During the abbreviated gravel season for 2020, my highlight was undoubtedly the Greffelründsche (the name comes from a German dialect and means “Gravel around Frankfurt”), a 303-kilometer long gravel race around the metropolis of Frankfurt! Almost 100 riders were registered for the event, but due to the Coronavirus pandemic, participation was adjusted to factor in safety protocols.
The organizer’s description of this event: 303 kilometers of insane single tracks, gravel, footpaths, bridges, avenues, and sections that defy any categorization, assembled to resemble something that feels like a feverish dream (bear in mind, this report has been translated from German, so it may not be perfect). One moment you are riding singletrack that winds through a forest, which may spit you out onto a sandy construction site, back onto gravel, before you navigate your way through a labyrinth of allotments, fences, and parks and land again onto overgrown trails.
You ride far and still hardly leave the city. There is little asphalt, but countless changes of direction guaranteed this event is not going to be boring. Little chance to take a deep breath, the skyline of Frankfurt is always in view from most directions when you least expect it. In the background, the Taunus mountains and lots of motorways, until you completely lose your bearings.
But it doesn’t matter, just follow the zigzag on your cycling computer. Turn off your sanity and choose to blindly follow the route. I promise you, this ride will take you to places that you never knew existed in Frankfurt. If you manage to finish this ride, it feels damn special to return to the heart of Frankfurt after many hours in the saddle, experiencing the city like never before.
The start time on October 24th, 2020 could be chosen freely, but only the start point and destination were provided. There were no refreshments provided, you were self-sufficient and expected to find food and drink along the course. The positions of every rider could be followed via Racemap.
I started promptly at 6.20am beneath the Ignatz-Bubis bridge directly on the River Main. The organizer, Ken, greeted me in a friendly manner, and the course followed the river for the first 25 kilometers in the dark. The illuminated skyline of “Mainhattan” was particularly impressive.
At Oberrad the route turned into the forest. Here the path led over fast forest slopes. Suddenly I heard a loud hiss from my front tire. The tubeless sealant splashed on my fork but sealed the puncture so I could continue without stopping.
This was followed by the Langener-Waldsee-Trail and the well-known, scenic route around the airport, including Lindensee, Mönchbruchsee and perennial ponds. A few kilometers further on, slopes and narrow single trails alternated. A large herd of deer crossed our path near Frankfurt Airport.
Suddenly I noticed that my front tire was becoming more and more spongy. I stopped for a moment and realized that I had lost a lot of air. I rode on carefully, and in the forest, I avoided all the roots, as I didn’t want to destroy my carbon rim. In the corners, the tire buckled suddenly and I thought my day was over.
I rolled to the small ferry on the River Main towards the end of the first section. The ferryman told me during the crossing that there was a petrol station 500 meters away. There I refilled with air, the tubeless sealant held and lasted to the finish. Yes!
Continuing on, the paths became narrow and muddy, causing problems for my WTB Byway slick tires. Near the small River Nidda, conditions improved. After crossing some beautiful parks, I passed beneath a highway. At the rest stop there, we went down a steep staircase and then continued on fast concrete slopes. In Bad Vilbel at km 200, I originally planned to take a break in a cafe. However, there were a lot of people there, so I just kept going. I refilled with water at a nearby cemetery.
Shortly after 6pm, it was getting dark and I turned on my lights. Now the route became more demanding. It went up and down all the time. The paths, only one meter wide, led through allotment gardens and were sometimes very rough.
After exactly 14 hours and 20 minutes, I was at the finish in Frankfurt. As a reward, I looked closely at the illuminated city skyline.
The fastest participants crossed the finish line after 12 hours and the slowest after 23 hours. The gravel season 2020 is now over for me. Many thanks to the organizer for this crazy hell ride!