Home Story Gather: A Cycling Festival With A Difference
Feature type Story
Published May 26, 2023
Author Mike Tucker
The world of cycling events is largely dominated by endurance, competition or challenge. While for some, the thrill of a frantic chase or lung-busting feats of endurance might be the allure of such events, they’re definitely not for everyone!
In the vast and unspoilt region of Ariège in the French Pyrénées, a group of friends dreamed up an idea for a small-scale cycling festival where the focus was on enjoyment, unwinding and meaningful connection with likeminded souls over bikes, local food and a beer or two.
This is the story of Gather, how three women came to be at this festival with a difference, and the ways in which bikes have shaped their lives.
Interviews by Chris Hargreaves and introduction by Mike Tucker, photographs by Tomás Montes and Dan King.
Sitting around the table one day, discussing ideas, there was one thing that immediately jumped out at us; many of the events already on the calendar were competition or challenge-based. We are being introduced to more and more ‘ultras’, and the announcement of a new gravel-based event was an almost daily occurrence. Whether you’re entering to win or to simply get around the parcours, there always appeared to be a pressure to achieve associated with these events.
We wanted to create something different; a festival style ‘gathering’ that was community-led and unpretentious; a place where everyone felt welcome and meaningful connections were made. The only pressure found on site would be linked to tyres.
The only pressure found on site would be linked to tyres.
We set about organising our human sized ‘gathering’ (ticket sales are limited to 100), a place where like minded people can hang out together in a non-competitive environment, eating and drinking locally sourced produce, with a programme of activities that allows them to do as much or as little as they please. We wanted everyone who made it to Gather to feel at home.
We also thought it would be a super cool place for riders to recharge after they had ridden a competitive event or somewhere to press pause for a few days for those in transit to a race. It would be a place for new riders to pick up tricks and tips from those more experienced. It would be a level playing field.
Aside from great cycling, the event has now evolved to include trail running and hiking. We have also designed Gather as a ‘leave no trace’ event. Our workshops, campfire chats and film screenings are designed to highlight the key environmental messages facing the adventure community with valuable input from carefully chosen partners and friends of the event. It is our intention to bring meaningful conversation to the table and share actionable information in an effort to make things better than when we started.
‘Recently I spent two months bikepacking around Mexico after a six week stay with a Mayan family, but it was only during the tail end of lockdown restrictions that I first took up cycling. I was working in London as an events director, organising networking opportunities for corporate clients and the bike just offered this sense of freedom that I was craving. Fast-forward two years and I now spend my summers working for an active travel company as a bike tour guide which leaves my winters free for travel. It was during one of these extended periods of riding that I got talking to some people from komoot and learnt all about the Gather Festival.
‘For me, cycling has been a real catalyst for change – professionally and also in my attitude to how I want to live my life. So when I heard about this event in the south of France, there and then I decided to swing by and join in the fun.
‘Arriving at Zero Neuf during the middle of the night, I quietly pitched my tent and went to sleep – waking in the morning to people doing yoga in the garden and the smell of breakfast being prepared.
‘It was a super peaceful start to my first day that got even better when I met Dom and Julie from Mason Cycles who kindly offered to help build up my bike. I hadn’t been looking forward to doing this myself in front of all these super-experienced bike people, but the reality was that everyone was so friendly and supportive.
‘The way the festival is laid out means it’s really easy to get talking to people – everyone has that shared interest in bikes and the outdoors. It’s the sort of event you could roll up on your own and not have to worry about fitting in and making new friends. Which is exactly what I did.
‘With displays of all the various ride options on site, it’s easy to check the distance and elevation profile before you head out, but there are no expectations placed on you. If you want to camp out at the festival, do your own rides before returning at the end of each day to just chill, then that’s absolutely fine. Whatever works for you.
‘If I’m being absolutely honest, looking back I do remember wondering whether the festival would attract a load of posers only interested in getting that shot for Instagram. But it turned out to be totally the opposite with everyone being so nice and kind. To date, I’ve met up with seven people that I first got to know at Gather which I think is pretty impressive considering you’re only there for four days. Maybe it’s because it attracts the sort of people that I want to spend time with?
‘One memory in particular has stayed with me – the last evening when we went swimming in the river. We’d all been out riding during the day and it was the most beautiful evening with moonlight shining down. Clear skies, nice and warm, very carefree and fun. And that, for me, is what Gather is all about. A long weekend of adventure that builds this real sense of community.’
