Catch 22

Peak District MTB have today launched a campaign to increase the rideable rights of way in the Peak District by 100%.

Comparing the national average of 22% of rights of way being bridleways to the Peak District’s paltry 11%, PDMTB have targeted adding another 220 kilometres of rideable paths to the rights of way network in the Peak.

It’s not an easy task. Finding the paths we all want to ride is easy. Getting the rights in place is a damn sight harder.

It’s not just the Peak District National Park who need to be on side, but the landowners and then the local councils.

Now thankfully. those local councils all have commitments in their rights of way plans to increase the amount of bridleways in their areas so it should be a pretty simple task to get things in place. Local councils are brilliant at keeping to their promises. Fingers crossed.

Get behind it

It’s a great campaign and bravo to PDMTB for pushing it. On the back of the Glover Report and alongside the huge increase in people riding, walking and horse-riding in the Peak District it makes perfect sense. Doubling the places people can ride will, arguably, halve the impact of riding over the patch. Halve the potential for conflict. Halve the rider impact on the rights of way network.

It’s a brilliant no brainer.

It’s a long play though. Unless, through the campaign, PDMTB can find some very friendly landowners it’s going to be a real campaign. A slog. A ton of hard work from just a voluntary group

But nothing worthwhile ever came easy. Bravo to PDMTB for taking on the tough fight.

So let’s get behind it.

Let’s go after that doubling of the rights of way for bikes.

 

 

 

10,000 feet

“Walkers who had encounters with bike riders were more positive about the experience than those who had not had such encounters”

Hardiman & Burgin, 2013

Quite. And such was the feeling after the inaugural Be Nice, Tread light meeting hosted by Ride Sheffield in Ringinglow earlier this month.

There’s been a tangible friction between user groups for many years. Walkers v. bikes v. horse riders v. fell runners v. dog walkers….the list goes on. And the advent of social media seems to have given people licence to inflate that feeling significantly.

Despite the good behaviour, improvements and examples of good practice in real life: you don’t have to look far online to find finger pointing, blame and whataboutery in the not-even-that-dark corners of the internet when it comes to talk about trails.

So it was a welcome change to get face to face with other groups over a beer and crisps. It’s been a long time coming. Hopefully there will be more.

The meeting was well attended and it became pretty clear, pretty early on that we all share the same love of the outdoors, the same aims for protecting the places we go and the same desire to enjoy it responsibly. Notable contributions were made from the horse riders there and the walkers, with stalwart of the outdoors, Rambler Terry Howard making the acute observation that the access to outdoors spaces we know and love were first won over by the people, for the people. It’s certainly a noble thought and one that everyone in the room agreed with.

Despite early tribalism in how we were sitting we soon moved around and got stuck into a good discussion about how we can improve things. It was interesting to be sitting on the same table as people who live at Redmires – and immediately there were lessons to learn from them.

But were all the right people in the room?

It’s a constant challenge and one that sucks the energy from any of us involved in advocacy: that echo chamber thing – the people we talk to about advocacy  are the very people who will do that anyway. This blog is as guilty of that as anything. You guys get the advocacy thing.

As mountain bikers ‘doing’ advocacy we scratch the surface of the population we really need to get to. Where are the people we don’t reach? They’re likely out riding. And who can blame them? That’s not to say we shouldn’t carry on; more that we together have to work out a way to get that message out there in a way which doesn’t simply bring the shutters down with people telling us to bore off.

Bun fight

In an hour and a half of good-hearted debate broad agreement was reached in how we can begin to work together. It certainly wasn’t the bun fight it could have been – but maybe that’s what was (or still is) needed to some extent? An opportunity for the various groups to bring up the challenges, regular tropes and criticisms to have that cathartic clearing of the air.

But then maybe we don’t need it. I’m looking forward to seeing the promise of collaborative networks forming.

