Racer Blog | Tiffany Keep on chasing trains, singletrack and TdF climbs on a gravel rig

3 october 2023. Cape Town, SOuth Africa | Tiffany Keep blogs about a recent gravel cycling trip in netherlands, france and the uk as published on bike network

The gravel bug bites Tiffany as she explores France, the Netherlands and Surrey’s singletrack onboard a Liv Devote.

My first experience of gravel travel was actually in the UK last year, at the annual British Gravel Champs – The Kings Cup. I jumped on a friend of a friend’s bike a few days before the event, rode it about three times, and then lined up on the start line. Long story short, I loved it! The dynamic nature of an entirely new discipline was really appealing to me. Combining offroad terrain with road cycling tactics made for a super exciting race. The result was the cherry on top, but more importantly I couldn’t wait to try more of this gravel thing.

Fast forward a few months to the end of June this year, where Giant Store Camden, the bike sponsor of my current cycling team, Hutchinson – Brother UK, were kind enough to lend me a gravel bike for some of my time overseas. I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to test out the Liv Devote Advanced 2, in a lovely blue colourway, and explore some of the offroad paths and gravel tracks in my area.

I was very impressed with how capable the bike was, equipped with the Shimano GRX 2×11 speed groupset, Giant PX-2 wheels and Giant CrossCut AT1 38c tubeless tyres. This is an all-rounder bike that feels stable, robust and versatile. A true freedom machine. This bike was taken on many gravel adventures, down singletrack and along bridleways in the UK, the Netherlands and France, and I never punctured or had any sort of mechanical once. Enough said.

Bridleway Exploration

The UK is filled with winding bridleways that contour parallel to and around the road network. Previously, these paths had always been a bit of an unknown to me as I would cycle past them on my road bike, only catching glimpses of the trails disappearing into the trees. The Devote was the key to unlocking the ability to explore these networks. I really enjoyed exploring new areas and from a different perspective on this bike and was impressed by how well it handled the steep uphills and descents traversing the Surrey Hills and Kent area.

Local and Foreign Singletrack

We took a trip out to Peaslake Village, in Surrey Hills, not just for the good pub dinner, but for the trails too. The trail network here is extensive and includes a variety of trails at a range of difficulty levels, from the typical green (easy) lines, all the way up to black (hectic) lines. We stuck to the intermediate lines, which contained some super fun and well-constructed berms, jumps and rooty techy sections. I appreciate that this jargon is not always commonly associated with gravel bikes, with narrower tyres and no suspension, but the Devote was never out of its depth along these trails, and was not unlike riding a hardtail mountain bike in the way that you don’t have the get-out-of-jail-free card of a cushy rear-shock to soak up the bumps or potential errors along the way. It was pretty thrilling! Although quite a different experience riding down a trail on a drop-bar bike, I was grateful that I never had to worry about clipping any trees and felt that the bike felt stable and planted in the trails. We left smiling from ear to ear. Not much beats an evening trail session with friends.

The Devote made the trip out to the Netherlands with me where I was based in Amersfoort for a few days. The town itself is surrounded by a few forests, which of course contain their own trail networks for runners, cyclists and horse riders. The flatter terrain was quite different to Peaslake, as was the soil, which was a bit looser and sandier. These trails were super fun in the way that they were fast and flowing, with dips and rises, spotted with a few sandy sections and roots to keep you on your toes. I enjoyed gunning it along here, channeling some inner cyclocross energy to tackle the sandier sections and just have an awesome time. I loved having the ability to ride offroad in a different country and have a bike that could handle anything we threw at it. It was a good test for the Devote, which it passed with flying colours, and made for a cool few days in the Dutch forests.

Vive Le Tour

The biggest cycling event in the world, and a massive spectacle for all sports fans, particularly those in France. This year I had the privilege of watching the Tour de France in person after following the race on TV for the last 11 years. It was an unforgettable experience and one of the highlights of 2023. We traveled to France to watch the last three stages, where we were based out of Besançon. We rode along many of the same roads the Tour de France riders were, including the final mountain stage (Stage 20) starting in Belfort and finishing in Le Markstein Fellering. Stage 20 was my favourite day of our trip, where we cycled the majority of the route the race was completing on the day, including one Category 2 and the two last Category 1 climbs of the race: Col du Petit Ballon, and Col du Platzerwasel. These climbs ranged over 10km in length for each of them and with an average gradient close to 10% for the total duration of the climb. I got to test the Devote’s climbing abilities on the tarmac and soak up the incredible atmosphere of the race. All the fans were already out in full force next to the road. Some had camped there overnight, and any cyclist they saw pedaling up the mountain, they cheered for. It was amazing! Despite being a gravel bike and not quite my more aggressive road race bike setup, the Devote handled the climbs and hilly terrain well, with a gear ratio capable of tackling the steeper gradients of the climbs, ensuring I could still enjoy the atmosphere and roadside festivities, just before bombing down the descents and winding turns of the mountain passes.

Experiencing the fanfare of the race was rad too, with the entourage of caravans throwing free race merchandise and Haribos out to the fans, we even managed to get our hands on some spotty mountain-classification inspired t-shirts halfway up one of the climbs. The main spectacle of the day was of course when the race leaders came blasting through, riding up the climbs like they were flat roads, and hearing the cheers echo along the mountainside.

After riding alongside the race, we then had an eventful dash back – literally straight off the side of the mountain, where the Devote was pushed to its limits down a steep and technical mountain bike singletrack to the train station in the town below. Although this was quite a hair-raising experience, I didn’t have much time to think about it as we missed our train by three minutes and had to perform a race-simulation time trial effort to catch our connecting train at the next station, 40km away. We arrived at the train station with three minutes to spare, and just made it onto our train in time, by the skin of our teeth. As crazy as it was, this 160km experience proved to me that this bike was so much more than just a gravel bike.

The Liv Devote Advanced 2 is a multi-faceted bicycle that is capable of handling pretty much anything you can throw at it. I had a lot of fun pushing this bike to its limits in multiple areas, and it’s safe to say that it passed every test with flying colours. Whether it’s gravel roads, bridleways, singletrack, mountain passes or fast and flat terrain; this bike can do it all! Riding offroad is my happy place, and it was a privilege to have a bike that allowed me to explore more of what this world has to offer. Through a simple and durable design, I can safely say that this bike would be fit for anyone with adventure and exploration in mind. If you ever find yourself in London, I can highly recommend a visit to the friendly people at Giant Store Camden! You may just find a Devote or two, along with many other models of a variety of bikes and guaranteed amazing service too. Cheers!

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