After seven years in the special forces, climbing Everest, and racing for Great Britain, Daniel Hughes now makes a living capturing cycling’s most epic cols. He takes on each climb self-supported, and this means lugging not only himself but also an entire photography set-up including multiple cameras, batteries, and even a drone.
Add in the fact that Hughes often sets out to find the most rugged and unridden gravel ascents in remote or high altitude regions, and the challenge only increases. Keeping the wheels turning, he’s teamed up with Panaracer to help support his exploits. Having used the firm’s tyres everywhere from Iceland and Chile to the canals of East London, below he gives us a rundown of the models he picks for each type of riding, along with an insight into how he captures his images.
“I started Epic Cols to try and find climbs no one has ever heard of,” explains Hughes. Travelling by himself, this not only means locating and riding the climbs but also staging some of the world’s most elaborate cycling selfies.
Related: The Bikes and Tech to see at Rouleur Live
“People think I go around with an army of photographers. But really, it’s just me. This means even when riding normally, I tend to have a backpack with two SLR cameras, a tripod, a drone, the drone controller, and spare batteries,” says Hughes. With the extra weight placing increased demands on his tyres, models that are both versatile and tough enough for exploring little-ridden locations form an equally essential part of his kit.
“The most precarious place I’ve ever ridden on a gravel bike was Chile,” says Hughes. “It was in the no-man’s-land between Chile and Argentina. If I’d hurt myself, that would have been it. I was there totally on my own. It was in the winter, so there was lots of snow around, and the gravel was very icy. I’d been shooting on the road below, which is quite famous, and I wanted to find these gravel switchbacks I’d seen on Google Earth. I came up and over a ridge trying to get to them but got stuck in the snow. I also hadn’t realised I’d crossed the border and didn’t have my passport with me. That’s probably the place I would least have wanted to get a puncture”.
Gravel King SK“This is a great option for any travel bike. I like to use them in a 32c when I’m not sure of what I’m going to be riding on. When I’m travelling, I like to mix up the surfaces. Even if a lot of it is on the road, it’s nice to have the option to dive off down some trails. They’re great in the winter, too, thanks to a bit of extra grip and volume. They’re pretty robust as well. I actually have the course record for riding the South Downs Way, which I did on the 38c version of the Gravel King SK tyre. Considering how sharp some of the bits of flint on the singletrack sections are, they stood up incredibly well. I also used this tyre for my travels in Chile. I always think it’s worth going for the tougher Plus version on a gravel bike as the reliability and tubeless functionality is easily worth the extra weight”.
Gravel King SS
“The semi-slick SS is a really versatile tyre. Before you had to choose between the more aggressive SK or the original Slick. Now you have the SS, which offers a beautiful balance. It rolls really well on the road, but you’ve got extra grip down the middle if you do go off the beaten track. Plus, when cornering on looser stuff, you’ve got a lot more grip on the sides. They end up on many of the bikes which I use around town and take away on trips. Their design means you don’t have to be bound to the tarmac. The compound down the middle isn’t too soft either, so they’re reliable, and you get a lot of life out of them.”
Gravel King S
One of the first dedicated gravel tyres, the Gravel King appeared in 2014. Things have accelerated rapidly since then, but while most gravel riders now seek out more aggressive treads, the original Gravel King Slick still has myriad uses. Available in sizes from the narrow 23 up to a bulbous 32c, it’s a robust and fast-rolling mixed-surface road tyre that remains off-road capable. This means you needn’t limit where you point your bicycle. They’re also a great choice for commuters who’d rather find the quieter and more interesting route home, even if it means leaving behind the tarmac. Able to survive treatment that would cause most slick tyres to throw in the towel and get the train home, the uprated Plus+ version offers even more security.
If you’re keen to find out more about a life spent chasing epic cols, Daniel Hughes will be attending the upcoming Rouleur Live show on Thursday and Friday. On hand to explain his exploits and help aspiring explorers with advice on equipment selection, you can find more information and tickets here.
Panaracer will also be sponsoring the show’s extensive gravel exhibition where you can find the latest bikes, along with the firm’s range of tyres.