Why I cycle
Cycling is an efficient non polluting means of transport for short journeys and a great recreational activity for everyone regardless of fitness, ability or age.
I cycle often in my own region by which I mean Northumberland, The North Pennines, the Lake District, The Yorkshire Dales and the Scottish Borders. I ride my road bike locally, regionally and nationally on Europe’s best small roads through Europe’s finest scenery. I ride my mountain bike as often as possible locally and in remote areas because I love exploring and accessing hidden places quite a few of which I can no longer reach on foot.
I have cycled extensively and adventured on countless occasions in the Alps and still do. I have spent my life in the areas outlined above, all of which I love passionately. I have spent my life discovering and revisiting every nook and cranny I can find and I take great pleasure sharing that knowledge with others. I especially love to cycle on tracks that are of undetermined age but clearly have carried countless travellers over many centuries.
I am fascinated by the wide mix of routes out there – those of Roman origin having been created almost over 2000 years ago; some may be older than that. I thrill to travel on packhorse trails, drove roads and ‘holloways’ that may be 300 or so years old. I wonder at carriage roads, cart roads, drift roads, bridle roads, foot roads, occupation roads and coal roads. I enjoy finding stone-based or unsurfaced Unclassified County Roads (UCRs) that may be less than 100 years old and I value forest tracks that may only have been recently constructed.
I am intrigued by white roads and green lanes and especially by inclosure roads that over the years have become ‘highways’ legal to cycle on. Some of these I have had the privilege of supporting a dedicated colleague who researches, finds and claims ‘lost ways’ buried in archives where they would otherwise have remained hidden resulting in use and enjoyment by future generations. After 2026 this will no longer be possible unles the 2000 CROW Act is changed.
I ride for enjoyment, to renew my soul, to keep my head clear, to spend time with trusted like-minded friends and to soak in the wonders of the natural world. I ride because I can ride and to delay as long as possible the day when I can’t ride.
I ride because I love being active, to exercise, to maintain my stamina, to make my muscles work hard, to expand my lungs to bursting, to feel my heart beating to the rhythm of my pedalling or to thump so hard it seems to be trying to escape from my chest. I ride to be healthy and to stay healthy.
I ride because my bike takes me to wonderful beautiful places in high mountains that my knees no longer can take me to. I pedal and push my bike to such places as high as I am able and, when it’s necessary, I now accept help from younger and fitter companions to cross high Alpine passes I would struggle to surmount with my bike without help. I hate being brow-beaten.
Having on many occasions over the years left my bike to descend on foot part way down a steep Alpine pass to climb back up with a struggling companion’s bike, I quietly cried the first few times this happened to me as the mantel of care and support I was accustomed to giving to others was passed on to younger folk to provide.
I still find this an emotional experience especially when my helper is my son or a young man half a century younger than me I first took into the hills when he was a young lad with his Dad as indeed it was my privilege to do with his Dad 50 years ago when he was a lad that age. My friend's son is now a young man and the three of us still cycle together sharing bike adventures in wonderful places.
I ride to keep having bike adventures and to share laughter and sometime pain with good friends. Cycling gives me the opportunity to spend quality time with my son. Angus is an amazing person and an amazing cyclist having travelled an incredible journey since sustaining permanent brain injury in a car crash in 1990 at the age of 20.
I ride to appreciate my good fortune that I have the ability to ride. The older I get the more I think about the tragedy of those who have limited or no mobility of any sort due to injury, illness or disease. My best friend and wife has Multiple Sclerosis and every day I see how debilitating this is which make me value every pedal turn I am so fortunate to be able to make.
I will happily ride an ebike when that day comes and I will continue riding until my tyres deflate for the very last time. I earnestly wish the cycle routes I’ve designed, the cycle route maps I have created and the cycle guidebooks I have compiled help in some small measure fothers to ride fabulous trails, discover hidden places and enjoy many life-enriching cycling years.
Every ride is a story – the landscape is the setting, the scenery is the back drop, the characters are the key features I draw people’s attention to. How the plot develops depends on how tuned in you are to where a route takes you, what surface you are travelling on, who you are sharing the experience with and how switched on you (all) are to your surroundings.
My view is a multi day long distance route should be like a well written book – the route is the plot which unfolds along its length perhaps with a gentle start which slowly at first introduces the rider to a series of ‘characters’ or sub-plots (scenery / different types of terrain) which are varied and spaced though not always as that would be too predictable. Highs are gapped with lows (height and emotionally) and the climbs to the highs should be well thought out, sometimes steep, other times stepped, whilst the descents might be fast and thrilling or long and consistently steady.
View points provide impact and ‘wow factor’; occasional refreshment stops are hopefully notable and good value. The plot thickens as the route unfolds with unexpected twists and turns. Adventure and controlled risk is a must but the level of risk needs to be measured and not a lottery [the 3 levels of risk are: apparent (in your head) / potential (no room for error) / actual (a mistake would be serious)].
Each day of a long distance route is a chapter and should either build up to a good descent to completion or end at a high place to set off from next day. The final finish needs to be totemic and the whole story / route should be memorable for all the right reasons.
Day rides are short stories which encapsulate all the above into a session lasting anything from 3 to 8 hours – hopefully no longer!
Finally, based on hard-earned experience and insight gained over decades of cycling thousand of miles in, and across, remote and challenging terrain from sea level to over 3000 m (over 10,00 feet) in the Alps, I urge mountain bikers to never let your bike damage the trail. Shredding may be fun for some but as its name suggests, it damages the trail for those who follow whether 3 seconds, 3 years or 3 centuries behind you. Skilful riders leave no trace.