I'm not the kind of person to court controversy, on the whole. Heck, I drive a seven year old diesel Skoda estate and would happily keep my money under the mattress if I could find one that paid enough interest. Seb's the name, sensible's the game. Must be getting old.
But this picture was one of a series shot for MBUK that sparked a furious reaction from some quarters. Rob Jarman, an experienced mountain biker and all-round outdoor athlete, had hatched a plan to carry his bike up Great Gable in the Lake District National Park and then ride it down a scree slope that's used by climbers accessing the crags. Why? Because he reckoned it was possible. Now I'm a sucker for new ideas, so my natural curiosity easily overcame the little voice in the back of my head whispering 'you really shouldn't, you know'...
This shot was one of the last I took, after a nearly two hour wait halfway down the descent for the sun to appear below a stubborn ridge of cloud on the horizon. The scree became so steep and the rocks so large beyond this point that we were reduced to walking again, and by the time we reached the bottom the sun had dipped well below the horizon.
'Irresponsible' was one of the more polite responses being bandied about. On the face of it, it wasn't a great idea. What were we thinking, riding off trail... in a (sharp intake of breath) National Park? At risk of provoking similarly reactionary responses all over again, allow me to respond to some of the criticism and put the case for the defence:
1. It was reckless and dangerous
Not at all. Rob's one of the most level-headed and skilled bike handlers I know, so I was confident he wouldn't take unnecessary risks. As an experienced climber he also knew the route we were taking inside out. And we brought along his army-trained climbing partner with ropes, harnesses, survival gear and the kitchen sink, just in case. Safety was our primary concern.
2. It gave mountain biking a bad name
A matter of opinion. In circles for whom mountain biking is the devil's work, it simply confirmed old prejudices. Looked at objectively, it's freeriding. For the rest of the population, it's just a mountain bike being ridden in the mountains.
3. It damaged a sensitive environment
Not really. The scree slope Rob rode is a frequently used access route for climbers. Rolling through it on a bike caused no more damage than walking up (or down) it in a pair of size 10 walking boots - something that happens hundreds of times through the course of a year.
4. It set a bad example
Debatable. Anyone wanting to copy Rob would have to dismantle their bike, carry it to the top of a 3000 foot mountain, scramble down an unmarked gully and reassemble it before riding down a frankly terrifyingly steep, rubble-strewn slope. It's hard to see how anyone would think it's a good idea, let alone worth the effort.
I realise, of course, that none of this is likely to convince the sceptics. But, on balance, it's not something I regret doing. Would I do it again? Ah, well... that's a whole different question...