Scrambling down Barn Hill

Steve Windsor was head over heels in love with downhill biking…

BMX bicycles have come and gone… and come back again. It’s now quite common to see ‘Bicycle Motor Cross’ courses set up in park playgrounds. Many children now adopt the helmet, gauntlets, knee pads and other necessary equipment, and ride properly designed bikes. They even join clubs.

Back in the late 60s we had none of these niceties. I lived on a high hill overlooking Wembley Stadium, so going out on my bike often started with a rush down to the shops and finished with a drag back up the hill – and always on the pavement, never the dangerous road.

Worse than that, the hill continued and got steeper. I had friends and relations who lived at the top of the hill and they were usually visited on foot. I had another friend a few miles downhill on the flat and 1 did cycle there, and on many occasions all over the suburban area, reaching Harrow-on-the-Hill on one memorable expedition. But I still had to push the bike back up my hill.
My bike was a small but rather flash American cycle, inherited from our endlessly kind neighbours. Joe was based at Eastcote -then a US airbase – while his miniscule wife Nancy, was Welsh.

Many were the imported delights they introduced me to, including my first Coca Cola.

The bike was often in bits, however, especially after I briefly acquired a larger stolen bike, which we had found and dutifully handed in at the police station, reclaiming it after the statutory period. This was a problem when another lad – the rightful owner -spotted it and it had to be returned to him.

I didn’t really ride bikes much after that. Not until the mid-80s mid-life crisis… I’d outgrown my 24-inch American job (which was still in bits anyway).

It must have been tough though, that American bike. Come to think of it, so must I. At the very top of our hill was Barn Hill common. It had a dew pond, which I fished and rode my cycle through, legs raised to the side.

Whereas our side of the hill was densely populated with Betjeman-like suburban palaces, the other side was wild tussocky open common land with a few steep footpaths worn through.

It was here, though we didn’t know it, that we inaugurated BMX. We had seen hours of Scrambling – motorbikes racing through the mud – on the BBC. I think that’s what influenced us to attempt these bouncy paths flat-out on a bike.

As 1 recall, falling off, as we frequently did, was half the fun, with the soft clumps of grass to land in. You quietly prayed that no one was walking up the other way and that you missed the sparse hawthorn bushes.

No safety equipment, but lots of health as we charged blindly down the hill – then walked, hauling our bikes, slowly back up again.

• Tell us about your memories of epic cycling journeys.