax in the evening - and by that, I mean drink with (slightly) less regrets. There was a 20km group ride on the Sunday morning, but that was just a bit of fun and with no timed sections.
So Grinduro definitely put the emphasis on ride hard, party harder. They could certainly boast the larger party tent.
With Gritfest, after a big day on Saturday and another sizable (and timed) ride on the Sunday, you’re probably not going to want to drink quite so much or stay up quite so late.
Although, of course, there were some legends who were seemingly impervious to any sort of fatigue – still first up the hills while being last off to bed. But for most mere mortals, there’s a bit more of an even trade off between performance on Saturday night versus Sunday morning.
In terms of the riding distance on competition days, Grinduro totalled up to 70km, whereas Gritfest had 142km – so certainly a big difference there. That said, the actual riding time was rather more closely matched, due to the differences in surface type – which we’ll get on to next.
Grinduro vs Gritfest: Technicality
What even is gravel? We’ve been introduced to the idea of a spectrum, spanning dusty dirt roads on one end to gnarly singletrack on the other. All coming under the descriptor ‘gravel’, but a little like the distinction between cross-country and downhill mountain biking – the two extremes are very different indeed.
Although there was more distance to cover at Gritfest the surface tended to be a lot smoother and featured wide sweeping corners. There were also more road sections connecting up the gravel sectors, which made the climbing more efficient and (generally) at more accommodating gradients – although still very steep.
‘Fire road heaven’ is how I’d sum up Gritfest. The surfaces were still mixed and there were plenty of corners, so there were still technical elements to get stuck into – with your speed having essentially a multiplying effect.
Even so, it was certainly the type of gravel that’d suit those new to the discipline and those running 40mm tyres (although fatter was more fun).
Grinduro’s approach was a little more along the lines of ‘just how far can you push a gravel bike? There was a much greater contingent of people riding mountain bikes and – unless you are actually coming from a strong MTB background – the proportion of singletrack and technical sections did make it feel as if flat bars and knobblier tyres would have been the more astute choice.
With the range of skill levels, variety of bike choice and the fact that the enduro format has a tendency towards bunching (racing A to B has more of a ‘thinning’ effect), this did lead to more congestion at Grinduro – especially on those singletrack sections where it’s harder to pass.
For me, I found myself experiencing both sides. There were times where I felt ‘ahh, I’m definitely holding someone up!’ and others where I’d be the one behind and waiting for an appropriate passing point.
To a certain point, going slow is much harder than going (modestly) fast. Braking that hard demands much more grip from the tyres and, not carrying much momentum, the chance of getting hung up on a rock is that much greater.
This didn’t really happen at Gritfest, probably due to the less technical course not opening such as gulf in skill levels and the fact that forest doubletrack made passing much easier to do.
In all, I’d say the best gravel bike for Gritfest would be one specced with 40mm gravel tyres and either 1x or 2x gearing would be fine. For Grinduro, I’d really advise some 50mm knobby rubber and gearing that goes well below a 1:1 ratio – for those unsure, probably best to err on the side of an MTB.
Of course, those confident in their skills off-road would be able to get away with something less – and if you do end up underbiking yourself for certain sections, there is always the option to walk down!
Grinduro vs Gritfest: Terrain
Both events were incredibly hilly, and both featured a couple of inclines on non-timed sections that proved too steep for many riders to stay on their bike. It can be hard to know what the best gravel shoes are sometimes – you want a stiff sole for maximum returns when pushing deep on the timed segments, but when it gets to the impossibly steep inclines that are barely rideable it certainly helps to have some flex, alongside some decent tread that’s grippy.
When it came to the timed sections, Grinduro kept things quite distinct. There were straight up hills, an undulating one, and a highly technical descent – and none were much longer than 15 minutes.
Gritfest, on the other hand, was a lot more variable. Most of the segments were ‘rolling’, by which I mean that there were meaty climbs, but you’d descend down the other side. It made for quite dynamic efforts, as it provided opportunities to quickly catch your breath, before pushing hard on the next incline.
The distances of the timed sections also varied a lot more at Gritfest. The longest timed section was 18km with 380m of climbing and 512m of descending, and the shortest was 3km with 227m of descent.
The longest section at Grinduro was only 5.4km, but it did pack in 200m of climbing.
I won’t say too much on this but if there’s ever going to be a freebie at an event (that I realise is totally not a freebie as I paid for it in my entry fee), it’s free coffee - and that's exactly what Grinduro offered up. I’m not talking instant granules, no, no – proper espresso as the foundation for one of the best flat whites I’ve had. And when I say one, I mean three times a day...
Grinduro vs. Gritfest: which is best?
Goodies wise, we’re talking an event-themed t-shirt versus cycling socks – do you want to show off your love of the event on the bike or off the bike??
Gravel means something different for everyone. I finished third in my age category (senior women 20-29) in Gritfest, and sixth in Grinduro, which goes some way to explaining which type of terrain and profile that suits me best, and this lines up pretty well with what I enjoy.
I find I’m better suited to rolling terrain and technical sections that aren’t on a steep downhill. So in terms of the riding, I certainly enjoyed Gritfest a lot more. That said, it was great to finish all of the riding on the Saturday at Grinduro to have a proper relax and party with everyone.
If you like to blast it and are happy on whatever terrain. Grinduro will be a treat, you’ll pack that all in on the Saturday and then can party the night away.
If you’re a bit newer to gravel and aren’t so good at the technical stuff yet, Gritfest is an absolute joy to ride.
The courses and timed segments vary at these events each year, but this at least gives you an indicator of the sort of riding the organisers are targeting and end up selecting.
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I’ve been hooked on bikes ever since the age of 12 and my first lap of the Hillingdon Cycle Circuit in the bright yellow kit of the Hillingdon Slipstreamers. For a time, my cycling life centred around racing road and track.
But that’s since broadened to include multiday two-wheeled, one-sleeping-bag adventures over whatever terrain I happen to meet - with a two-week bikepacking trip from Budapest into the mountains of Slovakia being just the latest.
I still enjoy lining up on a start line, though, racing the British Gravel Championships and finding myself on the podium at the enduro-style gravel event, Gritfest in 2022.
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