Mountain Bikes have formed part of who I am for the best part of 2 decades, bikes though, have always been there. Growing up, I took the usual 80’s childhood route of bmx, road bike and then, finally, my first mountain bike.
All of my bikes hold special memories, be it the bike that I learnt to ride without stabilisers, the Raleigh Striker that was so heavy I could barely lift but could somehow jump, the BMX that was retired shortly after a spectacular brake failure on a steep hill saw me ploughing headfirst into a stream, injuring me and mortally wounding the bike and then, my racer.
I remember that bike well, it was a silver and red 10sp road bike with a plastic saddle, the first time I changed gear, I fell off, what felt like moments later, the chain fell off.. my initial impressions of gears were not promising, less than a mile from home, I was bloodied, bruised and covered in oil from fighting with a gear system I had no understanding of. I persevered though and was soon covering countless miles at every opportunity, it was my first ‘new’ bike, others being hand-me-downs from the children of parent’s friends, as such, my dad impressed on me the importance of looking after it. Cleaning became a task I almost feared, when I thought I had finished, I had to fetch him, and he would come and inspect it, drill instructor style, searching for any sign of dirt that would mean having to start again, the ripples of this still remain, I can happily lose several hours stripping and cleaning any of the bikes in the house.
My first encounter with mountain bikes though was when a mate had a 15spd Peugeot as a birthday present, still at primary school, he did his cycling proficiency on it and I remember thinking how incredibly old fashioned the other bikes in the yard suddenly seemed. Whilst I duly took my turn at riding it round the school yard I couldn’t see myself owning such a thing.. it wasn’t a proper bike, more an oversized bmx.. my racer would be all I ever wanted
As I entered secondary school our riding changed, we started venturing off road and into the Forest, I was still happily using my racer, but its impracticalities on the Forest’s gravel tracks quickly became obvious, the thin tyres so suited to eating road miles bounced and skittered over stones and the plastic seat made me wince continually. One trail in particular highlighted my issues, a stony descent had a sharp right hand corner that had me spinning into the undergrowth on numerous occasions, although unknown at the time, the death knell for my road bike had sounded.
Now earning money each week through a paper round, I decided that an upgrade was order of the day. A bike caught my eye, I sent off for a brochure and cut out its picture, owning that bike became an obsession, every penny I got went into a pot and a year of hard saving later, I had the money for it. Going to the local bike shop, I stood before it, hardly believing the day had come when I would get the bike I’d dreamed about for so long. Dad did the talking and I remember how I felt when the salesman refused to let me have a test ride as it would mean the bike would be ‘used’.. angrily, my dad dragged me from the shop, I was fighting back tears as we headed to the car, but dad was heading for another bike shop. They didn’t have the bike I wanted, but did have the next model up, I was devastated, it was another £50, a huge sum for me then, considering my paper round gave me £6.00 a week. Unfazed, dad handed over the extra money and my first mountain bike was bought.
I still remember fondly my first summer of owning that bike.. each morning during the summer break I would, in the company of a friend ride the same route around the forest, we’d return to his house for lunch and then head out again, in the opposite direction, looking for places that to us were previously unseen.
Road miles were replaced with trail miles, a bike hire centre opened locally, I did the 10 mile charity ride on it’s opening day and, for a short while owned the fastest lap. I rode with new people, learning skills and routes, I became braver and started aiming my bike off the top of the local mining works, long steep drops that terrified but captivated me all in one go.
Whilst saving, I had become a voracious reader of mountain bike magazines, my parents initial scepticism of this new fad were overcome by the sheer quantity of magazines that soon filled my bedroom. All of the pictures seemed to show riders on bikes descending dusty, rooty tracks, in my head mountain bikes involved a continual summer. Those images remain strong and the reason I love dusty summer trails is the direct link they give to those childhood idealised images of riding.
Sitting here now, 20 years later, my childhood memories come to me like snapshots, the crashes, the smells and the youthful awe of those riders gracing the covers of magazines. I still ride to that lake, dipping onto part of the same track for posterity and I smile each time I lean into the gravel strewn corner that was the downfall of a 10 year old on a silver and red racer who had aspirations of owning a mountain bike.