The story so far.....share your thoughts and photos about cycling along The Ridgeway to help us create a community Top 50!

Playing around with friends in the Chiltern woodlands near his home in Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, Geoff Apps decided ‘to build the bike that [was] in my head’ because there was nothing he could buy to suit the muddy tracks he wanted to ride. Tested out on routes like The Ridgeway, App’s bikes were on sale before the American-style mountain bikes first appeared on the British market in 1984. Read on below to find out more…..

Geoff Apps enjoyed trial biking (off-road motorbiking), but the noise and disturbance was at odds with his desire to enjoy nature. Influenced by trial bikes, Apps modified his Raleigh Explorer road bicycle with larger wheels, longer front forks, high and wide handlebars and a moped chainwheel. In 1979, he convinced Dee’s in Amersham to make a bespoke frame and with this he created the first prototype. Apps went on to produce the ‘Aventura’ which was made between 1982 and 1984 by his company Cleland Cycles Limited in Aylesbury, making him Europe’s first off-road bicycle maker. This video by Singletrack magazine tells more of the story.

To get others interested in cycling off-road, Apps led group rides through the Chilterns as the area’s leader for the Rough Stuff Fellowship and organised mountain bike holidays with the Youth Hostels Association. The Rough Stuff Fellowship was a national organisation founded in 1955 for cyclists wanting to ride ‘rougher and less beaten ways’ as a way of exploring and enjoying the countryside. Guided rides were vital in those days when there were few waymarked routes to follow and ‘there was very little in the way of trail maintenance, beyond the farmer dumping a load of bricks into the mire’. One Cleland cyclist who rode The Ridgeway in 1986 has said ‘it took me ten hours to ride less than 40 miles of Ridgeway from Avebury to Streatley upon Thames. Even the Cleland struggled with the hoof print-embossed heavy clay, in turn churned up by multiple four wheel drive and trial motorbike ruts’.

In the early days, people cycled cross-country using the same bike that they used for work and walking uphill and over difficult ground whilst pushing your bicycle was an accepted part of the experience. Apps, however, came from a trials bike background where getting off and walking or even ‘dabbing’ with your foot if you momentarily lost balance meant the terrain had defeated you. He designed the Cleland bikes to cope with muddy conditions with features including low pressure snow tyres from Finland to maximise his bikes’ traction and rider comfort.

It was also near The Ridgeway at Wendover Woods that the first national championship series was held, again as a result of Apps leading the way. This video shows a news report on ‘the new sport of mountain biking’ filmed in 1986 at the annual ‘Wendover Bash’. Held between 1984 and 1988, this event saw people competing on American and British bikes, including Clelands, in a range of disciplines including downhill, cross-country, hill-climb and trials riding. Today, the popular Aston Hill Bike Park neighbouring Wendover Woods maintains the Chilterns’ mountain biking heritage.

Cross-country cycling and cycle touring, meanwhile, has seen a recent boost with the launch of the new King Alfred’s Way route created by Cycling UK. This 350km circular route starts and ends in Winchester where King Alfred was buried – watch this video to see some highlights along the way. It includes part of The Ridgeway between Avebury and Streatley on Thames, passing the birthplace of King Alfred at Wantage. The route has proven popular and it is part of Cycling UK’s ambition to create a network of off-road routes across Great Britain.

For the Chilterns, the ambition to create a Ridgeway Riding Route from Streatley on Thames to Dunstable has begun to take shape following a surfacing project near Wendover in 2021. The project intends to signpost suitable routes through the Chilterns to enable cyclists and horse riders to bypass the footpath sections of The Ridgeway which are promoted for walkers only. In this way, cyclists will be able to enjoy the full length of The Ridgeway from Avebury to Ivinghoe just as walkers have always done! This will be years after the opening of The Ridgeway as a National Trail when its appeal to cyclists had been recognised but the focus had, until now, tended to be on walking. A survey carried out by The Ridgeway Partnership in 2019-2020 revealed considerable demand for off-road cycling and horse riding through the Chilterns and so the Ridgeway Riding Route project was launched. Donations towards the project are invited through the Friends of the Ridgeway.

Information to help cyclists plan a ride on The Ridgeway is available here. The locations and details of cycle hire shops, accommodation providers catering for cyclists and cycling routes are also available on The Ridgeway’s interactive map – click on ‘Cycling info’ in the menu bar to the left of the map.

Notes: More information about King Alfred is available in other Top 50 entries.

Return to Ridgeway Top 50 homepage.

Share your photos and stories to create a community Top 50! #Ridgeway50