"Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads..."
Fast forward 30 years, and the immortal words of Back to the Future's Doc Brown are borne out by a growing number of off-road cycling events, as riders shun the allure of silky smooth tarmac in favour of more rugged adventures.
Designed to make the most of the capabilities of the new breed of go-anywhere, ride-anything gravel/adventure bikes, these events range from iconic cyclocross trials to all-new formats that blend elements of sportives and MTB enduro races into weekend festivals of cycling. So ditch the slicks and the traffic, and get ready to venture off-road as we run through 12 of the UK's best mixed terrain cycling events.
1. Rapha Cross Prestige Manchester - 4 November 2018
Rapha's Prestige series includes one-day adventure rides in locations across the globe, from Australia and Japan to the US and Bohemia. The format is simple, as teams of four compete to find the fastest route via specified checkpoints back to the finish. Manchester's 'cross version features a supplied course of 100km, but that doesn't make it easier on terrain including everything from muddy bridleways to flowing singletrack. Manchester, in November? Forget your sunscreen. Entry costs £60 per team and includes hot food and drinks at the finish.
2. Evans Cycles Sussex Sportive Cross - 11 November 2018
The Evans Sportive Cross series is an excellent introduction to off-road events, generally featuring an even split between tarmac and (for the most part) relatively tame trails well suited to cyclocross/gravel bikes. New for 2018, the Sussex event is slightly different as it takes place alongside the Ardingly round of the Cyclocross National Trophy. The 32-mile route features a mix of lanes, gravel tracks and bridleways - and if that proves too easy, you can test your handling skills by finishing with a loop of the National Trophy Cyclocross Course before the elite riders race it the same day.
3. Dirty Reiver - 26-27 April 2019
Kielder Castle Forest Park in Northumberland is the venue for Dirty Reiver, first held in 2017 in the vanguard of the gravel/adventure cycling boom. Choose from the full 200km course or the shorter 130km Dirty One Thirty; both routes feature plenty of ups and downs on forest gravel roads with regular feed stations along the way. Between checkpoints you're on your own, enjoying spectacular views of this remote region around the Scottish frontier. Entries for 2019 open 1 December.
4. Dorset Gravel Dash 50:50 - 25-26 May 2019
Run by Swanage cycle shop Charlie the Bikemonger, the Dorset Gravel Dash is a weekend-long cycling adventure that puts the emphasis on fun over coming first. Like the original one-day event (the Gravel Dash 100), the 50:50 features 100 miles of cycling over mixed and varied terrain, only here it's split over two days with a campsite party and ridiculously lavish BBQ in the middle. How lavish? Well, last year they cooked two deer (one underground wrapped in nettles and wild garlic) and a goat; this year they set up a pub in a field and offered a "music taxi' to ferry your musical instruments to the campsite. No wonder it sells out.
5. Gritfest - 22-23 June 2019
New for 2018, Gritfest is a two-day event promising 130km of mixed terrain mayhem in Mid Wales. Open to all off-road bikes, the course is 70% off-road and split over two stages, each with enduro-style timed sections: a 90km / 2400m loop of the Upper Towy Valley on day 1, followed by a 40km / 1000m course on the Sunday. Saturday night sees live entertainment in the event village and with kids' activities and a festive atmosphere it's very much a family friendly event - even if everyone's secretly turned up just to race... Entries for 2019 open 1 November.
6. Yorkshire True Grit - 21-23 June 2019
With a choice of three routes - the Outlaw, the Drive and the Stampede - ranging from 20-60 miles, Yorkshire True Grit sees hardened bike wranglers descend on High Paradise Farm to tackle the North York Moors. Founded in 2016 by locals Andrew Wright and Deborah Goodall, the challenging singletrack routes favour gravel bikes but you can ride whatever you like: photos from this year's edition show a healthy mix of MTB and cyclocross bikes ripping through some stunning landscapes.
Camping pitches are available on the farm with access to cold water and Portaloos, while for those in need a shower, Jon the event mechanic will hose you down. You don't have to be gritty to take part, but we suspect it helps... definitely one for the wanted list.
7. CX Century: The South Downs Way - 6 July 2019
CX Sportive run a series of excellent off-road challenges, but we've picked out the CX Century for our list as the route is a British classic. Riding the South Downs Way is a rite of passage in mountain biking circles, and completing the 100-mile course from Winchester to Eastbourne in a day is a feat to be reckoned with. MTBs are permitted but if you want the medal you'll need to do it on a fully rigid frame - suspension is cheating here. There's a shorter 100km option on offer too (and trust us, that is challenge enough) but with route marking, mechanical support and feed stations laid on, you'll never get a better chance to tick off this iconic ride.
8. Grinduro - 13-14 July 2019
"What is this weird enduro style cyclocross event with beer stops and fairground camping? Who cares. They nailed it." Emily Kachorek, co-founder @squidbikes
If a weekend camping, cycling and partying with fellow bike nuts sounds up your alley then Grinduro is for you. Blending, as the name suggests, elements of the US "gravel grinder" (off-road gran fondo) format with timed segments a la MTB enduro racing, Grinduro typifies the new breed of friendly, inclusive but still competitive cycling events growing around the gravel scene. 2019 sees the second UK edition take place in Lamlash, on the Isle of Arran.
So is Grinduro a race or a party? It's both. Don't miss it.
9. Cowal Way Chase - 14 July 2019
Based in the picturesque village of Lochgoilhead on the Cowal Peninsula, the Cowal Chase is a new event that takes in a section of the Cowal Way hiking path. Just 90 minutes northwest of Glasgow, expect dramatic views of lochs, glens and the Sruth Ban waterfall on a short but challenging course that tracks through farm and forest trails and rugged hillsides. At the finish line, drink in the views with a wee dram and keep an eye peeled for Royal Navy hardware - frigates and even the occasional submarine have apparently been sighted in the loch's waters.
10. Dukes Weekender - 7-8 September 2019
A weekend cycling festival based in the stunning surrounds of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, the Dukes Weekender centres around a 63km gravel-and-trail enduro. A gravel hill climb prologue on the Saturday is followed by five timed gravel stages on the Sunday alongside a family-friendly programme of cycling-related action. Accommodation is available from £25pp, and with kids' races and a pub night of film and chat with guests including Graeme Obree, it promises to be a memorable weekend's racing.
11. Three Peaks Cyclocross - TBC September 2019
Now in its 57th year, the Three Peaks Cyclocross race lays claim to being the toughest and biggest 'cross event in the UK as well as the oldest. Dropbars only for this one (MTBs will not be permitted), as you tackle ascents of Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-Ghent over a 61km course with a total of 1524m climbing. As much as a quarter of the course (6-8km) is unrideable, so pack your walking boots and get ready to lump your bike over this iconic challenge in the Yorkshire Dales.
12. Lakeland Monster Miles Adventure Cross - TBC October 2019
Lakeland Monster Miles offers riders a choice of 65 or 49 mile routes starting from Keswick - allegedly the "wettest town in England", but don't let that put you off: the scenery more than compensates. Hailed as the original (and still the best) cyclocross event from sportive giants UK Cycling Events, expect spectacular Lake District views and tough terrain that's suitable for both cyclocross and MTB bikes.