From Dangerous Sport to Fun Activity – Reframing Mountain Biking

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I was recently asked to give a presentation on ‘Image and Mountain Biking’, as part of an event held by Ride Sheffield under the topic ‘Reframing Mountain Biking’. The event brought together a range of people from brands, media, trail associations and the MTB industry to consider what the mountain bike community might do to help attract a wider range of people, and to help improve trail access. Manon Carpenter played a big part in pulling the event together, and it certainly continued discussion of the issues raised in her film Trails on Trial, where she examined what it takes...

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  • This topic has 263 replies, 70 voices, and was last updated 1 month ago by rob p.
Viewing 40 posts - 1 through 40 (of 263 total)
  • From Dangerous Sport to Fun Activity – Reframing Mountain Biking
  • crazy-legs
    Full Member

    That’s very good.

    Road cycling has a similar image problem, the idea that rides have to be epic, done in black and white, suffering, hill climbing, more epic…

    Whatever happened to having a nice ride round the lanes and stopping for cake?!

    zippykona
    Full Member

    My Spanish friend calls my bike a “Countryside Bicycle”.
    Sums it up perfectly

    Pook
    Full Member

    Reframing mountain biking is something advocacy groups have been doing for ages. Open MTB Nd Peak District MTB are two examples of committed groups working bloody hard to make a distance who struggle for time and resource.

    Making a difference here is hard yards. It’s not just digging, it’s sitting in committees and advisory groups, access forums and rare landowner meetings.  Not very “rad”. But very necessary.

    Hannah, you know me, I’m 100% with you on this. Come along to the Peak District MTB AGM to talk more.

     

    weeksy
    Full Member

    Is it location specific too? In the south we don’t have hills, let alone mountains, so we’re seen more as social riders rather than hardcore MTB trail slayers.

    But I don’t see MTB being a ‘destination’ thing until uplifts, towns etc exist. Morzine, chatel, Les arcs, finale ligure, they have “something” and I can’t see the UK replicating that as the places that have the hills are colder, wet, midge ridden hell holes. The Alps has the benefits but without the downsides.

    What we as MTB riders want, doesn’t exist. So we try and co exist with walkers, ramblers and countryside folk, but we don’t want them, they want us even less than that. So it’s not going to work.

    Accept we are a minority and mostly disliked, at best we may reach the height of being vaguely tolerated.

    Sad, but IMO, true.

    stwhannah
    Full Member

    @Pook yes, I think think you’ve been fighting this battle for ages, and doing it well, but until the brands step up and fight for it at a national level, it’s always going to be hard going for the trail association volunteers. It needs funding and national coordination- there’s a mechanism there right now that brands could use. Sadly I can’t make the PDMTB AGM, but always happy to talk about this kind of thing!

    weeksy
    Full Member

    Look at places where our trail centers are and ask yourself “who’s going to embrace it”

    BPW, is 2 miles outside a dive of a Welsh town. Antur, Dyfi, Revs, nothing, barely a house. How can you attract people to the area, unless there’s the infrastructure to attract them to?
    Rogate, Fod, Afan, nothing.
    Surrey hills has 1 shop, 1 pub and a post office, again not exactly embraced

    Llandegla, nothing, Pines, nothing, even Cannock, Swinley, nothing. What do people do before or after riding, they have to instantly leave the area to get changed, have food, drink, hotels.

    Afan tried it with the lodges, but it’s Afan, no one goes there anyway.

    I wish I had the answer, but sadly I can’t see it.

    crazy-legs
    Full Member

    Look at places where our trail centers are and ask yourself “who’s going to embrace it”

    This cropped up the othe day with the DMBinS survey about MTBing in Scotland. Glentress is the obvious place – much less so with other trail centres – but the “MTB community” is often just seen as taking up valuable ambulance and hospital space due to the sheer number of callouts that Glentress gets. So it’s already seen (in the media, by locals) not as a family activity but as something dangerous and hardcore and where the participants are prone to breaking themselves.