Working on the Cut Gate activity, it was a joy to see those various, previously-perceived-as-opposing user groups coalesce around the desire to improve the path. Sitting, late at night – much as I am now – writing the words “Collaboration, conservation, action?” on a document, I never knew whether anyone read it, let alone it turn it into a huge focus of positive activity across the very same user groups who were present at the meeting, which eventually delivered some £74,000 to the campaign with the brilliant support of Moors for the Future. Si said it when he talked about our Cut Gate work at the meeting; we’ve never seen any combined, collaborative effort like that – Christ, me and Si even ended up taking it to the Houses of Parliament with the Peak Park – and now is the time to find the next thing to go after.

Perhaps just getting on, killing off the stupid online tit for tat is that next big challenge.

So, Be Nice, type light.

A good step, trot and pedal in the right direction. Let’s see it translate to action on and offline.

 

(The pic, by the way, is from a Peaks Pootle. Once upon a time I organised novice rides in the Peak District. The atmosphere was friendly, nice, helpful and supportive. Seemed appropriate. I’ll organise more.)

Cut Gate: time to get cracking

The work on Cut Gate is going to start this winter and should be completed before nesting season next year.

After the mountain bike community started the discussion about Cut Gate, we’ve had a funny old journey to finally getting spades into the ground and helicopters going up in the air.

In the time since we started the campaign, me and Si from 18 Bikes as well as the top folks at Peak District MTB and Ride Sheffield have presented to the local access forum, talked to countless companies about sponsorship, run raffles, quiz nights, campaigned for European funding and we’ve even been to the Houses of Parliament with the mountain bike advocacy story.

It’s been a right old ride.

And now the ride over Cut Gate is set to get better – year round. The details of the planned work can be found on Ride Sheffield’s page after Si went up there yesterday to talk it all through with the excellent Moors for the Future and other interested groups.

Needless to say, we’re really happy that it’s going to be in keeping with exactly what we hoped and what you told us you wanted. Terra Firma are old hands at the best moorland work of this kind too so it’s ace that they’re contracted to do the work.

This was a campaign started by and for mountain bikers.

Well done folks.

See you up there in the spring.

Third time lucky?

To say I’m stoked to be a finalist in the Singletrack Reader Awards 2019 is a understatement.

I’ve been doing this for a few years now – hoping to help riders have a good ride while looking after the Peak District . In The last few years it’s grown a bit bigger with KoftheP being seen as a voice for mountain bike advocacy in some pretty unexpected places – this year has been crazy.

But still, day in, day out you lot are sharing your updates and letting other riders know where’s good to ride and where’s best avoided. It’s a cracking little community and something I’m really proud of. You should be too ‘cos really you make KoftheP.

Anyway, getting the nod from readers of Singletrack is pretty cool. Not least because the whole idea for KoftheP began on the singletrack forum. That’s where the name came from too. But mainly because when it’s a nomination from other riders it makes it just that bit more special.

So when it comes to the awards, it’d be great to get your vote.

And while you’re voting – put a vote against 18 Bikes for the Best Bike Shop. Si and I led on the Mend Our Mountains appeal for Cut Gate campaign and he’s been a leading voice in the world of advocacy – making stuff better for riders. Yes, the award’s not for that, but who’s asking? Stick a tick against 18 Bikes too.

Thanks for your support everyone.

STRAW19_Best Online Service Finalist

In the eye of a media storm…

In mid-June, a blog post I wrote here caught the attention of the local and national media. In a matter of a few days, the story had caught fire and hit every paper, channel and station. And it didn’t stop there – the media were keen for the next story and after a couple of weeks of me and PDMTB talking with the BBC producer, the channel ran hugely sympathetic coverage talking on improving access after we’d advised that was the key story, and the world of advocacy came to support.

TL:DR I wrote a blog post; it ended up being a massive media storm; we turned it into a huge sympathetic story for mountain bikers in mainstream media.

Got time? Grab a cup of tea and a bourbon and read on…

Before I start, I want to make it clear that I’m not expecting sympathy or concern, praise or otherwise. As I do in every one of my activities in the world of advocacy, I am simply stating the facts of what happened with no judgement, criticism or agenda. We are generally a good bunch and so reassuringly, the facts always play in our favour. Though I had absolutely no indication or intent that the story would go as big as it did, it went national and my week was turned on its head as I fronted it up.

