Littlehouse Media

Dukes Weekender, a catalyst for Aberfoyle’s rise in gravel cycle tourism

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, principle 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.”

Ends

Media contact:

Paddy Cuthbert | Littlehouse Media | E: [email protected]| M: 07913 951717

Additional quotes:

Enda McLoughlin for Bike Trossachs, said: “With the growing success of Aberfoyle as a cycling destination and gravel riding in particular we want to harness the success and incredible offering that this area offers cyclists and create a collective vision for the future of our hometown.”

Stu Fielden, Principle Teacher of Aberfoyle Primary School, added: “Aberfoyle, Gartmore and Port of Mentieth Primary Schools are extremely grateful for the generous donation received from the organisers of the Dukes Weekender. We have purchased twenty sets of essential safety equipment, including helmets, gloves and jackets, from Endura to be used by the children participating in Bike Ability levels 1, 2 and 3. It will not only help the children with progressing through the bike ability scheme, but it will also give them the confidence to safely navigate the roads around the local area.”

Nick Green, owner of Aberfoyle Bike Hire, added: “Our shop in Aberfoyle gets busier every year as more and more people hear about the great cycling in the area. We hire bikes to families, couples and groups who want to get out into beautiful countryside without the worry of riding on roads.  Visitors always want to know what waymarked trails they can follow.  We have participated enthusiastically in the development of the new Gravelfoyle routes because we know they will bring people from far and wide to ride bikes in our wonderful hills and forests.”

Stu Thomson, Dukes Weekender organiser, said: “It’s been incredible to see the resulting explosion of Aberfoyle as a cycling hub. Every weekend nowadays the village is full of bike riders of all types and demographics.

“Gravel riding has been at the heart of it and has really given the village a unique positioning.  However, there are plenty of trails to attract mountain bikers; and with Dukes Pass on our doorstep it’s a popular road cycling destination as well.

“We’ve also had local company, Trailcoach, hosting kids camps and coaching on the weekends too. With the addition of Aberfoyle Bike Hire to the village we now have bike rentals available for tourists and the shop is fast becoming a great meeting point for local riders too.”

Notes to Editors:

Gravel Cycling

Gravel cycling is a new cycle discipline bringing the accessibility, physical benefits and non-technical aspects of road cycling to the safety, experience and landscape of mountain biking.

The Dukes Weekender

Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 September 2021

Presented by Santa Cruz Bicycles

Supported by Endura, Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, and Cut Media

The organisers have announced some limited additional entries will be available from 11 August 2021, with the majority carrying over from the cancelled 2020 event. For more information on the event and entries please visit https://www.dukesweekender.com/.

Main Events

Saturday 11 September 2021

Children’s Mini Enduro

aged 8-14 years

14km loop with 4 x timed stages

Gravel Hill Climb – 1.9km, climbing up 150m height

The Lodge, Aberfoyle

16:00 – 18:00

The hill climb is Stage One of the Gravel Enduro for full ‘Dukes Weekender’ participants but is also available as a stand-alone event if you like.

Sunday 12 September 2021

Gravel Enduro

Aberfoyle

A stunning 75km route around the Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park, taking on the most incredible gravel riding in the UK. It’s the perfect balance between social riding and competitiveness, with a minimum of 6 timed stages along lochsides and in the shadow of Ben Lomond, Ben Venue and Ben Ledi

Dukes Weekender background

Volunteer organisers Stu Thomson and Rob Friel set up Dukes Weekender in 2018 with the main objective of encouraging cyclists of all ages and skill levels to visit Aberfoyle, cycle on the huge network of forest roads, stay locally overnight and spend money in the town.  It would be their contribution to the community driven commercial regeneration of the town that was already underway.

Gravel riding was (and still is) one of the few growth areas of cycling in the UK. Aberfoyle residents and local cyclists Stu Thomson and Rob Friel were well aware of the hidden gem of gravel riding right on their doorstep, a 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. 

Aberfoyle and the surrounding Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park was the perfect destination for both families and riders of all ages, skill levels, and cycling disciplines looking to enjoy themselves in some of the most stunning countryside in Scotland, within easy reach of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling and Perth.

They also knew that a number of popular Scottish mountain bike destinations and trail centres, such as Nevis Range near Fort William, had hugely benefitted from year-round cycle tourism because of the additional promotion that came with staging bike events.

The first two events in 2018 and 2019 perfectly encompassed the true spirit of gravel riding – adventure, exploration, wild countryside and the simple pleasure of riding a bike.  With competitor numbers more than doubling in 2019, the two volunteer organisers were on track for another successful event in 2020 until Covid-19 forced its cancellation. 

Bike Trossachs and ‘Gravelfoyle’

The success of Dukes Weekender has been the driving force for Bike Trossachs, a local community interest company with whom Thomson and Friel are directors, to develop Gravelfoyle (the Dukes Weekender hashtag), the new destination brand for the area with the prime objective of promoting Aberfoyle as Scotland’s premier Gravel Cycling destination. 

Gravelfoyle’s first project is to launch three new waymarked gravel cycling routes – 10.1km, 19.4km, 28.8km – within Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park to encourage everyone from families with an appetite for more relaxed, off-road adventures to weekend warriors keen on a longer distance challenge, to experience the joys and thrills of gravel riding. The three routes, whose launch has been delayed due to Covid-19, will start and finish in the centre of Aberfoyle, and will enable riders to explore Loch Ard, Loch Chon and venture deep into the Loch Ard Forest.

Partnership and collaboration are at the heart of the Gravelfoyle brand. Funding for the first three waymarked trails has come from Forth Valley and Lomond LEADER, Forestry and Land Scotland, Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park and The Strathard Development Trust, which have all committed to providing support for the future development of access infrastructure.

Bike Trossachs is keen to further capitalise on the vast forest network of the National Park surrounding Aberfoyle and plans to develop further interconnecting waymarked routes such as The Lochs and Glens Way and around Loch Venachar, Loch Achray, Loch Katrine and as far as Loch Lomond. 

Since the first staging of Dukes Weekender the Aberfoyle community and businesses are fully invested in driving and implementing Gravelfoyle, keen to build a diverse community of practitioners to promote cycling participation, infrastructure and tourism in Aberfoyle, with a view to developing local jobs, wealth and encouraging sustainable economic growth.

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