Mountain biking – the dark side of cycling
Roger Gollicker gives a brief account of riding on the muddy stuff
A Californian called Joe Breeze is normally credited with introducing the first proper mountain bike (MTB) in the late 1970s. However, I reckon my brother and I were already ahead of the game in the late 50s with bikes we converted to mimic motorcycle Scramble bikes, our passion at the time. Stripped of mudguards and all unnecessary equipment and then fitted with cow horn style bars and the one and only knobbly tyre available then, we surely had the first prototype mountain bikes.
Whilst the current boom in cycling has come largely as a result of the success of the likes of Wiggins, Froome and Cavendish, together with the Olympic track cyclists, before that the sale of mountain bikes provided a huge boost to the cycle industry. Some great road racers have come from MTBs: Tour de France winner Cadel Evans was a past champion, as was current two time World Road Race Champion, Peter Sagan. In fact, Sagan competed for Slovakia at the Rio Olympics in the MTB race – he was lying 5th when a puncture put him out. In a recent interview, Sagan said “on a mountain bike a two or three hour ride seems like 30 minutes, but five hours on a ride bike can seem like a day”.
Anyway, enough of the history, it’s a great alternative discipline to road riding and well worth a try. My only competitive cycling has been on a MTB, having entered several races when I lived up in Cheshire. They’re always held in great locations, often with different lengths and level of ability and of course, no road traffic to worry about.
24 hour MTB race team
I’ve also done two 24 hour MTB races. Whilst TV speed freak Guy Martin does them solo, my attempts were doing it in relay form in a team of four. The first go was indeed an attempt, as we had to stop around 1am. when the continual rain and ridiculous mud made progress almost impossible. All went well the following year when we managed to finish in the top half of a huge field of riders. Riding through a dark forest at 2am with lights is quite an experience and good fun.
For those that haven’t tried it, I can thoroughly recommend riding the two purpose built MTB trails at Cannock Chase, near Rugeley. The first, Follow the Dog, is an intermediate trail at 10.8km., whilst The Monkey Trail is a red route at 22.8km. The latter is a brilliant challenging ride with some great fast single track descents. The Birches Valley Centre, where the trails start, also has an excellent bike shop and café.
Riding the Monkey Trail, Cannock Chase
If you want to try something even better, then the Pass’Portes du Soleil MTB event in the Alps is a must. This event is not a race, but a day’s enduro covering a huge area of what is the Porte du Soleil ski area held over three days in June. The 80 km route is circular and you can start at any one of the eight starting towns in France or Switzerland. Whilst there is a bit of climbing, 15 ski lifts on route take you up the mountains, resulting in some of the most picturesque, long and exhilarating downhill rides you could wish for. The entry fee is around 50 Euros, which not only includes all lift passes, but free food in each of the eight towns you pass through. I’ve done it twice now and would love to give it another go, but at my age I think it might be pushing it a bit. Further details can be found here en.passportesdusoleil.com
Incidentally if you look at any local OS map you’ll see that Oxfordshire and Warwickshire have a large network of bridleways across some great countryside on which you can legally ride. Why not give the dark side a try?