Getting Off Road
08 February 2021 19:51
Getting off road
Off road cycling covers many different disciplines and comes with an equal number of different bikes on which you can ride in a safe, traffic free environment. This article will look at the different types of riding you can do off-road and which bikes would be suited for each. From easily accessible multi use paths, perfect for a family ride to full on downhill racing, the local area has plenty of off-road riding options.
Bridleways and multi-use paths
The simplest way to get off-road is to head out on to your local bridleways. These are signposted and should not be confused with footpaths. Cyclist can enjoy bridleways and byways but are not permitted to cycle along footpaths. Most bridleways are also used by pedestrians and horse riders so it’s a good idea to have a bell fitted to your bike to make other users aware of your presence. Route planning can be done in advance but heading out and exploring the countryside and finding new tracks can add to the enjoyment of off-road cycling. Just make sure you are on a permitted track and explore the local area. For those that like to plan ahead an OS map can be used to plan a route that takes in bridleways and road sections linking them together. There are online sources too such as :
The Letchworth Greenway is a fantastic multi use path that takes you around the town, passing through Hitchin and Baldock on its way. Again, this is enjoyed by pedestrians too and can get busy at weekends so a bell is very much recommended. At 13 miles and around 90% off-road it is very suitable for families with children of all ages.
Bridleways and multi-use paths can be ridden on any bike suitable for off-road cycling. Most commonly this would be a mountain bike but you could also ride a gravel bike or cyclocross bike, more of which later. The Letchworth Greenway could even be ridden on a hybrid or road bike with wider tyres.
CCA organises off-road club runs taking in the many bridleways of the local area (subject to current government guidelines on group riding). Routes will be determined in advance by a ride leader and being all inclusive, the groups will wait for all riders at the end of off-road sections. Longer runs generally take place on Sundays with shorter higher paced rides happening on summer evenings.
Cross country trails
Designed specifically for mountain bikes these are often purposely created trails that may be slightly more technically challenging than local bridleways. A good local example is Chicksands woods near Shefford. Criss-crossing the woods are trails that will vary in their difficulty from wide family friendly trails to narrow technical singletrack that may include features such as drop offs and jumps. Generally, the more technical trails are suited to some form of mountain bike (MTB) with either front suspension forks (hardtail) or both rear and front suspension (full suspension). Further afield Thetford Forest has similar trails with optional technical features that can easily be avoided.
For those wanting something a bit more adventurous Chicksands has a dedicated bike park full of purpose built trails that will test your skills to the highest level. Day tickets cost £7.50 and a decent quality MTB designed for such trails is highly recommended.
If your looking for something more competitive the Eastern region has one of the best cross country (XC) racing series in the country. Mud, Sweat and Gears provides racing for all levels of ability at venues in Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex.
Also called adventure riding, gravel riding is not a new concept but has risen in popularity with the rise in the number of bikes on offer for it. A gravel bike in essence is a do it all, go anywhere type of bike. It will have drop handlebars, wide tyres and a big gear range to enable you to ride it in a wide range of situations. As the name suggest they are perfect for an adventure, particularly suited for longer rides that includes a mix of road and off-road. Recently there has been an increase in the number of adventure/gravel sportives on offer in the UK, with the gravel bike being perfectly suited to long days out off-road in some of the more scenic (and hilly) parts of the UK. Locally the excellent Tour of the Cornfields, which takes in the bridleways of South Cambridgeshire and North Hertfordshire is held every September. CCA also run a gravel ride for its members, usually in May, the G-ride is a mixture of gravel tracks, unmade roads and road around the local area.
Cyclocross in its purest form is a racing discipline that has risen in popularity over the last decade. Held over the autumn and winter months, the races consist of multiple laps of a course set over varying terrain. A cyclocross bike is the predecessor of the aforementioned gravel bike and both bikes are interchangeable in their use. Gravel bikes differ in their ability to fit wider tyres whilst cyclocross bikes will have a geometry that is more suited for the tight twisty nature of a race course.
CCA has a very active cyclocross community and during the winter, members of all ages will take part in races throughout the region. Cyclocross racing is one the most accessible cycle sports and is a great way to dip your toe in to the racing scene. At the regional level any off-road bike can be used and the nature of the racing means that no matter your ability there is always someone at your level that you can have a battle with.
CCA organises its own cyclocross events too, an Eastern league event usually in October and smaller events at the grass track field in Ashwell during the summer.