Sheffield lies in an enviable position on the fringe of the Peak District, an area regularly trumpeted in the pages of mountain bike publications. However, the burgeoning steel city mountain bike community is revolting. The lack of easy links into the National Park and the City Council's sustained campaign to pave every half-decent bridleway has led to a rebellious mood developing.
Luckily, Sheffield resident and keen mountain biker Henry Norman has been touting the idea of a Sheffield mountain bikers group for some time and kicked things off with an inaugural meeting at the Lescar pub in Sheffield this week.
Henry is a member of the Local Access Forum charged with advising Sheffield City Council on improving public access to open land. He's the lone mountain biker on the forum and was keen to get a mandate from local riders. While most other user groups have representative bodies such as The Ramblers and the British Mountaineering Council, mountain bikers have been harder to pin down. Ride the Peak are striving to fill that gap within the Peak District National Park but it was felt that a specific Sheffield group would be a useful initiative.
The meeting was a boisterous affair. Nearly fifty mountain bikers crammed into the back room of the Lescar Hotel and it rapidly became apparent that the mood was a 50/50 mix of enthusiasm and frustration. The latter was embodied by numerous members of the Wharncliffe Collective. Wharncliffe woods helped to produce Britain's greatest ever mountain biker, Steve Peat, and has for years been the focus of a thriving DH scene. However, attempts to build a XC loop have been repeatedly thwarted by the indifference, if not outright hostility, of the local Forestry Commission manager.
Another bone of contention has been the alacrity with which the City Council have paved over the few decent bridleways that do lead out of the city. Porter Clough is a prime example, where a testing mountain bike challenge has been Tarmaced for no good reason.
Thankfully, enthusiasm levels were high. A number of interesting ideas were discussed at length. Jon Dallow from Sheffield CC explained how he's been working with Steve Peat to build a network of trails around the existing ski village in the Parkwood Springs area. There were lively discussions about the possibility of building new trails in suitable parts of the city's woodland and improving links from the city into the Peak by reclassifying existing paths and creating new bridleways.
It is to be hoped that Sheffield City Council can be persuaded that it shouldn't fear mountain biking but embrace it. The sport has a huge capacity for introducing people to the joys of the great outdoors and addressing poor fitness levels in the young, a policy priority both nationally and locally.
Henry Norman summed it up as follows:
"Is an umbrella advocacy organisation that allows disparate groups of mountain bikers in Sheffield to use their collective influence to improve the situation for mountain bikers in and around the city. It will soon have a constitution (or something of that ilk) and a small number of people who will organise campaigns and disseminate information."
"It will meet quarterly and is open to all. It will try to represent mountain bikers on all related forums/groups. It will provide a contact point for other user groups. It will be pursuing multiple objectives - all aimed at maintaining and improving access and the quality of that access. It will ask people to register on-line, but there will be no fee."