Updated: Jan 10, 2022
The Dukes Weekender is the brain child of Stu Thomson and Rob Friel, two local avid cyclists and family men. They conceived the idea of the Dukes Weekender with the idea of creating an event to show off the fantastic cycling to be had (particularly off-road) in and around Aberfoyle and to help revive the fortunes of this picturesque village in the Trossachs National Park. What they and their team of #Gravelfoyle Volunteers and enthusiasts have a achieved in 4 short years is amazing and needs to be experienced first hand.
SAC at #Gravelfoyle
So what's it all about then?
The Event Village
One of the aims of the #Gravelfoyle team was to create an event village in the town, so that those not competing would also get to experience the event and enjoy the atmosphere. With that in mind they set up a pump (BMX) track for kids and several cycling brands brought along bikes that were free for all to demo. The Trossachs SAR (Search and Rescue ) Team were also on hand to give insight into the work the do and to raise funds to help them provide assistance to outdoor enthusiasts, as and when required.
There was no food stalls within the Expo - meaning that local businesses could thrive on the weekend visitors and offer them up some "Dukes Specials"! Good thinking, Guys!
Parking and Camping was also provided close to the Event Village, meaning that arriving and getting set up for a weekend of fun couldn't be easier.
The Kids Enduro was open to riders aged 8-14. It is an 18km loop heading out towards Cobleland, Gartmore and back to Aberfoyle. This years event had 4 timed 'stages' allowing the kids to race as fast as they could. Perfect for tiring them out!
Endura Gravel Hill Climb
Saturday’s main event was the hill climb. The the event was previously held on the Dukes Pass but was moved to the NCN7, starting at the Allt a’Mhangam waterfall below The Lodge, running up the forest road and finishing at the crossroads a few hundred metres above Go Ape.
When Allt a’Mhangam became Alpe D'Huez!
With a coffee bar at the bottom, drumming band midway up and a bar close to the finish it creates a party atmosphere that would rival Dutch Support on Alpe D'huez. One week later my ears have just about stopped ringing from the cowbells and shouts of encouragement. And I'm sure the other 350 or so competitors must have felt the same too!
SAC's Keith Martin winding it up!
The SAC Mini-Peloton
On Sunday the ‘Gravel Enduro’, went ahead. The Scottish Adventure Cycling crew rode this socially, as a team, for most of the 75km. The route takes a figure of 8 direction with riders first heading north to Loch Venachar before coming back through Aberfoyle for lunch (if you fancy) and then heading out south for the 2nd half.
Most of this ride was a social ride, almost a weekly club ride. But here are 6 short timed stages at sections around the route and this led to "full gas, strava segment chasing pacemaking"! These stages are well sign posted and marshalls were in attendance to ensure rider safety. The stages are described below:
A fast flowy descent down well compacted and wide gravel trails. Great way to start the timed sections after the climb up the NCN7 from the village of Aberfoyle.
A fast ride along the loch shore, taking you along narrow paths, up, down and with one super sharp bend you can never really switch off. Longer than it seems on the map, your legs will be screaming by the end.
Social Interlude: We then took the chance to head into Achray Farm for an ice cream after Stage 2 which was to prove a wise move given what was to follow!
Social Interlude at Achray Farm for Ice Cream
There was a queue to start Stage 3. And it soon became apparent why! A narrow super steep climb on loose gravel with gradients that wouldn't look out of place in the Tour of Flanders was causing all sorts of fun filled chaos. Keith was able to "clean it" all the way to the top. That's what a 50T sprocket and a heap of determination will do for you!!
SAC nervously awaiting their turn of the Berg of #Gravelfoyle
If we thought that Stage 3 was going to provide all the thrills then we were put straight shortly afterwards by Stage 4! Billed as generally downhill with a few steep ramps it was on paper relatively harmless. Or so we thought!
With a delayed start due to some unauthorised cyclists on the section, when we did get underway there were punctures mechanical mishaps galore. For those who did get through unscathed it was a fast and bumpy stage, high on thrills. As it was, we regrouped and helped who we could offering up sealant, plugs, Co2 Cartridges and when all those failed, some heartfelt commiserations.
This was perhaps the most scenic stage. A fast flowy descent led to a monster steep pitch that even allowing for the speed you hit that ramp at, had your legs screaming at the end. On the plus side, there was an ample area to collapse in and revel in world class view over Loch Ard.
The final stage. What a belter. it began with a steady climb up a well compacted gravel trail for about 1Km and then gave way to a super fast descent, culminating in a sharp left hander, that had you using all the available trail and some of the verge to negotiate.
Coffee Bar at the end of Stage 6
SAC Crew - 6 Stages dusted, with only a 6Km social back into #Gravelfoyle remaining
Will the SAC Peloton be bigger at next year's #Gravelfoyle
Why should you go to the Dukes Weekender?
I could tell you that its a great family event, that there's some of the best trails and scenery you'll ever encounter on a bike, that the village of Aberfoyle and it's inhabitants make everyone feel welcome.
And that's all true and I've known that for a few years now.
Perhaps it's better then to leave the last word to Keith Martin who took part for the first time. Here's what he had to say:
"Fantastic event and lively atmosphere in the small town of Aberfoyle. Gravity is not exactly my friend so the hill climb on Saturday was brutal. However the carnival atmosphere of cowbells, drums and cheers powered me on to the top. The pint of Schiehallion half way back down the hill was also excellent"
"Sunday’s 72km Gravel Enduro was a brilliant day out taking in some excellent trails and views. There was a fantastic homemade ice cream stop at the Achray Farm shop and the figure of 8 loop meant we could refuel with a leisurely lunch stop in Aberfoyle. The 6 timed stages meant there was some healthy competition amongst the SAC team mates! We were out there from 9am to 3:30pm but only 30 minutes of that was full gas with the 6 stages being anything from 1.5 to 7 minutes long. The rest of the ride was at a social pace meeting many new faces along the way."
"There is limited accommodation in the local area so you need to be fast. Alternatively there was a temporary camp site set up right behind the event village in the town centre, which I used on the Saturday night. I would recommend staying in or near Aberfoyle to take in the full atmosphere and meet many other gravel enthusiasts. The ideal bike would probably be a gravel bike with +40c tyres but there were also many mountain bikes taking part. Bring on the Dukes Weekender 2022."
Scottish Adventure Cycling Plan to hold a members only trip to the Dukes Weekender 2022. I'll be there. Will you?