Ah, me and my bike obsessions. One of the things I love about when I get a new type of bike, I dive in and learn more about the bike or the culture surrounding it. This is what happened when I got the Raleigh Wayfarer nearly two years ago. Before then, I had minimal knowledge of three-speeds, British bikes, or the culture of British cycling in the early-mid twentieth century. Two years later, I’m a full on Retro-Grouch.
So I have a mountain bike again, and am interested in mountain bikes. I’ve been doing some reading on the history and the culture surrounding them. As a certified Retro-Grouch,* most modern bikes, and modern biking don’t appeal to me, as I’m not really into “technical” stuff. I just want a classy looking bike that can take wide-ass tires and handle rough terrain.
|Nope, don’t like it. Not enough seersucker and twine.|
And while what we consider the modern mountain bike wasn’t seen until the 1970’s and come into mass-production in the 1980’s, people did “mountain bike” back in the day. When you think about it, good roads is a pretty modern phenomena, even in the developed world. In fact, there is a reason why most adult bikes seen up until the bike boom of the ’70s had wider tires: to handle mixed terrain and rough roads. Most American bikes evolved into “balloon tire” bikes with 26″ x 2.125″ tires (559 mm wheels). These tires were low-pressure and high-volume, great for crap roads. The 26″ x 1 3/8″ (650A/590mm) tires found on British three speeds like my Raleigh Wayfarer were designed to handle smooth pavement, cobblestone streets, and primitive paths. And while 70’s ten speeds commonly came fitted with 27″ x 1″ or 1 1/4″ (25-630 to 32-630) tires, some folks put 650A wheels on these bikes, like the founders of Adventure Cycling Association when they were part of the Hemistour in the early 70’s. The main reason for the different wheel size was tire availability outside of the US. But the riders found the added benefit of better handling on rough roads, whether it be gravel roads in the Yukon or primitive tracks in Central America.
|Ah, so much better. Riding a bridleway somewhere in the UK. From wikipedia.|
The desire to ride any road, anywhere has been around since the bike was created. This type of riding was known as “Rough Stuff” riding in the U.K. Rough Stuff riders would seek out the lands “where the road ends”, hearts full of adventure. Back then, most bikes were single speeds, three speeds were a luxury, so unlike today there wasn’t shame in walking if one needed to. Another challenge was “Pass Storming”, trying to cross as many mountain passes as possible. What the U.K. lacks in height, it makes up for in steepness, and much of the “roads” that led to these passes were more suited for mountain goats than anything else.
As with anything, if there’s enough people interested in something, a club or organization will inevitably spring up. The Rough Stuff Fellowship was founded in 1955 and has quite the colo(u)rful history, as detailed in a piece on the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame website. On it, it talks about one of the “founding figures” of the idea, W. M. Robinson (1877-1956)
…who wrote under the pseudonym ‘Wayfarer’. In both his writing and lantern lectures he advocated leaving the tarmac to explore the wilder ways. To Wayfarer beyond the roads end there laid a wonderful world, which he urged the cyclist to seek out. To put this into context Wayfarer was a member of the cycling establishment with huge influence.
The Rough Stuff Fellowship still exists today. To a member, “Rough stuff begins where the tarmac ends,” or “To the dedicated rough stuffer there is no such thing as a dead end”.
I like the sounds of all that. I want to explore more of these places, which is one reason why the Crested Butte is in the stable. Of course, the mount doesn’t matter, but you get the point.
|More like it.|
Here are some other rough stuff typed links for your consideration:
- Ruff Stuff Cycling. He hasn’t updated in awhile but worth a look, especially him explaining “What is Rough Stuff?
- The Alpine Bicycle Club, based in Colorado, specializes in “mixed terrain” riding.
- The South Lakes Group, a a local group of the Rough-Stuff Fellowship based in the UK.
- A bit about pass storming from Cycling Before Lycra.
|Geoff Apps and his Range Rider|
*Retro-Grouch certification simply consists of showing up to a ride that Grant Petersen is at, and having him say “I like your bike” while on the ride.