When Henry Norman and I found ourselves at the latest British Mountaineering Council meeting in Grindleford, it brought home to me just how many climbers ride mountain bikes and vice versa. During the evening, I managed to get into more conversations about biking than climbing and it was a good illustration of just how the worlds of mountaineering and mountain biking overlap. For both groups the Peak District is sacred ground. For climbers, it can justifiably claim to be one of the crucibles of the sport, a place where heroes climbed and standards continue to escalate. For mountainbikers, it’s debatably the best wild riding in the country, a perfect combination of wilderness and outrageous technicality.
What we also have in common is a constant battle for access. While that battle is ongoing for the biking community, for climbers and walkers it has largely been won thanks to the efforts of campaigners who have fought long, hard battles against entrenched opponents over the years. The big question is, what do mountain bikers have to learn from the climbers? How have they achieved their aims? What level of organisation is required to orchestrate an efficient campaign?
The first thing to say is that there are some clear differences between climbers and bikers. For a number of reasons, climbers are much easier to organise than mountain bikers. That is partly because bikers are even more anarchic in outlook than climbers and that’s saying something. Climbers traditionally found their way into the sport through clubs and while that is less true these days, the historical upshot of those clubs being influential in the early twentieth century was the founding of the BMC. In its early days, the BMC was run on a shoe-string by volunteers but it has since evolved into a fully professional body with a growing membership. Well respected by both the conservation bodies and political institutions, it has been instrumental in winning some crucial battles over the years. Mountain bikers by contrast tend not to belong to clubs, prefer to ride with friends or alone and really are authority averse. We ride, end of story and long may it remain so. Now I’m sure that someone reading this is screaming CTC at the computer screen and it’s true that there is a national body for cyclists already. What I’d like to know is how relevant is that organisation to the average mountain biker? Is it primarily a road riders campaign group? How many of you reading this are members? Do we need an organisation that has at its heart a concern only for those who like nobbly tyres and and muddy faces?
Which is exactly where Ride Sheffield comes in. One of the strengths of the BMC is its regional group structure. The Peak Area of the BMC has over the years been one of the most effective parts of the BMC, quick to react when access is threatened, prepared to compromise when the environment is demonstrably threatened and able to communicate with the powers that be in an intelligent yet robust fashion.
Bikers need to realise that localism rules when it comes to this kind of campaigning and the kind of blind devotion that Peak District riders have for their locality means that we have a deep well of enthusiasm on which to draw. If we can create an organisation that is the first port of call whenever a Peak District rider finds a problem, that is proactive and intelligent in the way it deals with organisations like the Peak District National Park Authority, National Trust and Wildlife Trusts, we could be the spark that sets the flame. Britain’s burgeoning population of mountain bikers needs a voice and Ride Sheffield could set the template for others to follow.