Riding the English Lake District with Acre Supply

Apr 3, 2014
by Andy Waterman  
 
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The English Lake district has always been a magnet for adventurers and artists, from William Worsdworth whose poetry was largely inspired by Lakeland's wild terrain, to George Mallory, who in the course of scaling the area's 3000ft peaks found the confidence to tackle Everest in 1924. It took 12 years for his body to be found; whether he reached the summit is still a matter of debate.

More recently Lakeland inspired the writer and illustrator Alfred Wainwright, whose intricately hand written and illustrated guides to Lakeland Fells are a mainstay of any British outdoorsman's book collection.

For mountain bikers, the region poses a wealth of challenges, from wild, high mountain passes to marginally more tame lakeside singletrack, and in recent years, two well regarded trail centres. So, when Lyle Barton of Acre Supply, the new MTB wing of respected US pack and apparel brand Mission Workshop emailed me to tell me he was flying to England and wanted to ride, there was only one place on the list: the Lake District.

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  There's no shortage of weather in the Lake District

I thought he'd like it. In Acre's short history they've created a catalogue of epic rides across Switzerland, Germany and the Lakes seemed to continue the theme of big terrain, natural trails and adventure.

One thing you can always guarantee in a region that butts prominently into the Irish Sea is weather – it changes rapidly and unpredictably, and it's always there, waiting for you over the next hill. I picked Lyle up in London on Sunday evening - spring was in the air and the temperature was nudging 20deg. By Tuesday lunchtime, when we found ourselves hiking up Helvellyn, the third highest peak in the Lakes, winter was back with a vengence, the temperature hovering around freezing, the wind howling through the saddle in the hills blowing a stinging hail into our exposed faces as we climbed.

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  Sheep farming has shaped Lakeland, the lack of trees making it feel much higher in elevation than it is

Even for a native it's hard to believe you're only two days and 250 miles north of sunny London; for Lyle, freshly arrived from California it must have come as quite a surprise.

We started our trip with a loop that incorporated the Nan Bield Pass, a legendary trail known best for its picturesque switchbacks. The route I'd plotted in advance and plugged into my Garmin promised 15.5 miles and 4000 feet of descending (and what goes down…). We started in Kentmere, crossed the hill to the Gatesgarth Pass and started climbing. When we reached a false flat, we peeled off, following a faint trail across the moors into nothing but bog and wet socks.

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  We rode across a plain to a bothy, accessible only by human power

It was worth the hike. We reached a summit and an American Prairie stretched out in front of us, no sign on human existence on the horizon.

Further on we discovered a bothy - a traditional unmanned lodging, accessible only by foot or bike, and open to anyone who happens to find themselves in the hills. You can camp there, indoors, away from the weather, light a fire in the stove and cook whatever food you've brought with you - a true retreat.

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  We went into the bothy - they're open to all - and Lyle read the guest book.

When you create routes for yourself, combining Google Earth and maps, you can't guarantee that what you'll find on the ground will be worth riding, but that's all part of the adventure. And for every disappointment, it seems to you strike gold: a perfect ribbon of technical, flowing singletrack with views to die for. The descent down to Haweswater Reservoir through the disused mine buildings of Mardale Common was just such a thing - fast, unexpected and complex. The riding was fun, but even better was the satisfaction that the route was living up to promises I'd made to Lyle in the car - that this would be the best riding England has to offer. It really is.

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  The final push up to the Nan Bield Pass

We climbed the 1200ft to the pass of Nan Bield in cold, and getting colder, conditions. At the summit, we hid in a stone shelter and Lyle opened the emergency pork pie - imagine the worst bits of pig, scraped straight from the abattoir floor, encased in jelly, then pastry, and you'll have some idea of this English delicacy. He didn't look impressed, but calories, bro, calories.

The descent from the highest point of the day finished the ride in spectacular fashion. Pictures of Nan Bield make it look like a perfectly built MTB trail, but on the ground, it's rough as hell and the corners are awkward, with rocks in all the wrong places, and radii that are just too tight to ride smoothly. It's equal parts fun and frustration and that's the story with natural trails - you find yourself hucking off rocks one minute, feeling like a superhero, then seconds later you roll into a section where there's no obvious line and end up walking.

