State of Play: Mountain Biking lessons from lockdown and beyond
As we face another lockdown, what have we learnt as riders that can help us through the next one while preserving our physical and mental health and a positive outlook for the sport?
To say that this year has been a little bit odd would be understating things just a touch. But for many of us, bikes have been our salvation during the past seven months. It gave us an escape once a day during lockdown, a way of spending time with friends as things gradually ease (and now as we lockdown again). It has brought countless new riders into the sport (not to mention huge numbers of people out into the countryside). It has stripped shops of bikes but has also meant that so many more people are trying mountain biking for the first time or bringing lapsed riders back into the fold, not to mention all the kids that learned to ride during that time too.
So out of what is really quite a desperate situation, there can be some real positives. It’s not been easy, just the sheer number of people out in the Peak and beyond has at times proved to be a real challenge, but that does not mean that it’s a bad thing. This year has brought about a lot of change, but if there is something to take away from that, it’s that change happens, and the quicker we can get a handle on it the better.
So, after more than half a year of change and facing a winter of discontent and further restrictions, what has mountain biking learnt, what mistakes do we still keep on making and how do we work with this change to make the sport stronger on the other side?
We asked riders new and old, land managers and anyone else we have stopped and chatted to (formally and informally) along the way and here is what we found…..
- Trying harder than usual to avoid a trip to A&E provided its own set of challenges and arguments. You could hurt yourself doing the most benign trail, gnar and speed is relative and riding at less than 50% often felt scarier and otb worthy than normal riding. For most, their own judgement got them by just fine. #nocarnognarnotfar was an effective stick to beat ourselves with that we maybe could have done without.
- For those who were lucky enough to have trails on the doorstep, the prospect of a daily ride sounded great. But at a sedate pace it may have seemed less interesting. With a bit more repetition now was the chance to work on improving technique, tweaking setups and finding new lines through old trails. New trails were found closer to home. Routes were reversed, who knew your favourite descent could be an engaging climb too, not to mention the views you had been missing.
Being Nice and Saying Hi
- Never has there been more of a need for this. Interactions in the outdoors were for many people the only time they encountered another person. That smile and hello you gave them could have been their sole interaction for days.
- Saying hi can smooth the ride considerably (especially if you ride with kids) – We’ve all encountered , the person who suddenly and silently appears on your wheel, huffing under their breath until they find somewhere to squeeze past. Who would have thought that a friendly “hi, could I squeeze past when there is space” would make it easier and quicker for all (this is not just an MTB problem).
- Some people can’t hear you – the elderly person who doesn’t seem to hear you or the person who refuses to move out of the way because their hearing isn’t what it was anymore, or they could be profoundly deaf. So next time, rather than buzzing them and scaring the Werther’s Original out of them, maybe give them the benefit of the doubt and slow down and pass wide.
- 2m passing space is not a bad idea – If giving everyone 2m as you passed by seemed a lot, maybe you have been passing a bit too closely all these years.
- Brake checking or backpedalling is not how to let people know you want to pass– Next time you are on a stretch of road linking the trails, imagine a car or HGV locking up its wheels behind you (just to let you know it’s there!) nice eh!?
- Say hi, pass wide, pass slow – try it on your next ride, you may be pleasantly surprised!
- Lastly, being nice doesn’t just have to be reserved for the trails. We have a great riding community in Sheffield and even in the best of times our main interactions with one another are online. Just because someone doesn’t share the same view as you, doesn’t mean they are wrong. Just because we are united by mountain biking, doesn’t mean we will, or should have the same opinions. Embrace debate and if someone disagrees with you, deal with it or even reflect on their opinions. If you’re tempted to call out snowflake, you probably need to up your debate game!
- Just because you aren’t at work, doesn’t mean that land managers are off too! – Lockdown saw an explosion of cheeky riding, less people out and no one to check meant that everywhere was fair game right? Well maybe not, reports of mountain bikers being in places that they were not meant to be, hit an all-time high during lockdown.
- The hills and woodland surrounding Sheffield were not just a source of solace to riders, lots of people were suddenly out on the trails and who could blame them. Some people were more precious than others, unhappy that their spot was suddenly busy. I am sure some riders felt that too and could share a little empathy here. In more extreme cases we even saw trapping of trails as a sign of frustration. While never right, it does highlight how emotive people’s relationships to spaces they feel ownership of is.
- So many new people out in the countryside has certainly created some headaches, from car parking to fires and lots of litter. But more people out in nature is overwhelmingly a positive thing. Just because they have not yet learned to respect it like more traditional users does not mean that they should be kept away. A delicate bit of education goes a lot further than shouting down someone’s mistakes.
