Pictures: Urban route provides new challenge for city’s cyclists

Sheffield Urban Cyclo Cross at Park Hill Flats: rider gets back on her bike after the steps
Sheffield Urban Cyclo Cross at Park Hill Flats: rider gets back on her bike after the steps

First official Brompton race forms key part of Park Hill Cyclo Cross event.

“I’ve only ridden one for about 100 yards up to now,” said John Stanworth, eyeing his daughter’s pink Brompton bicycle before setting off on a practice lap up and down Park Hill’s brutalist steps, and gritty footpaths. “But it’ll be fine.”

The north of England’s first official Brompton race was a key part of this year’s Park Hill Urban Cyclo Cross event on the regenerating Urban Splash development.

Sponsors of the Brompton race JE James Cycles said they hoped the event would now become a regular feature of Sheffield’s Urban Cyclo Cross series.

“Everyone flooded to the barriers to see it,” said John Elliss of JE James. “There were people running then racing off up the hill on a folding bike in a tweed jacket or shirt and tie - you can’t get better than that,” he enthused.

The British made Brompton is a world leader in folding commuter bicycles, and the famous Brompton race in London sees scores of smartly-dressed enthusiasts racing their tiny-wheeled bikes merrily around the city. (There’s a strict ‘no lycra’ rule in Brompton racing, and jackets and ties were compulsory in the early events).

But in Sheffield, the race also included sharp inclines and twisty circuits around the Park Hill phase 2 development site, along with ramps, hurdles and several flights of concrete steps to carry your bicycle up and down.

“And it had been raining,” noted John Elliss. “The Sheffield Brompton race is 100% unique. This one’s for really hardcore Brompton riders, because we’re tougher up here.”

The Urban Cyclo Cross series is also pretty unique, said organiser Adam Simmonite, with its aim of bringing traditional cyclo cross racing from muddy fields into gritty urban streetscapes like Park Hill, Kelham Island and on September 9th, the tracks and terraced grassland around Attercliffe’s Olympic Legacy Park.

“It’s all done out of passion really, we don’t make a profit,” Adam said of an event that includes his whole family and a team of volunteers marshalling the course, organising registration and baking rider refreshments.

“But I think it is contributing to getting more people to cycle or getting into cycle sport. I see it as an exciting melting pot of what’s great about Sheffield, and we’re always looking out for new sponsors and new venues to keep Urban Cyclo Cross growing.”

Plans for next year include a festival at Park Hill while building work on phase 2 is going on, with a shorter racing circuit, but with the addition of free running, trials riding and parkour events.

And Adam is in discussions with John Lewis about a cycling hill climb - inside the store’s multi-storey car park.

“My idea is to hold an event after the car park closes on a summer evening, with a timed hill climb including single speed and folding bike categories along with food and music and a light show, all linking in with the aims of the BID and promoting Sheffield city centre. It could be great.”

He said he hoped the city’s sport cycling events over July would inspire local people and companies to get involved in the free ‘Cycle September’ cycling promotion programme run by UCX co-sponsors Love to Ride.

The cyclists certainly appeared to be loving their ride last weekend, hurtling up and down Park Hill’s inner city commuter routes, with several hundred competitors and fans travelling to the races from all over the north.

“Events like this give people a way in to give cycling a go,” said John Elliss, adding that JE James are seeing an increase in local people commuter cycling, especially with the rise of interest in electric-assisted bikes, which now make up close to half the store’s sales. Any kind of cycling is good for public health, he said.

“With an event like the Urban Cyclo Cross, you’re showing people why cycling is fun first, then the fitness will come along with it.”

Pro rider Andy Bishop from the Andy Moore Race Team sailed in as victor of the Brompton race, complete with dapper waistcoat and tie.

“It was great,” he said. “And for the record, I was wearing this before Gareth Southgate.”