(Published March 2016 replacing Mountain Biking in Terrain 0 Sept 2010)
Cycling is one of the most easily accessibly activities (aside from walking) and can be done virtually anywhere. Over the past couple of decades Mountain Biking has taken off and is now one of the more popular genres within cycling.
While mountain biking in remote areas, classed as terrains 1 and 2, requires those leading the activity to hold mountain biking permits, there is no requirement to hold any such permit in terrain 0. This doesn’t mean that there are no hazards in terrain 0 though, in fact some of the most challenging single track riding in this country can be found in terrain 0. This factsheet provides some guidelines to those leading mountain biking in terrain 0 to help manage those hazards and risks and allow this activity to take place in a safe, successful and fun manner.
Throughout this document mountain biking covers all cycling activities that are off road. This would, therefore, include disused railways, many Sustrans routes, purpose built trail centres, natural trails (bridleways, etc.) and any other paths or tracks that are not classed as roads. When riding at trail centres, it is recommended that a comprehensive risk assessment is carried out, especially when riding on Red or Black trails, or when using a bike park. It is recommended that a leader with an external qualification or permit be used to supervise activities on these trails and areas as the risks are higher than normal Terrain 0.
These guidelines are just as applicable to riding on roads and in other off-road areas.
Always ensure you carry sufficient tools and spares to deal with the common problems. These should include (although not limited to):
- Pump and tube(s)
- Puncture kit
- Chain tool
- Allen keys and spanners
But don’t forget, there is no point taking tools you don’t know how to use, likewise try to know the bikes the group will be bringing beforehand so you can choose appropriate tools and check that they are appropriate for the size of rider and ride planned. As well as basic bike maintenance, repairs and safety checks you should also know how to fit a bike helmet for a rider to ensure it does the job it is designed for.
If you're unsure about cycle maintenance there are many courses that can help. Some are run by CTC and local cycle stores, but there may be others that are more local.
Group Leadership Tactics
Unlike walking, cycling has a multitude of extra hazards when dealing with controlling a group. One simple solution is to ensure you have a leader at the front and at the back of the group and then ‘sandwich’ the group between. This is, perhaps, not the best way to deal with control as you take a large part of the ownership of the ride from the group if they are never allowed to ‘lead’ a section.
Below are some other leadership tactics and their pros and cons.
Leading from the front
This could be deemed as the ‘classical’ style of leading… ‘Follow me…’ but this has the downside of reducing the ownership of the ride for the group. Being at the front is useful to ensure the group stays on the right route and also for controlling speed, but does limit the ability of the leader to keep an eye on the group and can lead to a large leader/group divide.
Leading from the back
Whilst leading at the back the leader has a good sight of the group and can help those who may be physically struggling, e.g. up hills, however the leader can have little control over the front of the group and so leaving the planned route or splitting the group are possibilities.
Whilst the leader floats within the group they can be seen by all the group and can have a reasonably good control, there are many paths where this technique is simply not possible, e.g. some canal towpaths.
The leader is likely to use all these techniques to ensure the group has a fun, safe trip, with the combination of techniques depending on factors such as the terrain, the weather and the group.
Cyclists are allowed to ride (in England and Wales) on roads, byways, bridle paths and other higher classified tracks. They can also ride where the landowner has given their permission, e.g. much Forestry Commission land. In Scotland the access is much wider with responsible access being used.
The largest difference when planning a route compared to walking is that the track/path surface cannot be determined by just looking at the map. This can be surmounted by looking at guide books or asking local riders. However, the best way of ensuring the route is suitable and that the leader knows where the hazards are is by riding it beforehand. Remember, just because a route in terrain 0 doesn’t mean it is free of hazards and suitable for all riders, so riding it beforehand will help judge whether it is within the capabilities of those who will be in your group.
This preparation ride will also give the leader the knowledge so that they can vary their leader position according to the terrain. They will also know what is ‘round the next corner’ so that they can send the group ahead in the knowledge that there are no abject hazards just out of site. This ride will also give the leader the opportunity to scope out points of interest, points where some skills or games can be played, places for lunch, etc. which will all go towards a more enjoyable ride for the group.
Navigating on a bike is different to navigating on foot. So although many of the same skills are required (such as the ability to read a map) it is worth practising navigation on a bike before taking a group out with you. A useful aid for navigation on a bike is the use of a properly calibrated cycle computer that is set up to show speed and distance in meters and kilometres. This will enable the leader to be able to measure distance travelled reasonably accurately thus aiding in areas of possible navigation problems. Many GPS units are suitable for use on a cycle ride, some of which include Ordnance Survey, or other, maps. These units can be used as a navigational aid, however, the basic skills of map reading and navigation cannot be underestimated and so a paper map should always be carried.