- There was (and still is) a big increase in the number of trails being carved into hillsides across the country. In some way this has to be applauded, it’s great to see riders with passion and dedication to create progressive riding. In some cases, these spots may well be adopted and become iconic destinations for riders. But for every well thought out and considerately constructed trail, there will be hundreds of others that will be forgotten scars in places that they maybe shouldn’t be, that cause friction between landowners and riders. A balance needs to be struck for sure.
- There have been so many new riders entering the sport in the last eight months. So much so that it has caused a national (even global) shortage of bikes. More riders make our roads safer places to be and makes lobbying for increased access and other places to ride potentially easier. But they need to stay in the sport and the best way to do that (other than encouraging them to enjoy winter) is to show what a welcoming and inclusive sport it can be. Out on the trails and online, take the time to say hi and chat to people who are new to the sport (or just in general). Share hints and tips on setup and kit as well as riding skills (if they ask!). Chat to those colleagues who have just got bikes, take them out for a ride (on nice progressive trails), remember what it’s like to be a beginner again and feel how good it is to give a little back!
- We still face a long winter of disruption, for many of us these are extremely difficult times, so what can you do to make it easier on yourself and others over the next few months and maybe even come out of the other end feeling good about something.
Look after your mental health
Winter can be trying at the best of times, Christmas is not always happy for everyone, so try and do what you can to promote good mental wellbeing and health in yourself and others…
- Try to get outside and ride in daylight once a week, it will make you feel good and the body will appreciate the vitamin D (it’s worth taking extra this time of year too).
- Any rider with depression will tell you that the biggest challenge is getting out of the house (depression is physically exhausting too), but is always worth it when they do. The clean up from a short ride may not seem the hassle, but develop good routines for bike cleaning, leave a hat and a flask (Tea, Coffee Whiskey) near your cleaning kit, as well as a towel and a bag for dirty kit by the door when you head out and it will make it that bit easier.
- Check in on your friends, especially the ones skipping out on rides, they may need your help the most.
- It’s ok not to be ok! Simple really, but you don’t need to kid yourself you are ok or tough it out. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in this country. If you don’t want to talk to your friends call Samaritans on 116 123 (free call).
- Be kind to yourself, give yourself a break and remember that one of the best things about riding a bike is that extra large cake allowance that it gives you!
Look after yourself and others
- Give your riding buddy and other users the space they need when you are out on the trail (and elsewhere) especially in the busier areas
- If you want to avoid the crowds, try and ride away from peak times
- Say hi to others out on the trail, a two minute chat may be the only contact some people may have had that day!
- Check in on your family and friends when you can
- Consider what you post online, your amazing picture of a bit of freedom out on the trail with a friend, may heighten someone else’s isolation and despair at not being able to be doing the same.
- Winter is never the time to be learning new tricks or hunting KoM’s. Take a read of the advice of Tested to Destruction if you want a little help on this. Now is probably not the time for a hospital visit either! http://testedtodestruction.blogspot.com/2020/02/go-outside-sit-down-wait.html
Look after the trails
Over the next month and possibly more we will not be able to get out and work on the trails (we have been working hard recently, but in restricted size groups) so please be considerate of where you ride.
- Try and ride on sustainable surfaces where you can. We are lucky to have a lot of rocky and free draining trails to give you a lot of riding options for winter.
- Now is not time to explore delicate footpaths or to start to try and form your own desire lines (especially down the fall line)
- Follow @KOTP on twitter or keep updated on trail conditions here http://www.ridesheffield.org.uk/trail-conditions/
- Donate to the trail funds, so when we can get out we can support our work better http://www.ridesheffield.org.uk/support-us-2/
Give a little back
- Kick out a drain, move some debris off the trail, report problems you see on the trail (firstname.lastname@example.org) and it will keep things moving a little easier.
- Have a little Selfless Isolation and take a note from Trash Free Trails and have a litter pick at your favourite riding spot (some tips here…)
- Share your thoughts or ideas of what you would like us to be doing more (or less) of. Or even better, get in touch and ask to join a mailing list for our trail teams when we can get back out again.
- Donate to Ride Sheffield and help us keep your trails running sweet http://www.ridesheffield.org.uk/support-us-2/
And finally…. Let your riding give you a constant, a chance to take your mind off things and return home feeling more like yourself. Take the time to share that good feeling when you are out on the trails and online.
Let the wind and rain sting your face and remember how good it is to feel strong and free and privileged to be out on a bike in the hills