Like a road race, only crunchy

As the seasons roll by the motivation to enter stuff gets harder to muster.

Unless there is a damn good reason, it’s easier to just go for a ride.

The Dirty K is a damn good reason. Not only is it a ‘gravel race’, and therefore a logical outing for my latest bike, it is around the top end of Coromandel, and any excuse to go there is a good one.

The event tags on to the K2 road race, a 200km hillfest that circumnavigates the middle of Coromandel Peninsula from a different start point each year. In 2018 it was Coromandel town, so when the idea of a rugged alternate ‘race’ was hatched the route north was chosen. A 70 kilometre lap was sorted out, about half of which is unsealed. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? Throw in 1350m of climbing, and it becomes an honest day on the bike.

The format was new: instead of the usual road race start to finish timing regime, the Dirty K had a timing pad at each end to make sure nobody went missing, but no ‘result’ was calculated form them. Riders all used Strava to record their own efforts on four “stages”, which could be attacked or ignored at the rider’s whim.

Format schmormat. It was actually about getting there, hanging out, riding with mates, seeing places, eating stuff, and using low gear for over twenty minutes at a time.


The variety of people and bikes that turned out on the day reminded me of Round Taupo 20 years ago, or the early days of mountain bike events. There were people on state of the art ‘gravel’ bikes, hand made ‘gravel’ bikes (that are also state of the art). There was at least one full fatbike, and mountain bikes of various stripes, including a few that were pristine examples of the breed from the mid-nineties. I saw one e-bike, with a happy owner, at the 15km mark. I hope her battery held out for the last climb - it was a monster.

In our gang we had 28mm road tyres (brave, but logical given the featherweight rider), 47mm semi-slicks, and 2.2 inch mountain bike tyres. We had carbon fibre, hand made steel, and steel stitched together in Asia.

The people riding the bikes ranged from current hitters to the likes of us - on the road to see what would happen.

Which was rolling through stunning locations, grovelling up long steep climbs, and negotiating some really hairy descents. Discomfort was mitigated by rest stops featuring electrolyte and jellybeans in one case, beer and free stickers at another.

The Dirty K is the only event we have attended where the finish arch was positioned at 90 degrees to the road, and crossing the finish line meant entering a garden bar that was already crowded with people and bikes.

If at all possible, try not to miss the next edition, or try something similar where you live.