An Off Season Off-Road Guide

Jan 21, 2021

factor riders share their gravel riding experiences, top routes and why they love going off-road

Every year when the Northern Hemisphere temperatures begin to plummet, a widespread desire for off-road riding rapidly rises.

Although gravel riding is a year-round essential for many, it’s this time of the year that it really springs to life, continuing to gather hype and convert many-a skinny tyred, tarmac fanatic in the process.

For most seasoned road cycling professionals and triathletes alike, ‘off-road’ riding has become the ‘it thing to do’ during the off-season, as an alternative means to keep the legs ticking over and to ensure motivation levels continue to flow, by exploring new roads without the stresses of standard intervals and structured training regime’s they would usually follow throughout a typical race season.

Here, we’ve taken some time to chat with a number of professionals (current and former), and Factor riders who are either already dedicated gravel converts, or are currently embracing the gravel trend as part of their pre-season training regime.

Each rider has a passion for gravel riding and share with us why they ride off-road, their favourite gravel routes picked straight from their own backyard’s, their bucket list gravel riding destinations, and why the Factor LS or ViSTA is their ride of choice.

MARIT RAAIJMAKERS NETHERLANDS

Marit Raaijmakers is a professional road cyclist for the Parkhotel Valkenburg women’s cycling team. Last year she discovered a whole new love for riding during the road season’s unexpected pause, by heading off-road on her Factor ViSTA, exploring her home surrounds in the Netherlands, right through to Switzerland on a bike packing adventure.

  • Top gravel routes

In the Netherlands, my favourite routes are in the Veluwe – a forest-rich National Park in the province of Gelderland. There are so many scenic roads there and every time I am there, I ride a different route – there really are endless possibilities. It’s also a rare area in the Netherlands that has some serious hills!

  • Why is gravel riding so appealing at this time of the year?

I enjoy gravel riding year-round, but especially in autumn and winter. The forest is beautiful, and in cold/wet conditions, riding off-road keeps you warmer and dryer with more shelter.

  • Why do you gravel ride?

I love the freedom of gravel riding. You can take every road you would like, ensuring endless exploring options. I also love the nature you see and that it’s traffic free.

  • Gravel riding in the off-season

I truly discovered gravel riding in the break during the race season last year due to Covid-19. I was looking for different ways to train and to keep motivation levels high. I ended up having the incredible opportunity to go bike packing on the ViSTA through Switzerland. I fell in love with it. Now I ride it once a week at least.

I’ve noticed over the years that it’s become a very popular training alternative for many pro cyclists, particularly at this time of the year to stay motivated through the cooler months.

 Read all about Marit’s Swiss ViSTA Adventure, here.

  • Does gravel riding help you prepare for the new road season?

Absolutely, yes! I do my endurance rides often on gravel. Physically, it makes little difference to me if I train on the road or gravel. But mentally, there’s a huge difference. I love nature and have discovered a whole new world by riding off-road.

  • Bike 

I predominately train and race on the O2 VAM, but for off-road I ride the Factor ViSTA. In general, I my Factor’s and their components.

My favourite aspects are the front and colour of the bike. My ViSTA is Hunter Green and I love the front for its technology and look. Also the one piece barstem – It not only looks fast, but feels fast too!

  • Top Bucket List gravel riding destination/s?

My top three are Norway, Canada and New Zealand.

Follow Marit’s adventures here.

MADS CHRISTENSEN – DENMARK

Since retiring from professional road cycling, Mads Christensen has found a whole new love for cycling, off-road. Based in Denmark, Mads is constantly out exploring endless roads less travelled on his Factor LS. Having not quite let go of his desire to compete, his latest focus has been on training and setting goals for numerous elite gravel events in 2021.

Images courtesy of Isoles.

  • Top gravel routes

I have quite a few favourite gravel rides in Denmark. One of them that stands out, however is a 300km loop I completed. It contains so many different types of terrain and landscapes, and the variation in nature along the route is one of the things I enjoyed most when riding it on my LS.

Discover Mads’ favourite ‘epic’ gravel route in Denmark.

  • Why is gravel riding so appealing at this time of the year?

I enjoy riding gravel riding all year around, but autumn is something special. In Denmark you can really feel when the season changes. Many of the roads I normally train on, develop an entirely different look, and the landscape is especially beautiful at this time of year.

  • Why do you gravel ride?

I was a professional road rider for many years and when I stopped racing back in 2016, I got my first gravel bike. For me, it’s all about getting an entirely new experience. I still love to ride my bike, but now it seems more challenging and fun doing it mostly on gravel roads.

  • Bike

I ride the Factor LS. One of the things I like the most about this bike is that it has the feeling of a real race bike. Its fast, stiff and lightweight frame-set, combined with all the comfort I need, ensures that my body stays fresh and can comfortably handle long rides.

  • Top Bucket List gravel riding destination/s?

