One of Europe's biggest off road cycling event opens this weekend in Kielder Forest

The Dirty Reiver challenge, being staged by Forestry England and Focal Events begins on Saturday 22 April. Credit: Forestry England

One of Europe's largest off-road cycling competition is set to open in Kielder Forest in Northumberland this weekend.

The Dirty Reiver challenge, being staged by Forestry England and Focal Events begins on Saturday 22 April.More than 1,600 bikers will set off to tackle a single lap of up to 200 kilometres through the 63,000 hectare forest.

Credit: Forestry England

Such long distances are usually associated with top road-racing, but forest cyclists will use special ‘gravel bikes’ to negotiate tracks, hills and valleys. With their hybrid design -  part mountain bike, part road bike.

Taking part will be ex Tour de France riders, including Chris Boardman, who is a former Olympic pursuit champion, and now England’s first ever Cycling and Walking Commissioner.

Mr Boardman said: “Having ridden a bike personally, professionally and for fitness for more than 50 years, it’s truly wonderful that it’s still possible to keep discovering new ways to use this marvellous machine.

"Gravel riding for me is the exciting sweet spot that sits beautifully between mountain biking and road riding.

"Whilst road riding is still an enjoyable way to explore, dealing with traffic isn’t something anyone enjoys.

"Gravel meets my needs perfectly: no traffic and a bit of personal challenge all wrapped in spectacular surroundings. It’s where I feel at home.”

He also thinks long distance off-road cycling will be the 'new Park Run'.

He added: "I think the main benefit is the lack of traffic and in a landscape like this you have a thousand miles of roads like this where you can enjoy the scenery, have a chat with your mates and feel completely secure.

"That’s why it's really attractive, you can doing from normal clothes and for normal people all the way to lycra and people going for a time and that’s why I think it’s going to be the next Park Run."

  • Video report by Tom Barton.

A special E-bikes category has been created for the first time and a team of eight disabled bikers, working with the national Experience Community group, will use specially adapted bikes – mostly hand pedalled – to take on the challenge of a 60 kilometre lap.

Craig Grimes, from Experience Community, said: “It’s fantastic that the Dirty Reiver will have adaptive riders taking part for the first time this year.

"The equality of access to events such as these for disabled people is so important so that we can also enjoy these amazing trails.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To know...