    Strangely, that doesn’t seem to be the view from ski centres – people obviously break themselves skiing but it’s not seen as the same problem.

    jodafett
    Full Member

    Just call it “Wild cycling” and everyone will jump on the bandwagon! It worked for swimming and camping 😉

    stwhannah
    Full Member

    @jodafett that’s actually not such a daft idea. In Sheffield there was some discussion about how ‘mountain biking’ makes people think they need mountains- which is obviously not the case. I didn’t hear anyone suggest ‘wild cycling’ as a different term, but now you’ve said it it’s obvious.

    mattsccm
    Free Member

    Maybe stop trying to make it “something”?
    All this talk of digging and creating venues makes it something different. It gives antis somewhere to push people to for a start. I must put my hand up and say that I struggle to see why people go somewhere and then change/spoil it.
    Maybe it’s a generation thing? Dunno. Many of us oldies (not me yet I am only 59 so can’t be called a long time cyclist) don’t see mountain biking or any other cycling as anything special as we have been at it for decades, it’s nothing special. Why the hell mountain biking is labelled an extreme sport, God only knows. Bit like skiing, climbing, surfing. Sorry but I believe that the root of much of this is journalism with a good chunk of merchandising chucked on top. Publications need to sell and soon expand from the few mates spreading their own word. This kills the goose eventually. The little TBM magazine founded in the 90’s had a lot to do with the huge increase in the popularity of trail riding. (the proper version with engines not the modern version with, er hang on, engines that pretend they are not). Many a born again rider sold his Fireblade, bought a 450 KTM that he couldn’t handle and messed it up for those of us who had been considerate for decades.Then then moved on to golf/jetskis/whatever.What did we get? Lane closures left right and centre, all brought in by outsiders and incomers.
    My version would be to tone it all down some what but that won’t make money will it? Ah well.

    ferrals
    Free Member

    So ATB was the better term all along!

    weeksy
    Full Member

    Many of us oldies (not me yet I am only 59 so can’t be called a long time cyclist) don’t see mountain biking or any other cycling as anything special as we have been at it for decades, it’s nothing special. Why the hell mountain biking is labelled an extreme sport,

    Because your MTB riding and what is now the mainstream MTB riding are actually different sports.

    Gravel, trails, Climbing Tor this or Nevis that, isn’t MTB riding to more and more people. They want roots, jumps, drops and of course uplifts.

    The sport has evolved, is evolving and will evolve even more. But it’s likely to do so, away from your idea of riding.

    I love both. Today my ride was local, a few hills, some woods, paths, trails. Next weekend will be a purpose built location for riding. Both have their place to me. But not to many now.

    mattsccm
    Free Member

    Undoubtedly my version of MTBing isn’t the trend but it is the trend thats being talked about. And its the trend that is casuing problems which is a shame because it doesn’t have to. Who said MTBing is dangerous? No one with an ounce of common sense.
    One of the kids at school had a MTB mag on his desk. Should have been reading Kensukes Kingdom but he was reading this (don’t blame him actually). I moved his mag and , purely in the name of research, had a quick peek. Safeguarding you know! Full of riders in armour, no where near the ground with lots of alpine meadows. Wonderful stuff, sign me up, but what message does it bring across?
    People need to decide what they want. Do wqe want something eco friendly? In which case get everyone walking the roads not buying bikes. Hard one isn’t it? I haven’t got the answer.

    thepurist
    Full Member

    Full of riders in armour, no where near the ground with lots of alpine meadows.

    I think that has been the image of “mountain biking” for a while. Isn’t this where gravel riding comes in? You can get off road, explore, have cake, chill out and all without risk of being killed to death.

    jodafett
    Full Member

    that’s actually not such a daft idea.

    I’ve been half joking/ serious about this term for a while. The “mountain” part does put people off, but if there was a more open/ generic term that enticed people into cycling it could improve things in many ways (prices may go even further through the roof tho!). People these days seem to need to rebrand things so they feel it’s their own little niche. Wild Biking or Cycling might fit 🤔

    weeksy
    Full Member

    People need to decide what they want

    I think they have mostly. And that’s often it. The days of the local MTB rider cruising along bridleways is very much in the demise compared to 20 years ago. That’s why the bike brands make more and more big bouncy bikes, it’s why Levo 180s exist, it’s why all the big boys sponsor big air riders.

