I went for a restorative ride recently. I’d had one of those days, trying to get a straight answer from some overworked public official, getting abuse on Farcebook, generally having a bit of a mare. So I went for a ride, to clear my head, get away from the virtual coalface of the computer screen and reboot my brain.
I set off on auto-pilot, just following my front wheel. As I span along, I mulled over the day. Sometimes it’s frustrating campaigning for mountain bikers and I ask myself if it’s all worth it. What have we actually achieved over the last four or so years since we started Ride Sheffield? What chance do we really have to make a difference when the powers-that-be are hemmed in by regulations, the aspirations of other users and ever-shrinking budgets?
Soon enough I found myself on Houndkirk Road, which didn’t really help. Riding over a surface that wouldn’t look out of place on an B-road, I remembered how much the riding apprenticeship of my missus was enhanced by mastering the original stony surface, the gritstone steps providing her first mini-drop offs. The boulders that still disfigure the Ringinglow end of the trail a metaphorical middle finger, reminded me of a battle lost.
Then the unexpected happened. Having reached the uphill section in the middle of the moor, my mood began to lighten. Our relations with Sheffield City Council had been a bit strained initially but being constructive and making the case for more sympathetic trail maintenance eventually bore fruit in the shape of more nuanced work. So it’s here that the Sheffield Rights of Way team have improved one side of the track, leaving the other side rocky and loose for those who fancy a little bit of fun, a trick they’ve repeated on the section running down to the Fox House. Now we liaise regularly with the Rights of Way Team and they let us know about proposed work on bridleways, a clear win for both.
With spirits rising I headed up the road toward Blackamoor and the permissive bridleway which is further evidence of how campaigning leads to positive results. There was once a plan to create an arrow straight, two metre wide bridleway to replace the sinuous track I was riding. Because of the efforts of Ride Sheffield volunteers and exemplary management by Sheffield Wildlife Trust, the plan was shelved at the eleventh hour, a contractor on site, digger bucket raised. Instead, Ride Sheffield volunteers and others did the donkey work to create the bridleway we now enjoy.
Increasingly buoyant, I turned down Piper House Gate, possibly the best example so far of the Rights of Way Team’s work. Where a few years ago a contractor would have ploughed through with tons of aggregate from top to bottom, the trail was patched only where necessary, retaining much of the original surface. Even though some riders felt that even this had gone too far, it is a multi-use path that has to cope with horses, walkers and mountain bikes – it’s not exclusively for our use. It could have been a disaster but instead has matured into an excellent trail that can take the hammer all year round.
Coasting home, I realised just how therapeutic a bike ride can be. Maybe we can’t wave a magic wand and deliver everything mountain bikers desire but if we knuckle down we can make a big difference. It takes years to build up relationships with land managers like the Sheffield Wildlife Trust and the Eastern Moors Partnership and to influence those who maintain our rights of way. We’ve had some notable successes, such as Houndkirk, Devil’s Elbow on Blackamoor and new bridleways on the Eastern Moors and Longshaw Estate. We might have failed at Wigley Lane, Stanage Causeway and Lenny Hill, but not for want of trying. These things take time and I’m confident that in ten years’ time the situation will have improved still further.
This may sound like blowing our own trumpet but I don’t think it’s inappropriate. Volunteers like Will Blomfield, Martin Clist, Sue Duke, Steve Hardcastle, John Paul Jones, Henry Norman, Cy Turner, Adam Wiles and many others give up valuable riding time to go to the very meetings that have resulted in Ride Sheffield becoming an influential group. Whether it’s Blackamoor or Grenoside Woods, Curbar and Froggatt or Totley Moor, we’re making sure mountain bikers are represented.
It’s time to recognise that we can make a difference and to celebrate the good things we’ve achieved. It keeps us keen, just like riding a bike.