I usually ride alone – turning off my phone – but the bike is also a wonderful mechanism for meeting people and feeling part of a community
‘My whole life changed two years ago when I gave up my apartment in Paris and set out to explore the world by bike. I’d already quit my job as a project manager and started training to be a journalist and when that was completed I decided it was time for a holiday. I spent two weeks by the sea with my bike and those two weeks became 18 months.
‘Now I’ve settled again with a new home in the Savoie — a department of France nestled in the southwestern Alps. I create content – words and pictures – so having a base makes it easier for me to work. But who knows where I will be next year as I’m still figuring things out.
‘I’m off the bike at the moment after breaking my hand when I was training for the Atlas Mountain Race So I’m missing the sense of freedom that I get from cycling—that ability to reach remote places. I usually ride alone – turning off my phone – but the bike is also a wonderful mechanism for meeting people and feeling part of a community.
‘When I first started cycling I would ride around the parks in Paris. And that led me to consider how far I could travel with my bike – where it could take me. So I was already open to being inspired when I stumbled on the Gather in my research for cycling-themed events. It seemed to be exactly what I was looking for, so I signed up.
‘I arrived feeling a little apprehensive but the welcome was such that I didn’t feel at all intimidated. I remember being surrounded by all these people who raced ultra distance events and discussing what cream to use on my butt when I cycle – and I’d never ridden more than 100 km in a day! So it was a revelation to talk about these technical aspects of cycling in such simple terms and without any sense of superiority. In their eyes, I was as much a cyclist as they were and everyone was so inspiring that the following year I returned. This second visit felt more like a homecoming – a chance to catch up with all the friends I’d made the previous year.
‘Everyone associated with Gather has been a great source of support. They’ve devised this amazing programme of activities for the festival but it also offers a sense of freedom that I personally find very refreshing. Everyone is relaxed, nothing is complicated.’
‘For the past four years I’ve been based in Tenerife over the winter. I’m a software engineer so I can work remotely for six months on freelance projects and then spend the next six months travelling.
‘My bike acts as this wonderful means of transport that I use to reach beautiful places – camping out along the way. And when I return to Tenerife to start working again, I use my bike to explore and discover new places on the island. It’s fun to enjoy some food at a local bar after a long ride and capture the amazing scenery with my camera.
‘Inspired by meeting Lael Wilcox on a women’s komoot rally last summer, when I heard there was a free spot on the Kromvojoj ultra-endurance race after someone had cancelled, I decided to enter. So quite by accident I found myself riding a 1,400 km self-supported cycling event. And it was there that I first met Tomas Montes, co-creator of the Gather. He suggested that I should join them for the festival weekend. So when I finished the Kromvjojo, I took a few days to rest and then got back on my bike and rode down off the Pyrénées to Zero Neuf and their converted farmstead.
‘I was one of the first guests to arrive and straight away I felt I could relax in the beautiful surroundings. Everyone was so friendly and it was nice to spend time with all these people that had similar interests – to be able to connect with them and build friendships. Some people that were attending I knew, but only online. So it was fascinating to finally put a face to an Instagram feed.
‘On the last day there was an alley-cat style ride which proved to be enormous fun. We rode in a group until a nail in one of my team-mate’s tyres brought us to a sudden halt. Finding we couldn’t fix the flat, we dismantled the bike down to the frame and wheels and rode back to the farmhouse carrying the separate parts, our stranded friend hitching a ride on a rack.
‘My style of travelling is pretty basic – mostly camping and supermarket shopping. So when I first heard about Gather, I made the assumption that it would look and feel like any other outdoor festival. But the farm environment is so beautiful and the food was truly amazing. When your usual bike dinner is a can of tuna with some pasta, a proper home cooked meal with all your new friends is a real treat.
‘Gather is a place to relax and meet like-minded people. A place to enjoy nature and the outdoors but with enough creature comforts to make your stay a pleasant experience. There’s a well-organised and varied programme of activities but with no obligation for you to participate if you’d rather relax by the river or swim in the pool. And what I took away with me was the simple pleasure of sharing a few peaceful days in the south of France with good people.’
Gather is a place for bike-lovers to meet, mix, learn and share with a group of like minded people, celebrating and embracing responsible and sustainable adventure and meaningful experiences in a non-competitive environment.
This year’s festival will take place between the 16th-19th June at Zero Neuf, in the Ariège Pyrénées. You can buy tickets here.
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