    Youth don’t see the ecological aspect, they care about the green planet, sure but then ask them if they want to drive 3 hours to Dyfi or cruise to get a sticky bun and cruise back. The answer, well it’s fairly easy to see.

    I don’t know if the story is different up in Scotland for example but I suspect potentially not.

    fahzure
    Full Member

    Great article! I would add: getting a bell is the best thing you can do for access and other trail users. But, you knew that.

    bikesandboots
    Full Member

    Everyone is wary about bike crashes from experience of their own childhood and their own kids. And mountains are dangerous. So mountain biking must be dangerous.

    the Unaware – they’ve no strong views, but probably think mountain biking is ‘scary’.

    My friends and family are of this type.

    “You’re not riding your bike on that are you” – comment on photo I shared with handlebars and rocky bridleway in background.
    “Thing with you going on that skills day is you’ll be inclined to take more risks” – somewhat true but on balance it made me safer.
    “Jesus christ where are you riding this thing” – upon seeing 140mm 29er with 2.4″ tyres.

    I suggest that we need to reframe the image of mountain biking, shifting it from ‘dangerous sport’ to ‘fun activity’.

    I can’t say I’m helping with this, even as a reasonably risk-averse rider. Fell off bike, fractured a bone, all my extended family and half the village knows about it. Wearing knee and elbow pads, sometimes a helmet with chin bar.

    jam-bo
    Full Member

    The days of the local MTB rider cruising along bridleways is very much in the demise compared to 20 years ago.

    I do that on my gravel bike now…

    JonEdwards
    Free Member

    This all feels rather negative.

    (for some background – I’m a Ride Sheffielder, was on the periphery of organising this and led one of the rides in the morning, but couldn’t hang around for the talky bit in the afternoon.)

    it’s sitting in committees and advisory groups, access forums and rare landowner meetings. Not very “rad”. But very necessary.

    Absolutely. But that’s not what Hannah’s talking about – the people and organisations your dealing with are already aware of the pros and cons of mountainbikes – its about grabbing a random person in the street, saying “mountainbiking” to them and seeing what their reaction is.

    FWIW I think you’ve drawn a bit of a shitty straw, as I always get the impression “The Peak District” feels it doesn’t need cyclists of any ilk, because it gets enough business just by being a tourist destination. A lot of small businesses feel rather differently I think. Once you head into S.Yorkshire, to me it (mostly) feels much more friendly, as its where people live and work, they’re much more used to seeing bikes, and being “The Outdoor City” an awful lot of people do something outdoorsy – run, walk, climb etc, so get the basic reason we’re out doing what we do. The city itself is also a lot more onside with making facilities available.


    @weeksy
    – that’s a very narrow view of mountainbiking. Other than Lady Cannings, which happens to be at the top of my road (and I use regularly as part of bigger rides), I’ve done a total of 2 days at a trailcentre this year (Golfie) + an hour riding at Greno when Steelcity reopened. If I’m going to drive across town, I’ll go to Wharncliffe instead, because the riding is much more interesting – a line scratched out down the hillside with roots and rocks where they’ve fallen and to negotiate as your skills allow. I get bored very quickly with berm/jump/berm/jump stuff. Trailcentres are part of mountainbiking, but far from all of it – and I include uplift centres too.

    I’d very much say the UK (hell even England) has “destination” locations. I’d put a nice spring day in the Lakes up against any riding in the world. But its not easy and its not guaranteed. You will have to get to the top under your own steam, you will probably have to carry your bike, the descent may well be pant fillingly scary – even at walking pace, and it being up a mountain – the weather may suddenly turn disgusting. But the reward when you roll the dice right is unforgettable.

    Closer to home – I once had a conversation with a pair of Californians who rode Laguna Beach pretty regularly – they really wanted to come to Sheffield to ride Steelcity at Greno, because media made it look amazing. I asked if they were really interested in flying half way round the world to ride a sub 90sec bit of tame singletrack – “yes”…!

    You ask why Levo 180s exist, or why people drive 3hrs to Dyfi. Because they’re ****ing lazy. Anyone strong enough to ride a bike like that properly doesn’t need it. Dfyi – uplifts, toilets, cafe, parking. Fast food riding. Sure a kebab and chips can be the right thing occasionally, but you don’t want it every day, do you? Same with Strava etc. Spoon fed riding. What happened to getting a map out and learning an area yourself? Sure – sure, some trails are crap – but unless you ride it yourself, you won’t know. Where’s the adventure in following someone else’s idea of fun?

