Ten reasons to take that bike offroad
And all the kit, confidence and know-how you need to get started. Instant coolness, a brilliant workout and lots of fun, guaranteed.
For the last 18 months my road bike, once the bona fide love of my life, has been gathering dust – in fact it’s now hooked up to a turbo trainer, but that’s a story for another day. The reason I’ve abandoned my carbon fibre dream machine is that I’ve gone back to my cycling roots and embraced the joys of offroading. Here’s 10 reasons why I reckon you should too – and all the know-how you need to get started.
It’s amazing for your health
Out here, the air is clear! No cars whizzing past belching petrol fumes at me, no Covid-19 (I hope!) and no stresses or worries other than keeping those pedals turning, and the not-insignificant volume of hills that will give me thighs and glutes of steel. On that note, offroading burns MASSES of calories and those views never fail to lift my spirits.
Bye bye traffic
Let’s face it, even quiet country lanes aren’t that quiet these days. I’m sick of squeezing myself into verges whilst Brenda in her XC90 thunders past, splashing me with spray from the endless potholes and yelling ‘bloody cyclist!’ out the window. Offroad, the only traffic I encounter has four legs, or wings – I’ve been held up by cows, ducks, deer, sheep, wild ponies and even a nest-robbing tawny owl being pursued hotly by a mother blackbird. Which brings me on to….
It’s fantastic for getting back to nature
You never know what’s round the corner when you’re hurtling merrily down the UK’s vast network of bridleways and byways (no riding on footpaths, lady, they’re for pedestrians only). I’ve had some of my most exciting encounters with wildlife whilst out on my bike, spotting everything from adders, grass snakes and slow worms to soaring birds of prey, rare wild white storks, elusive weasels, badgers and stoats. Every day brings something different whether that’s a stunning sunset, a breathtaking temperature inversion, glorious summer sunshine or, er, rain. There is quite a lot of rain.
And for snooping
The countryside looks very different when you’re passing back gardens, sprawling estates and even cutting through otherwise private land on old long-forgotten public ways. Forget Zoopla, hop on your bike and see how the other half life IRL.
Good, proper, childlike fun. Offroading is super trendy but part of the allure is you don’t stay neat and tidy like a Lycra-clad roadie. Instead you’ll be slogging through mud, splashing through puddles, kicking up dust and occasionally hitting the deck – and that’s all part of the fun too.
Cycling is full of stuffy old MAMILs (Middle-Aged Men in Lycra, if you weren’t familiar with the term) who adhere to eight billion pointless ‘rules’ about what’s the ‘proper’ kit to wear, how high one should pull up ones socks, and other elitist rubbish. Offroading, you can tear up that rule book. There’s no ‘right’ bike, or kit, or ‘proper’ way to do things, just what works for you, and that’s really very cool.
It’s a great equaliser
No matter how fast you are on the roads or Zwift, offroading is a completely different kettle of fish. Good bike handling, adaptability and willingness to get stuck in – and risk a tumble – are what makes an offroad rider, not pure speed or power. And everybody has to get off and push or carry their bike at some point – everybody. As the saying goes, never go for a walk without your bike.
Well, as much as anything these days is free. Yes, you need a bike and a few basic bits and bobs (see below) but once you’re kitted out, you can get out there and hit the trails without it costing you a penny. The great British countryside is available and accessible to all of us, it costs nowt – what are you waiting for?
Convinced yet? Excellent, then let’s get you kitted out.
The best bike to ride is the bike you have. Most bikes will cope with a bit of gentle offroading but if you’re planning on plunging down bridleways or following trails for decent distances, you’ll need a bike that can withstand the rough stuff. The two most popular options are a gravel bike or a mountain bike.
Also known as adventure bikes, or cyclocross bikes, gravel bikes are tough and durable with fatter tyres than your average road bike, but with the distinctive drop handlebars. They don’t have suspension so expect a bumpy ride over rough terrain, but they can cope with pretty much anything and are great fun as well as quite nippy, without the weight of a mountain bike. Gravel bikes adapt well to the road too, so you can always take the tarmac option if it all gets a bit too muddy. The whole ‘gravel’ thing, incidentally, comes from the US where long stretches of gravel-coated fire roads link up much of the country. Here in the UK when we say gravel what we really mean is bridleways, and if we’re being really honest, mud.
