Monday, June 10, 2024

A love letter to (mountain) bikes

Mountain biking in the French Alps 

I have always loved bikes. From my first junior step through to my latest electrically charged steed, they’ve given me more joy than any other mechanical invention I can think of. In almost sixty years of pedalling, I’ve ridden (literally) the length and breadth of Britain, climbed countless passes in the Alps and once traversed the Pyrenees on a tandem. Together with the friends they’ve brought me, bikes are one of the greatest joys of my life.

So it was perhaps inevitable that I’d be an early adopter of the trend to 'all terrain' cycles.

In the mid-eighties, before many folk had 'proper' mountain bikes, I co-organised an ‘off road’ weekend in the Lake District. We had no idea how many riders would come or even what contraptions they’d bring. In the event, two dozen of us ground our way up High Street on a motley collection of bone-shakers, descending with squealing brakes, several blow outs and one broken collar bone. By the next morning I’d say about half were converts; the remainder saying it would never catch on!

I wonder what those doubters would think of popularity of mountain biking today? In the Alps, it’s become the summer equivalent of skiing, attracting hundreds of thousands to the mountains every year. A vital part of the tourism economy, resorts compete to host events, promote their trails and provide a network of lifts that mean some riders don’t even pedal uphill!

The alpine club, for which I edit a monthly newsletter, embraced mountain biking as late as 2017. I suspect that’s a reflection of the age and interest profile of members; but I wonder if there was also a certain reluctance to see fat tyred bikes as quite the right thing in the hills? I can understand if that was the case, for despite my love of cycling, I too am often frustrated by an irresponsible minority of riders.

But then I like to remind myself that all the mountain activities I love are relative newcomers to the landscape. My house in France was built long before the Matterhorn was climbed, before downhill skiing was invented or anyone thought of descending rapids in a kayak! It seems to me that adapting to change is as much a part of the outdoor experience as the putative permanence of the views.

And as for electric assistance – well that’s just brilliant!


This post is a very lightly ammended version of my editorial, published by AAC (UK) e-newsletter in June 20024


  1. Is the Rough Stuff Fellowship still going?
    Not my kind of thing! I used to enjoy forest trails and canal paths..nothing gnarly

    1. Yes it is - rather old fashioned now, though I guess it always was. They tend to use touring bikes not ATBs. I don't like anything too gnarly either!

  2. For those who enjoy it it must be fun. But I used to get cross at chains that came off and punctures, not forgetting the rain. I remember I used to cycle from Bath to Bristol along the old railway track - straight and narrow but bumpety.

  3. I'm not the mountain biking type. Love to hike the mountains, but steady on my feet with trekking poles rather than 2 wheels. I do love my touring bike; it's the love of my life. I have a few years old now Day 6 bike, 8 gears. It's like riding a comfortable chair, as it has a back, and is considered slightly recumbent in that instead of pedaling down from your body, you pedal slightly forward. I can ride and ride and nothing gets sore. I've had a number of different bikes, all of which made me sore somewhere on my body and made riding miserable. Not this bike! I truly love it, and have put hundreds of happy miles on it. I foresee getting the electric add on, maybe in my later years!

  4. I'm not a cyclist/biker, but we used to see enthusiastic cycling people when we holidayed way down near the Spanish border. Beautiful mountains, golden eagles swirling above, many happy memories.

  5. Have tried the mountainous off-road stuff once and hate hate hate the downhill bits - I know that is meant to be the exhilaration of slogging the up bit, but mankind has yet to invent a system of bike brakes that are good enough for me to venture back down a mountain again on a bike.

  6. My son-in-law's family are all avid mountain bikers in North Carolina. Probably not quite the same as biking in the Alps.

  7. I'm not a fan of mountain bikes because they seem to tear up the terrain more. I also find that bikes come up to quickly behind me which I really don't like.

  8. As a lifelong cycling enthusiast, but rather a cautious one, I don't really have the nerve for the downhill element of mountain biking, my limit being those relatively gentle tracks that make access for hiking in the remoter Scottish Highlands being about my limit.
    Oh and yes, I too remember the 'Rough Stuff Fellowship'. Which may have suffered from unfortunate connotations of its name!
    Cheers, Gail.