Club coach David McGaw admits to a filthy habit...
When I was growing up in Edinburgh I had a mountain bike and I did loads of mountain biking, or at least that's what I thought I was doing. It seems that the definition of mountain biking has evolved somewhat since then. The fully rigid bike with 26 inch wheels that I used to ride would probably be classed as a hybrid now.
I was mostly trundling around the Pentland Hills on sheep herding trails, this was before proper off road courses. I suspect that these days if you are not bunny hopping off a house dressed in full body armour on your double boinger (dual suspension bike) then you're not really mountain biking. Maybe what I was doing would be classed as cross country or cyclocross.
When I first moved to England it seemed pretty difficult to find places to ride off road. I would frequently end up meeting "Get orf my land" types, with their shotguns. This actually happened, they weren't pointing the shotgun AT me, just waving it around in my general direction telling me to go away.
In my cycle club I was known as a "road man" and when my roadie friends found out that I liked off roading they would relentlessly mock me for my "filthy habit".
Eventually I found out about Ordnance Survey maps, they are awesome. They have all sorts of really interesting information, in particular marking out bridleways, greenways, unsurfaced roads and footpaths. I find it pretty amazing at the labyrinth of trails that are freely accessible around Cambridgeshire if you know where to look. Some of the trails can be very easy to miss so having a map is important.
OS maps are great but can be quite pricey. However it's possible to get them online for free. Simply go to bing maps (yes, it does have a purpose after all) and select the ordnance survey overlay. It won't show up if you are zoomed out too far.
Understanding the symbols is pretty tricky, here is a guide: -
"There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path", and this is particularly true when traipsing around a freshly ploughed field looking for a bridleway. Some paths are not well marked so having a GPS track to follow is essential.
Normally I will pick an area that I want to cycle and try to find a route that combines a bunch of bridleways, byways and greenways. Then I will go onto somewhere like Garmin Connect or Strava to plot it out. Before finally transferring to my cycle computer and hitting the trails.
I still have my MTB but I prefer to have a light bike that can be easily flicked around. It's much more fun when you can easily hop, pump, jump or manual (that's the MTB word for wheelie) around obstacles. Which is why I went for a nice cyclocross bike that was super cheap because it's been pre-raced, pre-crashed and pre-repaired by a pro bike team (Sunweb). It so it wasn't just crashed, but "professionally crashed".
Mountain bikers love their fancy tech, and I'm known from time to time to indulge in the shiny stuff, which is why I went full Campagnolo Record obviously. MTBers go all gooey about campag. It's a very mtb thing to colour match all your bolts and it's quite a challenge to get anodized components all in the same shade of red. Bling it on!
I must admit I have a real weakness for Dugast Pipistrello tubs. Their cotton sidewalls and latex inner tubes simply glide across rocky and rutted paths at 20mph. They are lush... and expensive... and like to go pop.
My favourite ride goes through the backlanes and bridleways to Thetford. I let out almost all the air from my tyres then thrash around the red routes before pumping the tyres back up and heading home.
There was one thing I never adopted from my MTB friends; it seemed to be an unwritten rule that if you don't fall off at least once per ride then you are not trying hard enough. This is probably for the best though as when I crash I tend to shatter, not bounce.
Often bridleways were old paths or roads that have been around for hundreds of years, riding along them feels a bit like travelling back in time. I can't get over how spectacularly beautiful and tranquil some of these paths are. Often they are just minutes from normal roads, hidden away in plain sight.
So in the nicest possible way, why don't you go out on your bike and get lost.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.