Liv Brava SLR, £1799
I was loaned a Liv Brava by the manufacturers a couple of years ago and it remains one of my favourite bikes of all time. Liv is a women’s specific brand so the geometry and saddle is perfectly suited to female riders. The Brava is light and nippy, handles brilliantly and is super-strong, so you really can tackle anything on it. It looks a dream too, so sleek and understated.
Specialized Diverge E5, £799
A more pocket-friendly option from Specialized, the Diverge E5 is another women-specific model. It’ll handle the rough terrain no problem and a double chainset means you shouldn’t run out of gears when you’re spinning uphill. The teal colourway is rather pretty too – don’t let anybody convince you colour doesn’t matter, it absolutely does.
Kinesis Tripster AT, £2,200
What was I saying about colour? I have this very bike, which I snapped up when my local bike shop temporarily lost leave of their senses and knocked it down to a far less spendy price tag. That said, if I’d paid full price, I’d still think it was the best money I’ve ever spent. I love everything about this light, fast, solidly-made, confidence-boosting masterpiece of a bicycle and the colourway is the icing on the cake. It makes me smile every time I look at it, and every time I ride it, which is all the time, because it goes everywhere, does everything and did I mention it makes me smile? This is a unisex bike, which means ‘default to male’, so you might have to swap the saddle and shorten the stem as I did. Even so, it’s still worth it.
Mountain bikes have tough frames, suspension at the front (on hardtail models) or front and back (full suspension), flat handlebars, heaps of gears and big, grippy tyres. They’re comfier and a bit easier to handle than a gravel bike, but can be heavier, especially the budget models, and don’t travel as fast on flat surfaces or roads. Essentially they’re the 4x4s of the biking world.
Canyon Exceed CF 5 WMN, £1,999
Pretty as a picture and tough as nails, this hardtail bike is light enough to make those hills a breeze and stable enough, with front suspension, to help you whizz down trails in comfort and style. XC mountain bike world champion Pauline Ferrand-Prevot rides a Canyon in this exact colourway so it’s bound to be good.
Liv Embolden, from £1,440
A great entry-level full suspension mountain bike, the Embolden is another women’s specific model and comes with a decent spec including a dropper post (to get your saddle out the way when you’re tackling downhill trails).
Specialized Rockhopper, from £450
The Rockhopper is an absolute classic, the OG of budget mountain bikes, and with good reason. It’s a great all-rounder with an accessible price tag, perfect for everybody from eager teenagers to rad mums. It’s not female-specific so you might have to change the saddle.
The only other essential bit of kit you need is a helmet. Offroading comes with its fair share of thrills and spills, plus plenty of overhanging tree branches, so do protect your noggin. Giro has a good range of helmets with MIPS, which is a brain-protection system.
Wear a durable pair of trainers with decent grip and your usual sports kit, or splash out on some of the cool cycling gear out there – here’s our latest edit.
You can ride down any public bridleway or byway, just look out for signs. Part of the fun of offroading is going out and exploring so don’t feel you need to wait to be a route-planning ninja! Dig out those old OS maps or use the OS app, bridleways and byways are clearly marked. Here’s your starter for ten with Muddy’s guide to Sussex trails for biking and hiking, and the best spots for mountain biking in the county.
However, if you do want to plan and follow dedicated routes, an app like Komoot is free to install and you can plan routes locally or further afield for the price of a few maps. Strava is also great for route-sharing and you can download other peoples’ routes and put them on a GPS unit like a Wahoo or Garmin.
The best way to get to know your local patch – and further afield – is through like-minded people so Google to find out what’s around locally. Many cycling clubs will have keen offroaders who meet for group rides. You could also put a shout out in your local Facebook page asking for riding buddies – I now have four new friends I ride with regularly as a result of one Facebook post.