I was approached by a grandparent while I was on the school run the other day. They knew about the stuff I do with biking and (very pleasantly) came over for chat. I often talk to people who have seen a mountain biker “riding where they shouldn’t” and we tend to have a good conversation about the access laws, responsible riders, putting stuff back and doing our bit.
Anyway, the conversation was of the “I’ve seen riders riding here, they shouldn’t, should they? They’re not allowed are they?”
Now, there are two points in that: “they shouldn’t” and “they’re not allowed”. And they both have very different connotations.
Let’s start with “they’re not allowed”. Arguably enough, on a footpath – where this was – you’re technically not allowed to ride. But it’s down to the landowner to enforce that. So – barring someone coming on to correct me with some of the arcane ins and outs of it all; yeah, you’re not meant to. It’s a civil offence and down to the landowner to enforce.
So to the second point: “they shouldn’t”. Now this is more interesting because “should/shouldn’t” implies a level of choice where “can/cannot” does not.
We’ve been over the debate many a time and guidance from representative bodies is much along the lines of; the access laws are out dated, illogical and unfair. The rights are wrong. So the question comes down to whether someone ‘should’ be somewhere.
Shudda wudda cudda
So what ‘should’ they question? Well you know my refrain; think about the conditions; think about the impact on the places you’re riding; thinking about the impact on the reputation of mountain bikers. But be smart. A cheeky night ride in the middle of nowhere on a frozen night is going to leave no trace and the chances of conflict with other trail users is minimal. A blast down a semi-suburban woodland footpath on a sunny Sunday morning is less likely to be so inconspicuous. To be honest, why would you want to even chance an argument on a ride? We have enough of that whinging over whether 650b or 29er is the way forward or whether you need a dropper.
Increasingly, mountain bikers challenge themselves. Repeatedly you all do yourselves proud by thinking of more suitable places to ride when the weather has been grim. You actively champion conciliatory approaches to using the trails. You get out. You dig.
So back to that playground discussion.
The mountain bikers were there ‘making a mess’. But studies show similar levels of impact on a path from both boot and tyre. So, the walker was causing comparable damage too.
So where’s the conflict? It can’t be about the damage caused as studies show we’re all approximately equally culpable.
It has to be purely down to the perceived right of where someone can or can’t go. And we’ve all agreed that the access laws are nonsense.
So again? Where’s the conflict? It’s back to that should or shouldn’t thing. Mountain bikers DO ask them selves “should I ride there today?”
I’d love to think that other groups have this kind of thinking when it comes to impact on the trails but I’m not sure they do. Happy to be corrected of course. If the evidence of use in the area was anything to go by (see pics), the mountain biking community is way further down the line when it comes to considering our impact and mitigating it.
Maybe the access laws could start catching up. Maybe the recommendations in the Glover Report could be heeded. Maybe we could get beyond the “they shouldn’t be riding there should they?” and work together to improve things for all.
The rights are wrong.
You might have noticed that I’ve been a bit quieter in recent months, both on the blog and on twitter. Well that’s been down to Mini Keeper of the Peak #3 who arrived in August. It’s been….busy. Plus I’ve been closely involved in Peak District MTB’s 22% campaign and the work to open up new access around Ladybower.
Hectic, but fun times. And now I’ve got three I can hand it all over too. All ready for KoftheP TikTok?