Later this year, GritCX will be going to Slovakia on a multi-day bikepacking trip with a bit of a twist. We’ve been on guided bike holidays before, but only ever mountain bike ones, and usually staying at single “base” for the course of the trip.
We’ve noticed a few companies, both in the UK and abroad beginning to cater to the gravel market, but there definitely aren’t many out there yet. Rpm90 is a small UK travel company that provides high quality cycling trips to individuals, private groups and corporates. Headed up by Nick Miles, it has offered guiding, mostly on the road for a few years now. New for this year is some bikepacking trips, including gravel options. In a move that will maybe put off a few hardened souls who actually enjoy sleeping in ditches, the trips link hotels but you still carry all your own kit.
The last year or so has seen Nick, with a bit of help from Jo Burt (yes, Mint Sauce Jo Burt) recce-ing routes in lesser ridden parts of Europe. They’ve turned these into something that blends the right levels of “that was a long day” with “but the riding was amazing” and hopefully not too much hardship. These are holidays after all.
The one that caught our eye the most is Slovakia, so come September we’ll be heading out and joining the team on the ride. This was the quote that sold it to us, “We’re not going to beat about the bush with this one. This is hard. Proper hard. In return, it is beautiful, proper beautiful, but you have to earn it. There is a wonderful sense of space and remoteness in Slovakia and it doesn’t take long riding away from town to feel right in the middle of nowhere. There is also a constant sense of travelling through time, history and culture as you pass through modern cities, old towns, past socialist-era housing and skirt Romany villages. It’s Europe, but different.“
We thought we’d find a little bit more about Nick and his plans while we were at it.
Tell us a bit more about Rpm90’s plans for this year.
“For 2019 we are taking things in a more adventurous direction with organised bike packing trips to places like Finland and Slovakia. We have a great team of staff and riders who all bring something unique to the trips too. We all love bikes, racing, travels, adventures and good food. We have Jo Burt with his endurance riding experience and amazing ability to look after riders and Liam Yates who’s ridden the RedHook crits and is down for this years Silk Road Mountain race. I used to be a London bike messenger too so between us all we can get you through a city, lead you long distances though mountains, give you tips on riding elbow to elbow without touching the brakes! We are all pretty laid back and have the experience to look after good riders as well as welcome those trying things out for the first time.”
When did you set the company up and why?
“I originally started operating road cycling holidays back in 2000 when I lived in Morzine in the French Alps. They were fun times, the buzz that Armstrong, Ullrich, Beloki and Pantani brought to pro road cycling at the time was super exciting and good for business. We all now know the outcome of that era but for me it holds fantastic memories. The local roadie and MTB community in Morzine was fun and chilled and we all rode pretty much every day with each other and each other’s clients throughout the summer.
“The loss of my girlfriend and business partner in 2003 was a difficult time and I returned to the UK to pursue another work journey, took some time off the bike and got into running. I always missed the mountain life though and Rpm90 Cycling was set up in 2011. I felt ready to go back to the mountains both personally and to develop a business. We launched our first trips from again from Morzine and since then we have delivered bike trips all over Europe and also in Oman.”
What tours are you offering next?
“It’s exciting times for us. We have taken a change in direction by offering a selection of rides that reflect what the Rpm90 team like to do in their spare time. As a cycling travel company and as individual riders we are constantly evolving in our cycling journey. Whether its heading out solo or with mates, we are all usually riding some sort of gravelbike or CX bike with fatter tyres on. We rarely ride on the road now and do so only to link up sections of singletrack, forest paths and our local Sussex Downs bridlepaths.
“We all enjoy bikepacking too and have decided to create a 2019 program based around the style of gravel bike and bikepacking journey we enjoy. We have created some really nice trips to some interesting places. The trips still have some of the feel, style and high quality of our original road tours but theres definitely no need to be chasing down that list of famous cols whilst staring at power metres and fancy carbon components. We encourage you to get into enjoying the natural environment and forget the stats and ride on the most suitable bike that you have for the trip.”
What will the trips feel like?
“We have created some challenging rides that are very much about experiencing an unforgettable bike experience within the realistic limits of a few days off work. Our rides are about getting a real feel of the landscape, connecting with yourself, taking each day or mountain as it comes and being out riding with a similarly focused small group of people. Our bikepacking trips offer some well planned rides in some stunning places. We find snacks along the way to keep us refuelled as we ride and often its hard to find something so we end up eating some interesting things to keep us going.
“However, our style of tours mean that theres a promise of some food, a shower and a bed after a tough day on the bike and no need to sleep in a ditch with a petrol station supper (you’re more than welcome to if you would like to for your own experience or some time to yourself, we will have a hot coffee waiting for you in the morning!) This means that we can travel fairly light, take kit for all conditions and leave the sleeping bags and bivvy at home. Our experienced Rpm90 team look after you all the way, help fix stuff and are well versed in knowing when to let riders have some extra support or their own space.”
How did the scouting go?
“2018 was a fun year of exploring some new routes in some new countries and working out the complexities of how to make it all work as a solid trip to offer to our clients. Planning for any trip takes time and especially when you have to work out translations in new languages and make sure that it’s possible to transfer groups of riders, bike bags and equipment around as well as prepare for emergencies and plan Bs. Theres lots of head scratching, sign language and Fawlty Towers style conversations that go on to create these trips but its very much part of the fun of running a travel company. There’s always a challenge in seeking new places to ride and stepping away from the world of road cycling tours.
“We were able to find some really nice new routes through Italy, Belgium, Finland, Slovakia and Portugal. Each of these countries has something really different to offer our riders and we have been able to stick to our new Rpm90 Cycling Adventures ‘brief’ and generally stay away from main roads as much as possible and connect them with some brilliant trails, forests, mountain passes, single track and cobbles. We have had to endure quite a few U-turns and a bit of hike-a-bike to achieve this but I am really happy with our 2019 ride program.”
Did you have any adventures along the way?
“Definitely! I did most of the Recces with Jo and we share a similar ride mentality that enables us to get stuck with a ‘see what happens’ approach to each day and stay calm when things don’t quite go to plan. We have spectacularly blown up on most the recon trips, eaten some pretty random snacks and searched for way to long for water in Finland (a country with a lot of water!). We shared the coolest adventure experience in Slovakia. It was such a mentally and physically demanding trip and along with the beauty of the landscape, it had us both shedding a few tears at one point.
“This trip turned out to be a brilliant adventure. I had made contact with some local guys who new the trails through the mountains and forests but more from a hiking perspective. They were pretty sure we would ride it all but had never tried it, let alone with bags and the rest of our kit. The days were super tough but immensely rewarding and as a result we have a route that I don’t think anyone who is a rider would initially design. It’s a multi surface , multi terrain route that takes five long days of riding all the way to the Polish border.”
More details: Rpm90