I’ve summarised the week here to help others understand how it worked out, and to correct some misunderstandings about the whole process.

Hopefully we, as a mountain biking community will be able to learn from it.

So where did it start?

June 16

A few weeks back I wrote a blog calling out a local magazine for suggesting riders should be garrotted with razor wire. It was a grotesque article, inciting hatred and violence and needed to be called out. I suggested advertisers should boycott the publication. This gained great support locally with many companies pulling their slots.

It attracted the attention of the local newspaper – The Sheffield Star – who ran an online feature on it with a response later that week. They pretty much quoted the blog with a counter comment from the editor of the magazine

Soon after, the story was picked up by the Guardian. Their north of England correspondent – a follower – called me and we had a good chat about the success of the blog post.

That, as far as I was concerned, was the end of it.

Fast forward a week.

Thursday 4 July

The Sheffield Star called for a follow up on the sentence in the original blog about recent trail obstacles placed on rights of way in the Peak District. I talked to them about recent examples – a head height branch, rocks and the tacks in Bamford. I also talked at length about rider responsibility, #BeNiceSayHi, advocacy and brilliant collaboration. It’s worth noting that this was my script for every single call I subsequently took related to the story.  I wrote down all my key points, references, proof and positives. At no point at all in any of this have I called anything ‘booby traps’. At no point have I said who is doing this. At no point have I said we are to blame in anyway.

Friday 5 July

The Star asked for a photo on Friday 5 and I nipped to the park to meet a snapper. I forgot my maxle and my helmet, incidentally. It was a quick 15 minute run out during the working day.

Saturday 6 July

Next day it got silly. The story went front page “Sick Yobs set Booby traps for cyclists”. I’d never used the word yobs. I’d never used the words ‘booby traps’. To give them credit, it was a sympathetic piece and referenced advocacy work, advocacy groups and gave sensible advice around where to go if people saw an issue.

The story was syndicated across the regional papers so appeared in the Matlock Mercury, Derbyshire Times and others and was also picked up by a couple of obscure online news feed channels.

I referenced this as a good opportunity to promote advocacy in tweets and flagged to PDMTB to expect traffic.

Sunday 7 July 

This is where it stepped up a gear. A call from a northern press agency wanted to double check the quotes and details. Again, I reinforced it being isolated and rare. I reiterated the work of advocacy groups and #BeNiceSayHi. I didn’t mention booby traps, blame anyone or doing anything which could have been twisted into a divisive headline.

I flagged to Open MTB that the nationals were sniffing for awareness and commented that it would be interesting to see how it worked out.

Monday 8 July

The story appeared in Metro nationally and as a sidebar in the Mirror. Both used similar headlines to the Star.

Tuesday 9, Wednesday 10, Thursday 11 July

This is where is got very, very silly. The story ran in a number of papers – with varying levels of accuracy and detail – but all carried the core message of responsible riding, linked to advocacy groups and were broadly sympathetic. Errors included conflating images with location, job titles, names and timings. The Times called for a clarification –again I was consistent with my script. They got my job wrong.

20190815_073040

Throughout this period, my phone was pretty much non-stop ringing with others calling for clarification or chasing me on email/twitter/text. It was relentless – the phone chasing itself around the table. The story was going to run whether mountain bikers had a voice in them or not. What would you do in this situation? Ignore it? Put across the consistent responsible message. Represent?

I was also invited to talk on Radio Sheffield during this period. A pre tea-time conversation, once again sympathetic and I stuck to script.

I’ve retained the contacts for all of these organisations.

Friday 12 July

The Times story ran. Soon after I received a call from the Jeremy Vine show to appear at lunchtime. They didn’t know who I would be ‘up against’ but it was clear the discussion was going to happen with our voice or not. Between working my day job and doing things like the school run, as well as chasing away more media requests (Sky, BBC, Independent) I prepped further for the call.

At lunch I was pitched against a Daily Mail writer and anti-biker. An audience of seven million. A goading and challenging debate whipped up by the presenter ahead of the call.

Again, I stuck to my script. Responsible riding. #BeNiceSayHi. Shared trails. Advocacy work. It affects everyone.

