What is Rough Stuff?

I’ve been doing this blog for a couple of months now and apart from a brief explanation of rough stuff on the About page, and a post about the Rough Stuff Fellowship, I haven’t actually looked at what rough stuff cycling is, so here’s my definition.

In the Broadest Sense
Essentially, ‘rough stuff’ refers to the surface that you’re cycling on so any off-road cycling is rough stuff. That would probably have done for a definition back in the old days before mountain biking, cyclo-cross and bicycle moto-cross: all styles of riding on rough surfaces. The common feature of the latter two and most of the first is that they are sports. Rough stuff isn’t a sport though.

There are people who ride mountain bikes who aren’t necessarily competing or in training; they’re just riding for the pleasure of it. However, for most of those I would say that they are still applying the particular skills that define the different disciplines of mountain biking as a sport: jumping, negotiating obstacles, balancing on very narrow objects etc. The focus of such riding is on techniques, skills and thrills. Ruff stuff riding isn’t interested in such things either.

I recently met a mountain biker who told me that he was becoming increasingly fond of ‘green laning’. What he meant was that he was moving away from competing and skill riding to using his mountain bike to explore the countryside on off-road routes. Now, this is where rough stuff begins. What he is describing is no longer mountain biking even if he is using a mountain bike. Just because you might use downhill racing skis for cross-country skiing doesn’t mean you’re downhill racing. His term ‘green laning’ is also misleading. It is associated more with motorised vehicles like 4x4s and motorbikes. Another similar term used to describe off-road cycling is ‘trail riding’ but this too refers more to motorcycle riding than bicycling.

So, the focus of rough stuff is on the pleasure of riding through the countryside using tracks, bridleways, byways, canal towpaths and, in the case of the more hardcore ruff stuffers, remote paths better suited to walkers or goats than to bicycles.

Go Wild in the Country
However, like the earlier definition of rough stuff as being on any surface that isn’t a road, it’s still a little too general. After all, many folk including children and families will often enjoy a leisurely ride along a canal towpath or a track through some local woods, but it’s a far cry from cycling over a mountain range or across hundreds of miles of wilderness, especially when loaded with camping equipment.

That’s not to say that cycling off-road for leisure isn’t rough stuff, but to really hone the definition we need to consider the aspects of harder trails and touring. Wikipedia considers rough stuff to be a ‘nickname’ for ‘mixed terrain cycle-touring’ but this isn’t really true. Firstly, the term ‘rough stuff’ existed long before ‘mixed terrain cycle-touring’; secondly, you don’t have to tour to do rough stuff as you could do a day’s ride over a pass, across wild moorland, along a mountain ridge or any other demanding trail, and thirdly, the term ‘mixed terrain cycle-touring’ is far too prosaic. ‘Rough stuff’ not only describes the terrain but also the experience. After all, dragging your loaded bike over a mountain pass is pretty rough stuff, right!

In summary then, the pure heart of rough stuff is cycling off-road into more remote and wild areas of the countryside or, as my blog’s strapline simply puts it, it’s ‘cycling gone wild’.

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