With a dizzying array of natural and sculpted trails, and a diverse community of passionate, friendly riders, Sheffield is a true pinner’s paradise.
Words: Hanna Jonsson. Photos: Saskia Dugon.
Sheffield is a city that lives and breathes mountain bikes. Small enough that you quickly feel part of the scene, yet big enough that you never get bored of the riding. In the past 10 years I’ve witnessed both the scene and the trail network grow bigger and more diverse, and have discovered a community that is friendly, motivated, fast and talented. It’s a city that has managed to preserve its core riding scene whilst enjoying an explosion of new trails and riders. Where old trails – that go back to the Steve Peat era – are just as relevant and engaging as the ones being created by younger trail builders today. To really understand the magic of Sheffield from a mountain biker’s perspective, you have to experience it first-hand. Let me tell you why.
The first time I rode in Sheffield I was pretty much a mountain bike newbie and most of the trails I was introduced to seemed impossible. But looking back, that feeling seems unavoidable, because I was introduced to the reality of Wharncliffe’s steep, technical trails.
Wharny, as it is known locally, is one of the main hotspots for mountain bikers in Sheffield, with trails that are both technical yet flowing, steep but rideable. In these woods exist some of the rockiest, most challenging tracks that I can only dream about getting down, as well as some of the most fun and rewarding trails I’ve ever ridden. It’s got that perfect balance between tech and flow, fear and fun.
The history of this place goes back decades, and is defined by a core rider and trail builder culture. There are stories of days gone by and trails that have come and gone, just to pop up all over again years later in a new shape or form. In my 10 years of getting to know this place, I’ve seen it develop. Grow bigger in most ways, yet somehow retain that friendly vibe that is so unique to the Sheffield riding scene in general. Today it’s a riding spot that attracts all kinds of riders – from the core crew that’s always been around and the dedicated (and oh so appreciated) trail builders, to the students, teenagers, parents and everyone in between.
However, when it comes to Sheffield, the biggest change in the past 10 years must be the growth in rider numbers, especially female riders. When I first started riding here back in 2010, I could count the number of female riders on one hand. Fast forward to today and there are so many I don’t know who even half of them are.
As a female in the biking world there are normally so few of us, that you actually DO know the name of every one you come across at your local riding spot. Today, that is no longer the case. There is a whole new breed of female riders both young and old, and many of them are pinners, too.
There is something about Sheffield that seems to breed fast riders. Both girls and guys – there’s been a lot of two-wheeled talent coming out of this city over the years. And I’m not just talking about pro racers, freeriders and social media stars, but also the average after-work shredder.
Just take a look at the women’s scene around here: you’ve got pro riders like XCO World Cup winner Annie Last and Enduro World Series racers Bex Baraona and Chloe Taylor. You’ve got the mega mums Carrie Poole (who’s placed eighth in an EWS race) and Lucy Follett, who wouldn’t dream of not fitting in at least one or two gnarly trail rides each week. There are multi-discipline talents such as Hannah Saville, who sends dirt jumps with style one day, before taking on mad challenges like riding all of Wharny’s trails in a day the next. There’s Katy Sunter, who is one of the UK’s best motorcycle trials riders and absolutely rips on a mountain bike, and let’s not forget 77-year old Pat Horscroft, who swooshes around the local woods proving that age is merely just a number. And these are only a handful of the riders that make up Sheffield’s richly diverse scene.
So why are so many fast people on bikes in Sheffield? Well, the trails deserve a lot of credit. Wharny is just one of many amazing spots around Sheffield, with riding ranging from beginner-friendly to pro-level gnarly. There are the official trails built for mountain biking in Grenoside, Parkwood and Lady Cannings, the many miles of singletrack weaving in and out of the city, Bolehills BMX track, and the gems of the nearby Peak District. There are options for people just getting into riding, and there are trails that will challenge the best in the sport.
Sheffield is proud to sell itself as the ‘Outdoor City’, and it walks the walk as well as talks the talk in this respect, officially promoting the likes of Grenoside, Parkwood, and Lady Cannings where other places might seek to suppress and shut down. The well- shaped berms and tabletop jumps that have been constructed at these spots are perfect for beginners and kids, whilst the bigger and more extreme features keep advanced riders coming back for more. These inclusive spots so close to urban areas make mountain biking as accessible as it can ever be for a large number of people, and this really helps breed the happy, inclusive community we have in the city.
Of course, having the Peak District with its endless rolling hills, miles of bridleways and hidden trails is a big cherry on top of the already decadent cake for Sheffield’s mountain bikers. There’s so much variety to the terrain and the trails in this beautiful National Park that you don’t really have to leave the area to experience the full spectrum of riding. You can do huge XC-inspired loops one day and head to one of the hidden hotspots for technical, downhill gold the next.
Sheffield is unique in having such a special landscape accessible right from its doorstep. A quick 30-minute singletrack pedal from my house and I can immerse myself in the heather-clad hills of Blacka Moor, with famous descents like Devil’s Elbow and Piper House Gate. Both are natural singletrack with lots of rocks, roots and berms – the kind of trails that have you giggling out loud as you’re trying to stay off the brakes for as long as possible.
Head a little further out and you find yourself on top of Stanage Edge, which is not only a climber’s paradise, but also holds one of the Peaks most photographed corners. A trail that is rough, rocky and has a view so stunning you’ll need to stop and… yes, take a photo. Once at the bottom, you’re a quick pedal away from Hope Valley with its many rocky descents and lung-bursting climbs, like the Beast, Cavedale and Jacob’s Ladder.
Amazing trails are just one part of why riding in Sheffield is so good. Mountain biking, to a lot of people here, is not a sport, it’s a lifestyle. It’s something you do in winter and summer, come rain or shine.
Although there are many local shredders, it’s never about who is the fastest down the hill. It’s about having as much fun as possible. It’s about riding with your mates, about finding a challenging section and riding it over and over, spending hours trying to perfect a new trick. It’s about hitting corners and slapping ruts until you’re so tired you can barely make it home.
Somehow, in Sheffield, the riding scene has replaced the pressures of going fast with plain and simple fun, and consequently it continues to breed diverse talent.
How much fun can you have?
Is it incredible trails or an active riding scene that makes an amazing location for mountain bikers? The answer, of course, is that it’s both. Sheffield has an abundance of amazing riding spots – from mega- technical downhills, to flowy BMX-tracks and beginner-friendly council-endorsed singletrack, all promoted, stewarded and developed by a passionate community of riders. The riding strikes the perfect balance between being accessible and demanding. There’s a hardcore, yet ever-growing riding community that is all about having as much fun as possible and where pros ride side-by- side with amateurs. In Sheffield it doesn’t matter if you’re the fastest or the slowest; all that matters is how much of a good time you’re having on two wheels.
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