By Lucy Ashton
DUKES Weekender, the hugely popular, community-run, family-friendly, gravel cycling festival based in the centre of Aberfoyle on the edge of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, returns for its third outing on Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 September 2021.
The two-day event will include the Gravel Hill Climb, the Gravel Enduro – a 75km gravel loop with six competitive timed stages, and the 10km Kids Enduro.
Local gravel and mountain bike riders, Stu Thomson and Rob Friel, set up Dukes Weekender in 2018, one of the first gravel riding events to be staged in the UK, with the key aim of making a major contribution to the community-driven commercial regeneration of Aberfoyle.
The success of the events in 2018 and 2019 have been instrumental in establishing the village of Aberfoyle as a booming year-round cycling destination.
The events have also been a driving force for local community interest company, Bike Trossachs, to launch ‘Gravelfoyle’, a cycle tourism brand with the prime objective of promoting Aberfoyle as Scotland’s premier Gravel Cycling destination.
Volunteer event organiser, Bike Trossachs member and local resident, Stu Thomson, commented: “It’s absolutely fantastic to be able to bring Dukes Weekender back to the community after such a challenging last 18 months. The event was established with the aim of bringing people to the village and showcasing the gravel riding on offer in the area and it’s been incredible to see the resulting explosion of Aberfoyle as a cycling hub.”
Word of mouth on the network of more than 200km of well-maintained, safe, traffic-free, off-road, multi-surface forestry tracks and trails, gravel roads and paths within a 12km radius of the town, spread extremely fast amongst the cycling community. Event competitors quickly adopted #Gravelfoyle, the Dukes Weekender social media hashtag, to share their gravel riding experiences all year-round, highlighting Aberfoyle as a gravel riding hot spot.
Stu Thomson’s partner in Dukes Weekender and local cyclist, Rob Friel, added: “We’ve always put community right at the heart of the whole event, using only local suppliers, no outside catering and bringing the participants to the centre of the village.”
Phil Crowder, landlord of the Forth Inn in Aberfoyle, said: “Dukes Weekender, ‘Gravelfoyle’ as it is known locally, utilises the great natural resource of the national park, is amazingly well-organised, with a fantastic attitude from those riders taking part.
“It’s incredibly well-received by local residents and businesses and has changed Aberfoyle’s future for the better, providing a significant boost to the local economy. It goes on to set us up superbly for the year ahead with returning #Gravelfoylers. Long may it continue. Maybe two next year?!”
Nick Green, owner of Aberfoyle Bike Hire, added: “We are delighted to see the return of the Dukes Weekender. As well as being a great event for our business, it has played a key role in the development of cycling culture in Aberfoyle and we see an effect on the area that continues throughout the year. Visitors from across the UK and beyond have heard of the event and come to the shop to ask how they can ride the routes.”
The volunteer organisers recently repaid the amazing voluntary support received from the children of Aberfoyle Primary School, who create event signs and work on the hill climbs, with a donation that has been used to purchase new cycling kit and equipment for local schools in both Aberfoyle, Gatmore and Port of Mentieth.
Stu Fielden, principal teacher of Aberfoyle Primary School, said: “The Dukes Weekender, as both an annual event and an ongoing community support organisation, has become a pivotal part of the village which inspires and encourages children of all ages to participate in cycling and gives them the confidence to explore the local trails. Staff and pupils are looking forward to giving their support when the event returns in September.”