Film review: Mountain Biking - the untold British story

The premiere of Mountain Biking the untold story
Mountain biking has been around in some form since the earliest days of cycling. 'Mountain Biking - the untold British story' tells the story of the emergence and rising popularity of mountain biking in the UK, starting with the Rough Stuff Fellowship's early touring bike adventures and finishing with Martyn Ashton's descent of the World Cup course. Cycling UK's Julie Rand went to the premiere.

In between, Mountain Biking - the untold British story charts the development of the activity on both a local and a national level, from children riding their own self-built 'klunkers' in the woods to today's downhillers hurtling down technical terrain in full-face helmets on highly sophisticated machines complete with front and rear suspension.

There are many entertaining moments in the movie and laugh out loud hilarity at the sight of some of the day-glo Lycra crimes against fashion of MTB riders in the last century. Even more amusing are their attempts at gingerly descending technical terrain, resulting in many slo-mo 'comedy crashes' - and no doubt a few serious ones too. It's strange to realise that the sport of MTB has developed from these early beginnings to today's extreme all-out downhill racing and enduro scene. 

The film includes interviews with many superstars of the scene such as Isla Rowntree (of the eponymous children's bikes), Rob Warnerr, Danny MacAskill, Steve Peat and Tracy Moseley - amazingly, the latter two are still competing at a very high level, despite being around since the mid-1990s.

As well as looking at the sporty MTB world, the film also focuses on the fun to be had just pootling around on local trails or visiting trail centres - according to mountain bike legend Gary Fisher, the UK has more trail centres than any other country in the world. 

While the film is a fascinating overview of the evolution of both the machines and the men and women riding them, it does not include much footage of riders swooping down endless sections of singletrack to a pounding soundtrack in the manner of must-see MTB films like of 'Where the Trail Ends' and 'New World Disorder'. There are, however, slightly spurious sections on bikepacking (one of the film's sponsors is Alpkit, makers of bikepacking bags), and bike security (Datatag being another sponsor).  

Glaring omissions include any mention of the burgeoning and thrilling dirt jumping and free riding scenes, with its own homegrown heroes such as Olly Wilkins and Sam Reynolds, nor some of the early stars of the XC scene such as the all-conquering Caroline Alexander, who was British National MTB Champion from 1993 to 1995, then again in 1997 and 2002.

Perhaps this reflects the slightly unsure view the mountain biking industry still has of itself? What even is 'mountain biking'? Is it riding across country, going to trail centres, racing downhill, a way of exploring the world away from traffic, or performing mind-blowing stunts à la Danny MacAskill or death-defying feats at Red Bull Rampage - possibly it's all of these so the film could maybe have addressed this issue in more depth?

 Another even more glaring omission is any mention of Cycling UK - or the Cyclists' Touring Club as it was known then - and its role in securing legal access for bikes on the Rights of Way network in 1968, work we are continue to this day with our Trails for Wales campaign for greater off-road access, without which mountain biking might not have become the mass participation activity it is today.

The most memorable scenes are undoubtedly those showing Martyn Ashton's brave and inspirational return to two wheels after a crash while trials riding left him unable to use his legs. However, with hundreds of thousands of viewings on YouTube, there can't be many who haven't already seen this footage.

But these are minor criticisms - if, like me, you are old enough to remember the Malvern Classics of the early 1990s with its notorious lake jumping and party scene, or you are more like my downhilling dirt jumping 21-year-old son, who has grown up with mountain biking, you'll find much to enjoy in this movie.

The film really appealed to me as I'm now in my fifties but got into mountain biking in my twenties in the early nineties. 

Roland Seber, mountain biker

My husband, Roland Seber, who was also riding and racing mountain bikes 'back in the day' said: "I really enjoyed the film. It was great to see the clips from the early days of MTBing in this country and the USA. The film really appealed to me as I'm now in my fifties but got into mountain biking in my twenties in the early nineties. I was involved in the racing scene in the early nineties and remember going to events like the 'Malvern Classic' and the National Points Series' races sponsored by 7 Up.

"Mountain biking was in the nineties, and still is today, a sport which struggles to get mainstream attention but has a friendly, local, just turn up and have fun kind of feel to it. The film put this across really well, while also making much of the fact that for most people its a fun leisure pursuit rather than a sport but a sport that's easy to get into.

"It was great to hear the story of the Muddy Fox mountain bike as it was my first MTB back in 1988. If being picky, I would say there was a bit too much of the background and fortunes of the company.

"The film did cram a lot in, maybe a bit too much and started well, following a chronological story format but lost its way a bit about half way through when it jumped to the modern day then backtracked to earlier times. Having said that though, the film is about the right length and well filmed, with good blend of interviews and action shots, albeit the music is a tad too dramatic."

'Mountain biking - the untold British story' (70 mins) goes on release on 6 August 2016.