Mountain biking in the Peak District

Rising to the challenge

Last weekend I travelled up to the Peak District for a few days of adventure with fellow blogger Hetty, also known as Mud, Chalk and Gears. Despite never having mountain biked before, I was persuaded to give it a go and so rose to the challenge.

It’s safe to say that mountain biking barely compares to road biking. It was a real learning experience and, faced with the hilly tracks and trails of the Peak District, I had been well and truly thrown in at the deep end!

We began with a gentle incline up a rocky trail, which immediately made me feel uncertain. Was I really up for this? And what comes up must go down… My first downhill was steep and absolutely petrifying! Cool, calm and collected, I think not! Not to mention the much more accomplished mountain bikers that came zooming down past me when I least expected it! How I didn’t fall off out of shock, I will never know.

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Photo: Hetty Key

‘Give it time’, I told myself. ‘Everyone has to start somewhere.’

The great thing about mountain biking is that it is so varied. One moment you’ll be biking through an undulating forest, and the next you’ll be zooming down a steep grassy hill, surrounded by sheep. You never know what might lie around the next corner! With such incredible scenery, it’s virtually impossible to not enjoy the experience.

We eventually joined a road (ah, some familiarity!) and stopped for some delicious cake and coffee at Café Adventure in the picturesque village of Hope. By this point, we were about two thirds of the way through our route and ready to tackle the final section.

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The latter part of our planned route meant tackling the mighty Broken Road; an abandoned half-mile stretch of road that has been collapsed and twisted by landslides. Closed to traffic in 1979, it has become more and more popular with walkers and cyclists ever since. Though I must admit, pushing (yes, pushing) my bike up Broken Road did make me feel slightly broken myself; it seemed a lot further than half a mile on my tired legs!

Luckily we were able to work out a slightly less technical route back to the car, which would include taking some downhill roads. And what a good decision this was! After pushing the bikes up and up, we were eventually able to zoom down a smooth road from the top of Mam Tor to the bottom. Though my arms were frozen from the strong wind, biking down the road at lightning speed was such an amazing end to the day.

Keeping your concentration 

The techniques for mountain biking are very different from road biking, so it took most of the day to get the hang of controlling the bike properly. I often found ‘death grip’ to be a problem. I came across one definition of ‘death grip’ that read ‘an extremely tight grip, such as that exerted by a person in a panic for fear for their life.’ I’d say that’s pretty accurate!

That said, I gained confidence with time and began to pick up some helpful tips from those around me. As the terrain varies so much, it’s important to always pay attention to what’s ahead of you and where your wheels are pointing. I made the mistake of looking at the ground just in front of my wheel, while it would have been better to look further ahead. Another helpful tip for going downhill was to shift my weight backwards and to keep my joints loose, making it easier to absorb the impact.

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Photo: Hetty Key

I also overheard another mountain biker talking about ‘finding your lines’… After some initial confusion, I began to realise how scanning the ground ahead of you could help you to work out your best approach to each section of the route. There are so many things to think about when learning to mountain bike, but lots of tips can be picked up from friendly fellow mountain bikers and developed with experience.

And there’s one thing that will always get you through a challenge: mental resilience. The ability to keep pushing through when you’re finding something tough. This was the thing I needed most when pushing my bike up hill of which I couldn’t see the top. Just. Keep. Going.

To then realise that I’d biked about 20 miles through one of the UK’s most hilly national parks was pretty rewarding.

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Photo: Hetty Key

Mountain bikers often talk about getting into the ‘flow’… It may take me a while to find this flow and fly over rocks so effortlessly, but I’ll certainly be giving it another try soon! Remember the wise words once spoken by Zig Ziglar: ‘You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.’

So say yes to new opportunities. Only you can define your limits and the likelihood is you’re able to achieve more than you think possible.

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