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  The famous switchbacks on the Nan Bield Pass - they're not as easy to ride as they look

Acre Supply started business in 2013, launching with a range of packs and apparel. It seems like an interesting - strange, even - decision for Mission Workshop, a fashionable urban cycling brand to move into mountain biking. "For us it's actually a full circle", says Lyle. "Twenty years ago our founder Mark, was following the mountain bike racing scene around the US in a van. So this is something he wanted to do for a long time - we want to make gear that we use in our daily life, whether that's on the trail or in town."

Coming from an urban background, it's noticeable that Acre's got a distinctly different, more mature aesthetic to much of the MTB market. The colours are muted, the silhouette slimmer and the marketing material is more about the riding than the personalities.

"Yeah, you'll see our logos are very subtle, and we try and make products that you can use for multiple things" Lyle explains. "You can wear the jacket on the bike or around town, going to the airport and multiple things, even though it's a technical jacket. People buying into our brand know that it's going to last a long time, it's made of really great materials and it's something they can use for multiple things. And everything is made in North America."

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  The tool wrap that comes with Acre's Hauser pack is really good

I spent the time in the Lake District riding with Acre's larger 14l Hauser pack. I was impressed - it's comfortable, lighter than it looks and I was able to pack a camera in it no problem. I could even get a 13in MacBook Pro in there, making it pretty useable away from the trails too.

"We are a niche brand anyway, but I think we saw a gap: no one is making packs in North America, that are weatherproof and have a lifetime guarantee - that doesn't exist. So for us it was a natural choice", Barton explains.

Lifetime guarantees are kinda rare in mountain biking - like any industry, this is a business built on selling new stuff, all the time, so gear that could potentially last forever is uncommon. Using materials like merino, which can be worn day after day without beginning to stink is another example of the buy less, but buy well mentality. And when you're doing big trips or you're on the road full time as Lyle is, having less to carry is always good.

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  Lyle Barton - a long way from California

"We tested this stuff a lot last summer, and this is kinda gross, but Dan Barham did the whole Trans Provence route, six days of riding, without washing his merino shirt and he never really smelled. So that's definitely a product you can use day after day for multiple things. We try to use the best materials we can, that have a story behind them and are functional."

Acre's take on what mountain biking is, at least as judged by their ads and marketing materials, seems to coincide what I love about the sport – big mountains, wild terrain and using modern enduro type bikes for more than just going fast and having fun, but actually having real adventures.

"Mountain biking is so many different things", says Lyle. "I'm not a racer, but I like to ride gnarlier, big mountain stuff, or pack up and head out into the mountains for three or four days and camp out, and we want to create stuff you can use for all those things."

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  Climbing up towards Helvellyn, the summit shrouded in cloud

Coming from California, with its droughts and sunshine, it's lucky that Barton spends a lot of time on the road and gets to test Acre product in conditions like we experienced in the Lake District.

"It's fun to come over and ride in different conditions", he says. "And it's not just the weather, its the rocks and the gnarliness. You guys don't maintain your trails so they're super rough. It's good to test, when you fall down and be like, oh, my jacket didn't rip. The riding here in the Lake District was a little steeper than I expected it to be - it's not super high elevation, but you go straight up and straight down. It was rockier and more fun than I expected it to be. It was really eye opening."

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  The last part of the descent of Stick's Pass gets steep and super rocky

Both Lyle and I rode long travel 29ers in the Lakes, him on a Santa Cruz Tallboy LTc and me on an Orange Five 29. The big wheels were awesome on the steep, unpredictable and rocky trails we rode – the 29in wheels just rolled over stuff before our brains had the chance to get us in trouble. Lyle's been riding the Tallboy for a year now and clearly feels at home on it: "I really need to say thank you to Santa Cruz and SRAM because they really hooked me up with the best bike possible. I can ride cross country stuff in California and come over here and ride big mountains, it's the perfect bike for sure."

