Come hell or high water

mountainbikers02 Wychwood Mtb (mountain bike) was started by me last September, a 50-year-old who has a passion for being outdoors on a bike, specifically riding off-road on tracks and bridleways. The purpose of Wychwood Mtb was to show fellow cyclists the beauty and excitement that can be had around the Wychwoods whilst keeping fit and active at the same time.

I had been cycling around the area’s stunning bridleways for a couple of years and noticed that many of the people I saw on their bikes were on their own; as I was.

Knowing how much fun it was to ride in a group, I posted on social media that I was going out on a bike ride and within a couple of days we had grown in number to seven. Our first ride-out was through Foxholes, a 12.5-mile route through single-track woodland and boggy tree rooted lanes, our only spectators were woodpeckers, grey squirrel and roe deer.

We now have 39 members and regularly meet three times a month on Saturdays and Sundays, meeting at Milton Village Hall ready for a 08:30 start. Come rain or shine, someone always turns up to join me; in fact the more mud the more fun – well not always.

We have been riding now for eight months and have a selection of routes which vary in length and difficulty, taking in bridleways along the River Evenlode, passing by disused airfields, dropping down fast tracks into hidden valleys and having to emerge back out of them on heart thumping climbs, and even riding through secret forests. Exhausting it may be, but the sense of achievement at the end of a long off-road cycle is clearly visible if not audible on many faces.

Spending time outdoors is invaluable to help escape everyday stresses and unwind. Whether it’s climbing a hill, cycling over a moor or negotiating a woodland trail, getting out in nature refreshes my mind like nothing else. So I enthusiastically plan where to explore next, and that is where the difficulty begins. It can be awkward linking bridleways to ride on. I believe this needs to change.

Currently, only 20% of rights of way in England and Wales are open to cyclists and horse riders, and these are often frustratingly fragmented.

Recently the Welsh government proposed to change access rights for mountain bikers and horse riders on public rights of way in Wales and I’m hopeful that our government will soon follow these examples. So, come on England, let’s respect each other’s right to be outside and start sharing these footpaths.

David Knight

June-July 2019