Classic rides.

I’d love to ride some of the legendary classic mountain bike trails. What could be better than riding the “Repack”, the scene of the first downhill, off road time trial of the sport which was to evolve into the mountain biking we know now? The date was 21st October 1976, which, curiously, is about the same time I bought my first “Scrambler” which was a beaten up old bike used for an early form of the same sport. I’ll almost certainly never get the chance for a trip to California but at least I can still ride some classic rides locally from the time when our own riding was developing. If you were to ask a local rider to name a biking venue in our area they would surely say “Rivington”. This name can be slightly misleading because Rivington itself is a hamlet of around 10 houses and a chapel converted into a cafe. The term is applied more widely to the southern part of the West Pennine Moors and Leverhulme Park, which is a country park established by Lord Leverhulme who made his fortune from soap. The park was a philanthropic act after the reservoirs were established to serve the city of Liverpool around 40 miles to the south west.

My riding has changed a lot since the Rivington area was the most common destination for my friends and I. I’ve become more cautious and shy away from many of the more dangerous trails. OK, most of the time things will go well but I know from my personal experience of injuries that if something does go wrong the consequences can be very serious. In addition the bikes have changed immensely. In the mid 1990s we had no suspension at all. I bought my first suspension fork in ’95 but knew straight away that full suspension would be the future. If a poor fork could transform my riding I could easily imagine what a massive change the full works would bring. Today I rode a classic trail which became a firm favourite in 1997. A friend, Tony, who like me now has a scooter, showed us a trail on a regular Tuesday night ride which became such a favourite that it had to be incorporated into nearly every ride for the next couple of years. We stopped riding our favourite Sunday route up Darwen Hill just to have 2 minutes of downhill exhilaration on “Wilderswood”. The trail runs to the north side of the woods, starting on single track and ending on a high speed gravel road. I used to time my runs and became obsessed with beating may fastest time, causing some “difficulties” with other users. I may have gone beyond the statute of limitations on my wrong doings, putting innocent people in danger for my own selfish ambitions, but I’ll keep the details to myself. Subsequently I encouraged everyone to precede the downhill with a climb to the “2 Lads” and another fine descent. This would be today’s ride for several reasons. Firstly I wanted to experience a trail I’ve ridden rarely this century. Secondly I wanted to try to get up to the 2 Lads without a foot down which is something I achieved last year for the first time in many years. It would allow me to check my fitness level. I also wanted to get a more aerobic ride in than I’ve been doing this year.

I used a mixture of road and trail to reach Rivington and started the big climb without pausing. I was taking it steadily enough but the app. Strava still gave me 3 personal best on road and trail climbs, which already suggested that my fitness is not bad. I missed out Rivington Pike, a strangely rounded hump, not because I didn’t want the climb but because I didn’t want to feel obliged to ride a fairly dangerous downhill segment. It has a series of solid rock drop offs which I could ride easily enough. However the consequences of a tiny error here could be catastrophic. I reached the climb to the highest point at the 2 Lads and wasn’t finding it too hard. The ground is becoming more eroded each year and now it’s easiest to teeter on some ridges of dirt barely wider than a tyre. I got to the first really hard part of the climb to find that erosion has changed it. I made a poor choice of line and ground to a halt. It will be easy enough to remedy this next time so I carried on to the hardest part. Near the summit it gets incredibly steep with lumpy, rutted grass. Again a bad line choice had me stopping. I felt as if I had the energy to complete it if I just keep to the extreme left line next time. I stopped for pictures at the 3 cairns which are presumably the 2 Lads of the hill’s name!

3 cairns but only 2 Lads, with a view south onto Derbyshire.
The beginning of the downhill looks innocuous enough.

From the top some fabulous mountain biking areas can be seen in the distance. Derbyshire, North Wales and the English Lake District can be seen on a clear day. At this moment I had no time for dreaming. The downhill from here is a serious one so I kept it cautious in places. My only concern was when I reached a big drop off and slowed too much. I should have maintained my speed and dropped off to land flat on both wheels. Instead I pushed my weight as far back as I could and allowed the front wheel to drop first. It went OK but I think in future I’ll be taking the cowards routes to the side of the 2 biggest drops, just for safety.

A short distance from the bottom is the Wilderswood descent which has a good mix of styles from rutted singletrack to rock fields to fast gravel. The biggest danger is at speed towards the end where hedges at the side restrict your view forwards as the path curves. I enjoyed it and still had a mainly downhill segment following on immediately. After that I stuck to the road to get back home but pushed the pace. As I left the trail a road rider was just in front of me. I pursued him and overtook by using an off road section which cuts a corner. He easily passed me on a faster road section and asked me about the trail conditions. Maybe he was also a mountain biker. Keeping up with a road bike is never easy with the wide tyres and handlebars of an MTB and I was glad when he took a different turn. It was good to ride a classic trail but I’m sure that my current favourite Great Hill/Brinscall Woods route would have become popular if we’d known it in the ’90s. The bikes are much better nowadays, as well.

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