The joy of steps
No, not an album from the 90s group, but a look at all that’s good and bad about trail stairs.
Like them or loathe them, steps are a big part of natural riding — the Lake District’s passes wouldn’t be the same without them. And avoiding those classic routes because they feature a few minutes of step riding would be cutting your nose off to spite your face. So let’s take a look at how to deal with them.
- They’re an unusual test of bike handling skills. Appreciated by those sorts of riders who thrive purely on technical challenge and bottle.
- They are a unique part of our landscape. From the left-to- ruin higgledy-piggledy steps of old industry, to the constantly updated and maintained staircases of famous Lakeland passes.
- For the non-climbers out there it always comes as a relief to be presented with a stepped ascent up a steep bit of hillside. Finally, there’s no shame in getting off.
Watch the Magura Vyron Electric dropper post in action
- There’s no flow or style to be had when brutally pummelling your way down a set of tiresome steps. For riders more in tune with carving delicious dirt turns there’s precious little reward.
- Steps are eyesores. Seeing a pile of man-made stone ways amid otherwise untouched natural scenery is jarring.
- You can’t climb up steps. Well, not when there’s more than a handful. The appearance of a long face of steps ahead really messes up your chances of cleaning a climb.
Three of the best: rides with steps (again, not the band)
Snowdon, North Wales
20.3km (12.6 miles)
A big mountain with some big steps on it. The ‘metal plank’ faced steps down from the summit are notoriously tricksy affairs. Their awkwardness is not helped by the vulture-like gawpings of the attendant gatherings of other riders and walkers.
The Ranger Path is mostly step-free, apart from a brief but super-techno section. If heading down via the Llanberis Path route, resurfacing work has seen an extended stony ‘staircase’ running down from Clogwyn Station point.
Dollywagon Pike, Lake District
19.9km (12.4 miles)
Dollywagon Pike is part of the classic Helvellyn route. Coming down from the summit of Helvellyn you first have to deal with the pile of rocks that is Nethermost Pike, and then it’s time for the arm-punishing steps-fest of Dollywagon Pike.
Truth be told it’s actually the subsequent final descent along the amazing Grisedale Valley that’s the real highlight of the route. It’s flow country interspersed with rocky tech moments.
Dalbeattie, Scottish Borders
25km (15.5 miles)
An undervalued gem of the 7Stanes trail centre collective, its coastal setting gives the place a unique and really rather lovely vibe. It may not have the greatest number of trail miles, but it’s well worth a visit. Although the daunting but straightforward ‘Slab’ section gets all the headlines, it’s the qualifier immediately before that’s the real tricksy catcher-out.
There are a few other sections of steps-esque obstacles scattered throughout the Red route too, so take spare tubes for the inevitable pinch flat.