Dorset is the star, say On The Rivet, a self-styled cycling fitness retreat in the west of the county, not far from Bridport. It’s hard to disagree, and in the interests of full disclosure, I need little convincing of the merits of my home county and its endless supply of quiet lanes, coastal roads and breathtaking scenery.
The beauty of the Jurassic Coast and the villages that punctuate its journey from Dorset to Devon are enough to make you wonder why Brits go abroad for holidays, and a still stronger case might be made for a cycling break. The coastal vistas are equal to any Alpine landscape, the parcours of even the gentlest training ride is likely to resemble an Ardennes Classic, and the grippy roads offer a more demanding workout than Mallorca’s marble-smooth tarmac knows how to.
On The Rivet is the brainchild of British Cycling coach Jim Styrin, and his partner, Deborah Schilling, whose professional commitments involve making corporate events for Ferrari and John Lewis go with a swing. Jim dishes out pain and encouragement in equal measure on the road, while Deborah ensures recovery time at Axnoller, OTR’s idyllic rural headquarters, is just so. Occasional support staff include Steve Marsh, long-time guide on Rapha’s Alpine trips, now resident in Lyme Regis, and elite mountain bikers Paul Hopkins and Kim Little.
To give the business its full title, we need to add the word “Retreat”. This, according to Jim and Deborah, is what makes On The Rivet unique. The retreats in question are three modern and luxurious private houses, each with six-bedrooms, situated in their own grounds not far from the tiny village of Beaminster, and known collectively as Axnoller.
Even here, the focus is on performance cycling. The Tour plays on the flat-screen television in a lounge area where a WattBike completes the furnishings and ramp tests serve as party games.
The other facilities, however, which include a heated indoor pool, sauna, treatment table, games room, and outdoor hot tub for recovery under the stars, mean there's plenty to entertain significant others, who may or may not be cyclists. The coastal villages particularly offer potential for Enid Blyton-style adventures.
My schedule permits only a flying visit, and I arrive in time for lunch to join guests booked for a two-night stay. Lunch by itself would have made it worth the trip: another prominent aspect of the OTR experience. The retreat is fully catered, and the dishes - all made from locally-sourced ingredients - are designed to meet the demands of hard riding (Jim is a qualified nutritionist as well as an accredited coach). Foodie capital Bridport lies just down the road, and the fayre enjoyed by On The Rivet’s guests might make the River Cottage set in nearby Axminster nod their heads in approval.
The riding, however, is still more enjoyable. This is countryside not to be missed: deserted lanes that carry you at speed through one postcard-pretty village after another, pitched at gradients to test your climbing and descending skills – your lungs and your nerve – with a frequency you might not have bargained for. Our opening ride of 63km took in 818 metres of climbing, not to mention the beautiful villages of Maiden Newton, Litton Cheney and West Bay.
On The Rivet is intended for experienced cyclists ready to ride hard, and likely to be preparing for a granfondo event or similar. Three-hour rides are standard, each with two or three challenging climbs. Riding days are split into morning and afternoon sessions, broken by lunch at the retreat, saunas and massages. Attacking the times of local Strava segments are part of the agenda. “We want at some stage to open it up, ride in a chaingang nice and closely, and just get them to be efficient and fast,” says Jim.
It’s difficult to imagine a better break. The riding is equal to Tuscany, in my admittedly biased opinion, and can be enjoyed without first suffering the misery of a budget flight to Venice. Axnoller, by contrast, can be reached by train from London to Dorchester (bikes can be sent in advance), or an enjoyable drive along country roads (pack a Cooper S, Elise, or similar). Compare and contrast with the car park at Stansted. Oh, and the evening entertainment takes some beating too: great fun, organised by local artists, and ranging from stone balancing to ukulele lessons.
OTR is a new venture and Jim and Deborah expect corporate guests and groups of riding buddies to make up their clientele. Two-night stays start at £450 and include a complimentary treatment and everything you could wish to eat or drink. Nothing is extra. For more information, visit On The Rivet.