“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.
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.