Established in a pub near the Welsh/English border in 1955, The Rough Stuff Fellowship is the oldest off-road club in the world. For those cyclists who "enjoy byways and tracks" the club is made up of men and women, young and old. Their adventures across the UK and the world, slogging through snow in the Lake District, the Cairngorms or Brecon Beacons to further afield in Switzerland and Italy in the 1960's, talented photographers have documented their journeys.
The club recently appointed an archivist, and the photos, hand-drawn maps and memories poured in – an unexpected treasure trove of incredible value and beauty. The club recently started sharing the photos that document a bygone age of adventuring by bike across the globe from the past 60+ years on an Instagram page. Not only is the archive full of beautiful pictures, it is also of historical significance. Among many foreign trips, RSF members completed the first known traverse by bicycle of Iceland’s mountainous interior, in 1958. In their own quiet, very British way, these men and women were pioneers, pedalling and carrying their bikes and pitching their tents where angels feared to tread.
"The photos are full of the joy of riding your bike, and evocative of a bygone style – of a time when you might set off on a club ride wearing a shirt and tie, a deerstalker or a bobble hat, and no ride was complete without a stop to brew up some tea and smoke a pipe."
The origins of the RSF date back to the growth of motor traffic in the 1950's which provided the impetus to go off road riding to escape traffic. The term rough stuff evolved in the early part of the 20th century to describe the contrast to the smooth stuff (tarmac) what was being put down all over the country and goes back to the early days of cycling when everything was rough stuff. The club is about enjoying the countryside and not battling against it on downhill bikes or going to purpose built trail centres and looking at segments or competitive times. Some routes involve extended sections on foot and that is embraced. As Tim Hughes, the editor of the Cyclists Touring Club (CTC) magazine in the 1980's once said " to the true rough stuff cyclist there is no such thing as a dead end!"
"Ah the RSF" an elderly ex-cyclist commented upon seeing my badge "are they still going? I remember them in the 50's - tough wiry riders to whom no path or track was off limits. Did it all on traditional tourers. No mountain bikes in them days. I rode with them once... never again! We waded through bogs, were chased by a gamekeeper and I returned home with a buckled wheel and rear mech that was never the same again" The RSF promotes responsible access to the countryside and have a Code of Practice that all members are asked to adhere to.
The clubs membership traditionally came from the Cyclists Touring Club (CTC) and has always been primarily based in the North of the UK with Lancashire being the main hub. They don't call themselves a mountain bike club because of the wide range of cycling that members partake in from lanes, towpaths, and mountain trails. The club use an eclectic mix of machines that have always been used by members and is what sets them apart from other clubs, it is not unusual to see Bromptons, steel touring bikes and full suspension mountain bikes together on a group ride. There are some comical references to the club in magazines of stories of riders from the club doing epic adventures over a pass in places like Scotland which were met with response letters suggesting that it was not what bikes are meant for.
In the past few years we've seen a revival of adventure and exploration riding with more and more people venturing off road and taking unknown paths on mountain and gravel bikes, bike-packing too is very on trend all following in the tyre tracks of the RSF.
The club produce a a bi-monthly A5 publication called the Rough Stuff Journal consisting of route details and the activities of members which showcases the diversity of riding within the club. Read one of the journals here.
Read more about the Rough Stuff Fellowship on their Website and see more photos from the RSF archive on their Instagram page.