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  A long travel 29er like the Tallboy LTc is a perfect bike for the Lake District

For our second day of riding we were joined by Sammy Smithson of Stif, the Yorkshire based bike shop.

We had a handful of options for routes, but all started in the small village of Glenridding, and included Helvellyn, which at 3100ft is the highest point you can legally ride to in England. We started the ride up in the rain, and by the time we reached the ridge that takes you to the summit, rain had turned to sleet and the wind was howling. What's more, the route to the summit was still blocked by snow. There aren't many places where you feel quite so exposed at less than 3000ft elevation as you do in the Lakes. We decided at that point that gaining any more elevation was a bad idea, so turned right and rode along the ridge to meet up with the Stick's Pass, an old trail that would take us back to the village.

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We stopped at the top to put on dry gloves. It was freezing, big patches of snow still covered the trail and the wind was still roaring, but at least it was behind us now. The trail though - wow. It descends alongside a stream for the first part, rocks everywhere, then into an abandoned quarry, where the rocks proliferate and the gradient steepens and you find yourself holding your breath, you're concentrating so hard on not going over the bars.

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  Sammy Smithson from Stif ripping through the cold on Helvellyn

In the village we stopped for coffee, freezing but stoked to have made it off the mountain without crashes or mechanicals. We had one more loop to do after lunch, following the lakeside singletrack around Ullswater. I promised Sammy and Lyle an easy XC loop, and for some reason they believed me. Twenty minutes later we had our bikes on our shoulders again, hiking up another climb.

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  Fuelling up for the final descent after two days of awesome riding

The final descent of the trip, from Boredale Hause to Patterdale, was worth every second of hiking we'd done, a glorious mess of rocks, drops, switchbacks and line choices. It was awesome. We drove back to London that evening, pumped on mountains, maps and adventure. That's what mountain biking's all about; it's what Acre's all about too.

Find out more acre-supply.com
Ride our routes: Day one - Nan Bield Pass, Day two - Helvellyn
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42 Comments

  • + 15
 It's actually an amazing place to ride. I've been here for 2 years and before that I was in whistler. Obviously, it can't really compare to that but I am still blown away by the quality of riding here and the scenery is beautiful. It's just you don't often see it because of the weather!
  • + 3
 Yeah the lakes are great for riding, I love how rugged the countryside is & the weather just adds to the 'out in the wilderness' experience!
  • + 5
 Im from Northumberland (just east of the lakes) and rode in the Lake District at lot when I was younger, still do when I get the chance, I have ridden in BC, Vancouver Island, all over Scotland, South of France, Swiss alps, lived in the Slovenian Alps and currently live in the French alps... However whenever anyone ever asks me where is the best for riding I will always come back with The Lake District, no doubt about it!
  • + 1
 Took my mega there last summer, what a place! Twas the first visit to the lakes for myself, and what a pleasure! Amazing riding with loads of really rocky descents Just the view gets ruined by the clouds!
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  • + 3
 Langdales is more picturesque and less carrying if you prefer, we were riding around Elterwater last night, great rocky tech fest! Best thing about the Lakes is how grippy it is, there was a hint of rain in the air all night but got up the rocks no problem on the trusty hardtail and got back to the Britannia Inn with dry feet! The beer and chip butties were very tasty Smile
  • + 2
 The Britania is excellent! It always seems to come right at the right time in a ride, about 35 miles in to the 50 miler we always do.
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  • + 5
 It's great living in the lakes, think ill have tomorrow off work and go ride over ullswater way.
  • + 1
 Off up sticks pass ourselves tomorrow!
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  • + 2
 I live in the Lakes and ride a couple of times a week so I know the area quite well. But as I was looking at the photos I was thinking, "I need to go ride those trails again! What am I doing sitting here?"