I was supposed to do the Unbound Gravel (former Dirty Kanza) last year, however it was unfortunately cancelled due to Covid-19. So this race and experience remains at the top of my list, and I really hope to compete there in 2021.

Follow Mads’ adventures here.

LAURA SIDDALL – GIRONA

 Laura Siddall is a British professional triathlete, specialising in ironman distance. In a normal race year Laura chases the warmer temperatures, basing herself between Christchurch, New Zealand and Girona, Spain. Due to travel restrictions and current lack of competition, she’s in Girona for the winter and has temporarily switched our her Factor SLiCK for the LS to discover the cycling Mecca’s endless playground of gravel roads.

  • Top gravel routes

I’m pretty new to gravel riding, so every ride and route is exciting and new. However, I recently headed to Cap de Creus, on the Costa Brava just a 40 minute drive from Girona. It was absolutely stunning. You have great gravel riding and incredible scenery. Pair endless hills, sea views and gorgeous coastal towns tucked away in the coves, all with a backdrop of the Pyrenees – oh and did I mention the blue sky and sunshine?

  • Why is gravel riding so appealing at this time of the year?

This time of year in Girona is perfect to explore the gravel and off road cycling scene. With the weather being a little cooler than the summer heat, it’s great to hit the trails and just open up another world of adventure and cycling. As a professional, it also presents a great opportunity for off-season riding, where I don’t have to specifically focus on TT efforts and power. Instead, I can hit the trails and still get a work out, while improving my bike skills, and just ride my bike for the pure joy and love of riding.

  • Why do you gravel ride?

Normally, as a triathlete, I’m focused on numbers, power and specific efforts, all to improve and dial in for my races. Gravel riding opens up a whole new world for me. It’s a great option in the off-season, or in 2020, where there have been no races, to get out, still gain the fitness and benefits from cycling, while developing my skills and just riding for the love of it. It enables me to enjoy different adventures, when normally I’d be in an aero tuck looking at the tarmac just ahead of me. Also, so many of my friends are gravel riding, so I don’t want to get ‘fear of missing out’, and not be able to join them!

  • Gravel riding in the off-season

I think it’s key to take a break from training and racing as we normally know it over the season. Taking the gravel bike out during the off season allows us to do just that, but at the same time we are still connecting with something we love and enjoy, and are passionate about – cycling. For me personally, it’s also a good way to work on my skills and handling, before transitioning back to the TT bike as we move closer to the season and races.

  • Bike 

For starters LS is also my initials, so I just pretend that the Factor LS was named after me! The bike is simply stunning, but then that’s just Factor and all of their bikes. You always know you are going to get an incredible ride, and the design and build is at such a high level. It makes me smile just looking at my bikes, and you just can’t help but want to take them out for a spin.

  • Top Bucket List gravel riding destination/s?

I think we are pretty lucky here in Girona, but I’d love to explore Boulder, Colorado as I have some keen gravel riding friends based over there!

Follow Laura’s adventures here.

Images by Sami Sauri

ISABELLA BERTOLD – BRITISH COLUMBIA

Not only a talented road cyclist for UCI Women’s Continental Team, Instafund La Prima Racing, Isabella is also a highly accomplished sailor. Based out of British Columbia, she’s kept motivated throughout a challenging season by mixing up her training with some off road adventures aboard her Factor ViSTA.

  • Top gravel routes

Gravel riding is great because it takes you to new places that you might not otherwise visit. This past summer we travelled to Fernie, BC – a spot we originally associated with great powder skiing and mountain biking, but as it turns out, the gravel riding is AMAZING!

Head here for route options. Rumour has it that there’s also a race planned there for 2021 – definitely worth checking out! 

  • Why is gravel riding so appealing at this time of the year?

It’s just something different, a nice change of pace, quieter, and it takes you to new spots you wouldn’t usually get the chance to venture to during the season, or while on the road.

  • Why do you gravel ride?

Freedom and the ability to unplug (no power meter, no cell service), are probably the top two reasons myself and my team mates take breaks from riding on tarmac. Gravel riding is also great for bike handling, and as it turns out, the ViSTA is the ideal winter road bike as well – so you basically get two bikes in one! 

  • Gravel riding in the off-season

I gravel ride in the off-season to practice my bike handling and enjoy some lower intensity riding – so beneficial for building a strong base fitness. To top, it’s also nice to escape the traffic. 

You’re so focused on your surroundings and the beautiful views, ensuring a nice break from usual training. 

  • Bike 

The team ride the Factor ViSTA when taking some time-out from the road and our O2’s. We love them because you can take them out on any terrain (including MTB trails!), and then still throw fenders and road tyres on the very same bike, and you have the perfect winter training setup.

  • Top Bucket List gravel riding destination/s?

Norway! The photos I’ve seen look amazing, it’s on the bucket list for sure, and hopefully something I can check-off in the next couple of years.

Follow Isabella and the Instafund team here.

Image by Nick Nault

Discover Factor’s Pure Gravel Racer (the LS) and All-Road Bike (ViSTA)

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