At the end of the call there was agreement from the anti- side and follow up texts, comments and calls to the show were – to quote the producer who I spoke to afterwards – overwhelmingly sympathetic and in our favour. We now have a contact at Radio 2.

Throughout the day, the calls continued and stories appeared on other obscure online newsfeeds. Nothing really had changed in the narrative.

Saturday 13 July

Contacted very early by Radio 5Live. Appeared on 5Live breakfast – again, reiterated the same message.

Daily Mail runs “Guerilla war on cyclists” story online. Ignore the comments.

Later in the morning Radio Nottingham contacted me – again, stuck to the script.

By a fag packet calculation of circulations/listeners in press and radio, the responsible riding message & #BeNiceSayHi had landed with ~24.4 million in the week.

It also became the #1 story trending on BBC news website. If monthly hits figures are anything to go by as reported by the BBC (5 billion p/m in 2017) the maths are mind boggling: a potential 166 million further that Saturday alone. Let’s be honest, not everyone will have read it, so a conservative 10% still gives 16.6million extra.

By this stage, it was getting wearing. For every recycled story or reposted bit of copy there was a flurry of debate and comment online – interestingly none calling me into the debate to actually find out what was going on.

At its height, I was being contacted constantly from early morning – 5.30am ish through to late in the evening in DMs, tweets, phone calls emails and texts. Apart from my own group, none in the advocacy world contacted me.

Much of the opinion shared was based on the headlines and nothing else. This was the case with commentaries that were written around the activity – some of which were as inaccurate as some of the news stories. Again, these were written based on the headlines rather than the facts.

By Tuesday 16 July. I was being contacted by TV to talk about this – both ITV and BBC. The Independent is interested in a follow up. I couldn’t make my mind up what to do – and really, I was obliterated by the last week so I have little time.

I talked to Peak District MTB about it and they offered support.

Fast forward again, this time a month.

So what happened next? Well first things first, this very blog was shared with Open MTB network to highlight the background to it all, (bar this bit).

And the calls kept coming – BBC, ITV and Sky all wanted to do further TV spots on the sabotage story – to find examples and feature those.

But for me – it was about moving it on and looking at the next chapter in the story. Reassuringly, the BBC were also keen to look at the next stage and so gave me time to think about what the next interesting chapter in the story would be. Working with Peak District MTB, it was clear – the inadequate rights of way network in the UK.

With a brand new baby due (and having had enough of the relentless media storm), PDMTB offered to pick up the baton and so Esther Hobson took on the conversations with the BBC producers – though they did still call me from time to time. Esther discussed the planned ‘angle’ and the BBC were happy to support, though trail conflict and sabotage would be the starting point. I was asked to feature but filming was going to be on due date +1 – a no go!

Bringing PDMTB members to the party, Esther put out a call for volunteers to join her for some filming on August 12, to appear on Wednesday 13.

Wednesday 13 July

BBC Breakfast features the story throughout the programme very sympathetically. The push to improve the Rights of Way network front and centre with overwhelmingly sympathetic interviewees and voices. With Esther’s piece central to the story throughout the programme, the BBC produced local variations all putting improved access and responsible riding at the centre. The springboard to this; an interview with Simon Jones – a rider paralysed by trail sabotage.

Esther-BBC-PeakMTB

In prepping the core of the story with Esther, in parallel the producer had spoken to other advocacy groups – including Cycling UK – who all stepped up and provided spokespeople for the story; the call for improved access being broadcast to 1.5 million people on mainstream media. Brilliant stuff.

So what?

Make of that what you will. Regrets? Not really – certainly not for my own actions. Frustrations? Yes – mainly targeted at a sub-editor in Sheffield who made up a lively headline.

Lessons? We can get handed the baton by the mainstream press. We just need to know how to run with it. And we need to coordinate and support one another.

