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Monday, November 19, 2012

Rough Stuff

UPDATE 2/28/13: Thanks, Path Less Pedaled, for the "shout out". You should also check out this related post about a rough stuff adventure of my own here.

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:

Geoff Apps and his Range Rider
UPDATE 11/19/12: Nicholas of Gypsy By Trade just turned me onto Geoff Apps, a British gent who made mountain bikes in the 70's and on under the make Cleland Cycles. And he wore tweed while riding as "'ve got to look dignified and relaxed, even when you're riding through twelve inches of crud..." He hasn't been given his due by the greater mountain bike community yet, though. More about him here.

*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.


  1. Don't forget Geoff Apps, who must have influenced your wardrobe at least a little (or a lot!). His style of biking is adventurous and extreme, but involves "walking" over the land at slow speeds in favor of high flying feats and fast descents.

    Much of the modern mountain biking you speak of can be traced to the daredevil Repack races in which racers were shuttled to the top of the mountain. Much of modern mountain biking has become focused on the descent.

    1. Gypsy/Nicholas, thanks for that inspirational link! Didn't know about Geoff (or maybe somehow I glossed over it all) but now another road to ride down, as they say. Love this quote from that link, regarding his clothing choice:
      "'ve got to look dignified and relaxed, even when you're riding through twelve inches of crud..."

      Check out this photo on flickr, esp. the comments where it basically becomes a bit of a Geoff love-fest and folks talk about his snubbing from the Mtn. Bike Hall of Fame...and Geoff Apps himself enters the conversation!

    2. Geoff Apps info to be added into update into original post. Including this:

  2. This is really, really great info. Engrossing reading and almost entirely new to me. I used to ride the rough stuff on my department store 10-speed when was a teen and I'm unsurprised to find that it was such a common thing worldwide.

  3. I did the Wayfarer Path in the late '70's. 27" by 1 and a quarter tyres and a 5 speed dérailleur. I carried the bike more than rode it!
    I must try it again with suspension and fat tyres :0)
    Excellent article thank you.

  4. Yes I am a member!! I live & breath RSF. I love planning rides for them, touring with them, camping, hostelling. In fact I have count em... 5 multi-day trips with them before June is out. I cannot wait!!!
    I'm in the Lancashire faction They all feel like my extended family.
    Some more Pennine pics of rides in the NW of England
    So impressed someone stateside has blogged about the Fellowship. Tho I see you're on the roll call for new members in this month's journal, so welcome.

    1. Georgie, thanks for checking in! Sounds like you are having a lot of fun with RSF and all. (Great blog, too!) Now I just need to do some riding myself...

  5. And for those of you who are checking into this blog post now (thanks, Path Less Pedaled!) you should also check out this related post:


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