    I think a large part of the problem is that mountain bikes are too good now. I can ride pretty much anything on my 4 year old hardtail with unfashionably small wheels, and I can ride it faster than most. My big bike is antisocially fast if I give it full beans, so has to be used sparingly and sometimes frustratingly (like owning a properly quick car). The rise of gravel I think is a reaction to this. A whole lot of “shit 90’s mountainbiking” has become enjoyable again. Hell the tyres and gears are much better than 30 years ago and brakes are in a different league.


    @stwhannah
    – I’m not sure the skiing analogy hold up. Aspirational yes, but there’s a reason for that – its chuffin expensive, very heavily commercialised and you have to go to a different country to do it. A week’s skiing £££ will set you up with a damn good bike that you can ride 365 days a year for multiple years. I’d also suggest its equally and similarly media driven – my insta feed is full of park stuff, in which I have zero interest; and big mountian freeride clips, which are WAAAY above my paygrade, in the same way Rampage is, but the terrain and the use of the mountains is inspiring. For me, just like bikes – its a gateway to a mountain experience, and for me the best skiing is away from the infrastructure – just you and the hill. I’m quite early in my ski career, so proper backcountry is a way off, but the little nibbles I’ve had have been a very pure hit.

    I’d say the biggest impediment to Mountainbiking is the antipathy to Biking or “cycling” in general. I learnt to ride age 19 so I could get to uni, but as someone who walked/hiked/rambled, riding offroad was instinctive. Get more people onto bikes and out of cars, make riding a bike a natural “life” activity and more people will fall into all the different sporting variations that bikes can offer.

    ..and what’s the desire to pigeon hole everything? In the same ride, I might bimble to a cafe, hit a challenging climb as hard as I can, smash a cheeky enduro descent or 2, watch the clouds or a sunset from the summit, then spin home again on road. Its all there ready for the taking and served how you want.

    Ride road, ride gravel, ride bmx or enduro or DH, but above all ride!

    #benicesayhi

    jodafett
    Full Member

    Ride road, ride gravel, ride bmx or enduro or DH, but above all ride!

    Agree. Go wild riding!

    ratherbeintobago
    Full Member

    I’ve had critical illness cover which has excluded MTBing, but I fail to see how wheels-on-the-ground bridleway mincing is less safe than road cycling (which was fine from the insurer’s POV) and I’m too old/unskilled to be shredding the gnar.

    It would be interesting to see what the insurer’s attitude to gravel is.

    colournoise
    Full Member

    Interesting debate, and I don’t think there’s any quick fix.

    It would be great for MTB to be seen more like other ‘similar’ mainstream outdoor pursuits (walking, skiiing, wild swimming, trail running, etc.) as just another (yes, even aspirational) way to access the best of what the ‘natural’ UK has to offer. I suspect (as mentioned above) that the biggest barrier to that is the current pretty negative portrayal of cycling as whole. I don’t imagine it helps that a lot of those who are even aware of MTB just see it as rude kids digging holes in the woods and scaring their dog/horse/granny as they wheelie past.

    While I do think we need at least some sort of loose national coalition of advocates and activists, I think there’s loads more to be at local level too. A neighbouring group of riders round here go out of their way to get in the local paper as often as they can with feel good stories (usually when they hit events like Boltby or Ard Rock as a ‘team’) and this is something I’d like to do with our crew as well. I think it’s a good apporach given the demographic that hits, who round here at least are the most vocal (and stickmanny) anti-bike noise. We could probably make better use of our ‘public’ Facebook presence in this respect too.

    My own view has been that MTB ought to be seen more like the stereotypical view of surfing – grizzled, chilled (old) dudes just in it for the vibes and flow. In tune with nature, always striving to find that perfect flow of singletrack that’s only ever just around the next corner. Hell, my Insta handle is Fat Tyre Surfer… Maybe for my generation that’s always been shaped by the gold-tinted stories from Repack BITD (but maybe they were also seen at that time as the loud, wheelying hooligans ripping up the Californian countryside?)

