The Rough-Stuff Fellowship, Off-road riding can be for touring cyclists as much as adrenaline junkies. Benjamin Haworth profiles a British Institution

Riding off-road has been part of cycling ever since the bicycle was invented it wasn’t until 1955 that the Rough-Stuff  Fellowship (RSF) was founded. For the first half  of  the 20th Century, when most cyclists only owned sturdy touring style bikes an element of off-road cycling was a feature of  most clubs’ rides. But after WW11 and the rise in popularity of  more specialised road-specific racing bikes, many clubs stopped incorporating off-road sections in their rides.

The RSF was founded partly from fear that off-road cycling was becoming moribund, an article in The Bicycle in 1954 was headed Are the Rough Ways Losing their Popularity?. A further inspiration in the RSF’s early days was the death of the hugely inspirational off-road advocate and writer WM Robinson (1877-1956). Robinson went by the nickname of Wayfarer. ‘To Wayfarer, beyond the road’s end there laid a wonderful world which he urged the cyclist to seek out’ says RSF member Steve Griffiths.

The Rough Stuff Fellowship can be defined by who they aren’t as much as who they are. They see themselves as distinct  from touring cyclists and mountain bikers, despite sharing characteristics with both. ‘Rough Stuff begins where the tarmac ends’, they say. So it’s easy to see what makes them different from today’s more tarmac-based touring cyclist.

How RSF riders are different from mountain bikers is not so easily defined. The key difference between rough stuffers and mountain bikers is rough stuffers don’t mind  getting off their bikes and walking. ‘We are not obsessed with riding everything are quite happy to push the bike’, say RSF General Secretary Peter Kenner. ‘Rides are leisurely with time to enjoy the country and walk if we want or have to. Criteria for good day out is the scenery and company not the technical difficulty’.

As with other club runs, cafe stops are key feature of every ride. ‘The cafe stops are important part,’ say Simeon Orme of the South Lakes Group RSF. ‘I do get complaints on cycling forums when there no pictures of cakes in the photo reports.’

A lot of rough stuffers still ride touring bikes, but many ride mountain bikes. These mountain bikes tend to no-nonsense hardtails rather than the expensive full-suspension bikes. Given their unwritten rule of walking tricky sections with the bike, the RSF have no real interest or need for modern mountain biking’s technological advances, if you’re out there for scenery rather than to conquer obstacles, there is no advantage in staying on the bike instead than getting off, and riding faster would detract rather than add to the experience.

Many rough stuffers don’t wear a helmet during rides as they don’t find themselves riding anything much beyond a social pace, and they don’t attempt to ride difficult trail sections. Arguably, the rough stuff rider’s closest cousin isn’t any other type of cyclist but rather the rambler. ‘I never go for a walk without my bike’ says RSF member Bob Harrison.

The Rough Stuff Fellowship ride in similar parts of the countryside to mountain bikers, often on similar looking bikes in their outlook, demeanour and fondness for cafes, they are closer to road touring clubs. Yet they are still most definitely - and defiantly - rough stuffers.

This article was first published in April -May issue of  Cycle.

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About the RSF the off-road cycle touring club Section

Part of Where’s the Brew Stop? The off-road cycle touring website

About off-road cycle touring routes, Cyclist’s cafes, Off-road cycle touring, Local Group Events and good photos.

 

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