How did it land? Positively. Mountain bikers have been overwhelmingly sympathetically portrayed AND the positive message of rider responsibility is out there to a far greater number of people – riders or not. In the world of MTB , constructive suggestions on how to deal with trail sabotage are coming out and the police are showing a greater interest. And what about our partners? The people we work with to improve things for riders? Well, to quote a voice from the national park: a very interesting situation, and one from which you should take a huge amount of credit for turning a cynical, ill informed and confrontational media frenzy into a an opportunity well-taken for the positive, bridge-building message of be nice”

So to summarise; one small article about a topical local issue + one photo. I didn’t pursue anything more than that. I didn’t actively promote anything other than writing the blog about the magazine. A whole media storm, tens of millions of reads and views on advocacy and rider responsibility from, effectively, a one line sentence written late on a Sunday night.

I’ll take that.

KoftheP

 

P.S. As a thought – I suppose I should really thank the editor of the magazine. He’s done more to support the call for an increase in access and the positive perception of mountain bikers than any of us! Thanks Ian and chum!

 

 

 

 

Listen up! We’ve got a podcast

 

Ilogot’s been sometime coming but finally, me and Katie Marlow aka MTB for Mental Health are chuffed to bring you our first podcast. It hasn’t even got a name.

We don’t know what we’re going to put on it. We don’t know where it’ll go (if anywhere), but we thought we’d just get about and have a chat with some interesting people in the world of mountain biking locally and see what they’ve got to say. If you like it, great – let us know and when we get time we’ll try to line up some more.

In the first podcast I had a chat with the legend that is Nick Howarth. You’ll hear from him in the podcast; introducing him is difficult ‘cos he does so bloody much with his time it’s difficult to give him a label. Let’s just say he’s a thoroughly nice bloke who can ride a bit. And the clue to how long it’s taken to finally get around to publishing this is right there in his comment on the weather….

Hopefully in the coming months we’ll find a few more thoroughly nice folk to talk to. Shouldn’t be hard ‘cos mountain biking’s full of ’em.

So  grab a beer, have a listen, (optimistically) subscribe, share and tell us your thoughts.

 

Bimblers unite

Well that’s been quite the week.

From a comment in a blog about an advertorial magazine to national news and radio it’s been interesting to see – and a little bit disappointing – that it takes this kind of thing to grab the attention of news outlets rather than the magnificent work being done to improve relationships between outdoors groups.

But it has given us a great opportunity to talk about the great work being done by mountain bike advocacy groups.

Work like the brilliant increased access delivered by the Eastern Moors Partnership with Ride Sheffield along the edges in the Derwent Valley. Work like the permissive access opened up on the Roaches estate in Staffordshire by Peak District MTB. Work like the amazing collaborative effort to fund-raise £74,000 to protect the Cut Gate path in the Peak; a project kicked off by the mountain bikers.

The positive stuff coming out of the mountain biking world locally massively outweighs the isolated challenges like this. But of course, we must remain vigilant. I said it this week: these obstacles do not discriminate. They could hurt biker, horse rider, horse, dog, walker, runner alike. Call anything in on 101 if you come across something. But recognise that there are many, many more things these groups share views on aims on – increased access, trail etiquette, #BeNiceSayHi. Regrettably, this is one thing that has brought us all together. But it does unite us. Let’s make something of that – work together to improve things for the whole.

To be completely honest with you, this week’s coverage wasn’t expected nor planned. It’s been something of a distraction from promoting the good work of advocacy and the great stories of responsible riding we get week in week out. More basically, it’s also meant that the trail updates have been knocked sideways – but KoftheP is always quiet in summer anyway.

What it has done is put mountain biking – the type done by the vast majority of riders – into the national consciousness. Hopefully I spoke articulately and sensibly enough to have shown that we are a nice bunch in the main who are simply out there to enjoy the great outdoors and get on with others. Hopefully the coverage will bring those groups closer together against this nonsense. Do I fear copycats? Yes, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t – but I wouldn’t be able to live with myself knowing these things were happening and having not done something if someone – walker, horse-rider, runner, mountain biker – got hurt. Advocacy is now being talked about. Let’s embrace the opportunity.

But for today, I’m going for a ride on my bike. With my six year old son, and maybe my 4 year old too unless he wants to bake with mummy. Family bimblers uniting and going out to enjoy some of the finest mountain biking the world has to offer.

See you out there.

PS: UPDATE THE TWITTER FEED!