    If I was 18 again, I might have a different view, but that boat’s long sailed…

    And, FWIW, I quite (really) like Wild Cycling as a concept/label.

    mattsccm
    Free Member

    The above post has hit the nail on the head without realising it it. Wild swimming. WTF? Yet another new , glamourous term/niche. It is swimming. In a river or a pond or maybe a very big pond. What we do . It is nothing new. Why give it some special name and make it into a big thing?
    Apologies for spelling/punctuation, mildly pissed , just returned from a cycling club annual dinner where we were gobsmacked by a club member being best female in the GB endurothingy and telling us all about it.

    colournoise
    Full Member

    Why give it some special name and make it into a big thing?

    I guess because, like it or not, branding can be a big deal.

    If we want to remain a niche, relatively misunderstood, and unfairly maligned lifestyle choice then fair enough, let’s not look to change anything.

    I’d much rather we were understood, accepted and looked up to as a group of people who are into an accessible ‘hobby’ (much as I dislike that word), who want to be active, who want to access the outdoors, and who care about issues relevant to that and act responsibly as a result.

    If that means we have to rebrand to help ‘outsiders’ understand that, then IMO its a small price to pay.

    colournoise
    Full Member

    Plus, in the UK at least, Mountain Biking has always been a pretty crap label for what we do. Round here at least, Forest Biking would way more accurate for example…

    Admittedly, Medium Sized Muddy Hill Biking doesn’t roll off the tongue either.

    MrAgreeable
    Full Member

    What Hannah says. There’s also a huge issue with representation in mountain biking – few women, fewer PoC, almost no families. It just looks from the outside like a sport for well-off white men.

    luket
    Full Member

    … or why people drive 3hrs to Dyfi. Because they’re ****ing lazy.

    I spent yesterday at Dyfi, and it’s even further than that from my home. But I think “lazy” is a little unfair. For me, and I suspect for most, it’s a special occasion, maybe a couple of times a year big weekend away.

    Something I noticed while there though was a sense of a little bit more diversity. I think the existence of some “destinations” helps hugely with expanding the sport. If it’s all on a plate with a cafe etc too then it’s easier to get into.

    Lovely day by the way. Good weather for late November, the lunch and coffee were both excellent and the stove was on after.

    Edit: if my post seems to conflict with MrAgreeble above, that wasn’t my intention. I hadn’t read your post and I do agree with it.

    nickc
    Full Member

    I’ve thought for a long time now the barrier to mountain biking isn’t money or time (people will find the time for something they want to do, and they’ll find a way to pay for it as well.) No, the barrier to mountian biking is that it’s hard, it’s physically a difficult thing to do well, and folks (increasingly so in my opinion) don’t want to do it. It’s also partly why;

    how about a few more of those glossy skiing style stories about mountain biking?

    The comparison falls flat, skiing is not seen as difficult, skiing is glamorous; famous and shiny looking people go skiing, they glide down a groomed slope once or twice, have drinkies at the bar, and eat and drink themselves insensible back at the $5 million chalet with their equally shiny friends. It’s about as far removed from mountain biking as you could get.

    I recognise that it’s pessimistic, but I share @weeksy’s outlook, we’re barely tolerated in most places, I can’t see that changing anytime soon.

    scotroutes
    Full Member

    I barely recognise much of the conversation in this thread (and not because I’m currently nursing a hangover). My mountain biking is much closer to “hillwalking with bikes” and always has been. I see thousands of other folk taking the same approach every year; men and women of all ages, kids, family groups, they’re all around the place. You could sit with a bike counter on the Old Logging Way out of Aviemore on a busy day and count hundreds. Even in the supposedly shittier months there are scores of cyclists.

    When I’m out on my bike I might meet walkers, horse riders and even XC skiers. There’s rarely, if ever, any animosity (biking through cut XC ski trails has caused a bit of grief).

