Sheffield BMX track becomes lockdown success story

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Image caption,
Bolehills BMX track opened in 1983

From perfecting your banana bread to taking up a new hobby, the coronavirus pandemic has seen people trying all manner of new things.

In one corner of Sheffield a dusty BMX track has become a magnet for hundreds, with one rider saying the circuit had seen "three years wear in just one year".

Bolehills BMX track is a series of twists, turns and jumps nestled at the bottom of a hill in the north west of the city.

Built in 1983 between the suburbs of Walkely and Crookes, in the past four decades it has been a hangout for those seeking an adrenalin rush and a proving ground for a number of talented young riders, as well as Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders.

But since last March, and over the course of three lockdowns, it has become a place of escape for more than just the thrill-seekers.

Dave Camus, one of a number of passionate BMXers who help to maintain the track, said the site had been "buzzing every day".

The type of people visiting had become more "diverse", he said, and the track "the busiest I've ever seen it".

"Normally you'd get loads of university students up here but it's been kids, older people, parents," he said.

He said the "biking boom" has seen more people choosing to get on a bike, rather than going to the pub or shopping at nearby Meadowhall.

Image caption,
One rider said the track at Bolehills in Crookes was "the reason to live in Sheffield"

Among those to have made the most of Bolehills during the pandemic is 77-year-old mountain biker Pat Horscroft.

She said she had been using the track to sharpen her skills for when she can finally return to riding holidays in Europe.

"Although I will never be jumping like the lads, it's just really good for learning skills that translate to mountain biking," she said.

Image caption,
Pat Horscroft, 77, said she uses the track to sharpen her mountain biking skills

She is well aware she is among the older people using the track but says she feels as welcome there as anyone.

"Age isn't a thing for me at all. I may say what age I am but I have no idea what that actually feels like," she said.

"I've always been into sport - I'm a black belt in Judo - so that's me basically, just get on with it."

Image caption,
The track is built on land owned by Sheffield City Council

Lucy Follett said the track has been "a life-saver" for her over lockdown, giving her somewhere to take her one-year-old son after all the indoor venues were forced to close.

"It's the reason to live in Sheffield. To have a facility like this, that's outdoors, where you can safely socially distance and keeps kids entertained," she said.

Sue Foong, 36, said her five-year-old daughter Arianne has enjoyed "building up her confidence in cycling" at the track.

"She's just getting an idea of moving up and down hills. She comes with her friend who's four-and-a-half and he's a lot more daring," she said.

"I don't think you get many places like this."

Image caption,
Sue Foong and her daughter Arianne are among those to have used the track

Hanna Jonsson, 31, who moved to Sheffield from Sweden a few years ago, said it was an "amazing" track and had also given her the chance to meet other people.

"You can be a complete beginner or an expert at this kind of riding and you come here and you can still have a great time," she said.

"Having a spot like this in the city centre gets young people out of the house. It's somewhere to hang out with your mates, make new friends."

British Cycling said it was "fantastic" to see participation in BMX continuing to grow, adding it was working with Sheffield City Council to create more opportunities for budding riders.

Image caption,
Dave Camus said parts of the track were in need of resurfacing

But its popularity has come at a price, and volunteers are asking new users to donate to the upkeep, with parts of the track in need of resurfacing.

Mr Camus said: "At the end of 2020, after all the use, I reckon we've had three years of wear in one year.

"People have been telling us they've come up here to teach their kids PE lessons."

"It's continuing as well. It's not just now we're out of lockdown and it's quiet again, it's still buzzing every day. It's so good to see it busy."

He said the track would always welcome new riders.

"The amount of love that goes into this place is massive," he said.

"We love it down here, and that love radiates."

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