As was mentioned, the weather is... variable. Last August I paused during one of the many hike-a-bikes on the approach to Helvellyn, turned my back to the wind-driven rain coming in from the side and wondered why we were doing this. After straining to catch a glimpse of my riding companions behind me, I got all my layers out of my pack including a windproof beanie and winter gloves and tried to get them on before the wind blew them beyond reach. Did I mention that it was August?!

I'm not complaining, it's part of the adventure that is riding in the Lakes. I hesitate to use the term, but the riding is truly epic.
  • + 2
 I wore two waterproof jackets when we went up Helvellyn, and after two years sitting in my pack, I finally had to put the latex gloves I've been dragging around to good use - so, so cold. Love it though, I always wonder if it would actually feel a bit tame if it was warm and sunny
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  • + 5
 Wow - all these posts talking about the region and riding bikes, and none bitching about wheel size. Where am I?
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  • + 4
 the lakes nearly killed me off, experienced sun, rain, snow, hail, gale force winds all in 1 ride but my god what a place!!!
  • + 2
 They actually nearly killed me. We went on a day ride and got mega lost. It got dark, we had no lights, no food and had to drink stream water. Eventually made it back to the van 10 hours later after carrying our bikes over unrideable terrain. Plan well guys.
  • + 2
 naa, thats just a successful ride in the lakes for most
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  • + 7
 Man I love pork pies
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  • + 4
 Want to ride in the Lakes? Give us a shout www.rootsmtb.com
We will show you all of these amazing rocky challenging routes and more!
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  • + 1
 The Lakes District doesn't look like an overly glamourous place to visit and go riding but I did get that longing for a mountain bike adventure from reading the article. Thanks!
  • + 7
 Glamorous definitely isn't the right word for the Lakes haha, but I think you go more for the epic scenery and challenging riding, i don't think the photos here quite do it justice to be honest!
  • + 3
 Oh, there are glamorous views and epic scenery there. Sellafield for example.
  • + 4
 I lived in the Lakes for a few years; the scenery is epic and surreal, such an amazing place.

p.s. Sellafield is not inside the Lake District National Park... Razz
  • + 0
 i hope the radioacivity respects the boundries
  • + 2
 Merely stating a fact mate Smile

Sellafield cannot be "viewed" from the Lake District.
  • + 1
 of course not if you are blind or look east.

www.go4awalk.com/userpics/gerryball57.php
  • + 1
 haha, fair enough. Big Grin
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  • + 1
 Sitting in Florida right now, and it was HOT today. Trails here are almost a joke, these pics make me long for an all-day epic in the wilderness. Looks amazing!
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  • + 0
 I don't tend to choose my riding locations on how glamourous they are Razz As bad as the weather may look, the photos wouldn't look anywhere near as epic if it was clear blue sky!
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  • + 3
 What a place! Never been there but looks amazing to me..
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  • + 1
 i live round this area and does anyone know any good spots in the lakes for downhill
  • + 1
 I know plenty if you want to message me!
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  • + 1
 Can't help but think this is a bit of an advert for Santa Cruz bikes tall boy …
  • + 3
 I can see where your coming from Slash9, but considering how much free video, write ups and photo epics and the quality that is exhibited - its a small price to pay.
  • + 1
 The nail has been struck upon its noggin. Yeah I know - I'm happy they put this stuff out by all means. It just makes me smile to myself when they add stuff like that, but that's exactly what they want isn't it. Looks amazing where they are though. No massive motorway trails there!
  • + 1
 Wanna go riding next Thursday?
  • + 2
 Okay, meet at North Gong Surf Club 8am then spin up to Brokers, head over to mt Wonoona then link up at Bulli Downhill for a few runs.
  • + 1
 Was more directed at Slash9, buttt.... flights are booked now, see you at 8!
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  • + 1
 was lucky enough to have a ride in the lakes 3 years ago, fantastic!
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  • + 1
 Awesome, i wanna ride in the lakes so bad
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  • + 0
 The only time I miss home is when I see photos like this! The lake district is such an awesome place to live/ride!
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  • + 1
 WooHoo ! Home's on PB again !
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  • + 1
 Best place on earth
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  • - 2
 If I have to carry my bike im out!
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