    And, as has been already pointed out in another thread, DMBinS have nothing to do with any of this. They’re very much concentrating on “built trails” whether that’s the Glentress honeypot or by the creation of Trail Associations, which are mostly about DH style trails in more anonymous forest. So don’t even suggest that they are in any way inclusive.

    tjagain
    Full Member

    I think “mountainbiking” has really split into two pastimes ( not “sports” unless you are racing) – the bridleway bimblers and the gnarly nutters

    As bikes have developed and become more able then on built trails obstacles have had to be made more difficult to keep the level of thrill the same. Then the bridleway bimblers no longer had the skills or courage to ride these trails leaving them for the gnarly nutters. Bikes have become so good that what was an interesting fun trail to ride on a rigid or 80mm rubber sprung hardtail on 2″ mahogany tyres becomes dull on a 5″ travel full sus with 2.5″ sticky tyres.

    To get back the fun on the bridleways now that you can hardly buy a rubbish MTB the bridleway bimblers have turned to gravel bikes as what is a ride in the park on your enduro sled becomes an entertaining challenge on a skinny tyred rigid bike further splitting the pastime.

    personally I came to MTBs via roughstuff on modified road bikes and then for access into the mountains but for me the joy is in getting out into the countryside and my bikes are a tool for this

    Another simile would be to think of bridleway bimblers like me see their bikes like a landrover – a tool for getting into the countryside and the gnarly nutters its more like a rally car – a tool to enjoy going as fast as you can on rough track.

    nidderdalenath
    Full Member

    JonEdwards here, here ! Well said.

    weeksy
    Full Member

    The fact that any of us are on here is indicative of our worlds. Kids don’t do forums. But I bet there’s more kids riding than gravel blokes today. We as stw see the old school picture bit that’s not today in society

    BadlyWiredDog
    Full Member

    I suggest that we need to reframe the image of mountain biking, shifting it from ‘dangerous sport’ to ‘fun activity’. Normalise it in this way, and we will have a broader range of participants that paves the way for more support right up to the most technical of trail options.

    We could call it ‘leisure cycling’?

    tjagain
    Full Member

    No, the barrier to mountian biking is that it’s hard, it’s physically a difficult thing to do well, and folks (increasingly so in my opinion) don’t want to do it.

    Only if you are a gnarly nutter. Being a bridleway bimbler is easy. I ain’t that fit and aint that skilled but a grand day out in the countryside is a fab pastime and well within my ability. No problem to ride 40 miles with thousands of feet of climbing all well away from any road and among the hills and mountains

    MrAgreeable
    Full Member

    Anyone who thinks purpose built trails with graded, accessible loops for all abilities are “exclusive” or “elitist” is talking absolute nonsense. There are groups of kids having birthday parties at Lady Cannings. A load of the current trail development in Aberdeenshire is aimed at broadening the offer there. There’s a new blue trail happening at Laggan. And DMBinS are involved in projects training up women and BME ride leaders, introducing people with mental health issues to mountain biking… What is people’s issue with a small organisation that’s delivering way more for the money than most?

    tjagain
    Full Member

    I don’t think many of us have much issue with them ( do we?) but that trail centres are a small % of MTBing in Scotland ridden by a small% of off road riders

    stwhannah
    Full Member

    I think some people are slightly missing part of the point about built trails. You can’t bimble on a bridleway if you live somewhere urban where there aren’t any. But it doesn’t take that much to create some trails in urban parks or wasteland, making riding a bike off road (whatever you want to call it) a more accessible and inclusive activity. Trail centres in more rural areas provide a further stepping stone to access. Bridleway bimbling is great, but for people who haven’t grown up with countryside access and knowing about how that all works, it can be a very alien and intimidating world.

    fossy
    Full Member

    I’ve done a fair amount of damage to myself road biking in the past – most of it commuting with stupid drivers. That said, my last ride on the MTB resulted in my mate getting 4 broken ribs and a punctured lung – took a grassy and rutted descent near Caerwys (Clywdian range) way too quickly and the front wheel bogged down.

    Fortunately no MTB accidents this year but a nasty scar on my are from a road bike fall in the summer.

    tjagain
    Full Member

    You can’t bimble on a bridleway if you live somewhere urban where there aren’t any.

    I live right in a dense city and have a lot of urban singletrack I can ride much of it created by local kids on cheap MTBs. Its astonishing how much there is if you go looking and I would bet my house all urban areas are the same. Certainly manchester and Sheffield have some.

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