“What shall we do today then?”

An interesting series of questions were posed on the old KoftheP twitter feed yesterday around the growth in rider numbers resulting from the various lockdowns, limited travel and “stay at home” messaging.

You’d have to have your head in the sand to have not noticed that there are way more people out and about than there have been in previous years. It’s difficult to define the exact reasons without surveying them, but putting 2 and 2 together and looking at the shopping centres, gyms, pubs, footy grounds and other places being closed due to coronavirus, and the outdoors teeming with people, I’d put a bet on the answer being 4 and many of those ‘displaced’, locked down and locked out individuals turning to the paths and tracks to pass the time. Good for them. I personally love seeing people discover the outdoors, and as long as – currently – it’s within the rules and sensible, fair play to them.

But the question posed is are there any positives to take from the increase in new riders out there? Is there more trail conflict? An impact on trail etiquette?

Certainly interesting questions and thanks @maddogmtb for asking them.

It does feel like there has been a major shift in the numbers of people getting out. National Parks which, for years have been trying to increase their visitor numbers, have found themselves overwhelmed when that is exactly what has happened. More people are riding, walking and running out on the paths and there are occasions where this is invariably going to lead to some conflict. I daren’t say there’s been more – I simply don’t have the data to back that up – but  there has been a distinct, seemingly correlating increase in the noise around asking for more access, which feels somewhat symptomatic of more riders feeling the limits of both lockdown and access law.

And that, in itself, is a benefit. The more people ride, the more people will understand the fragile relationships and limited access for mountain bikers in the Peak. In advocacy, groups like Peak District MTB are making great strides in engaging with landowners who, under Covid, have found far greater demand for access on their property and so they are looking to the MTB community – where organised – to advise, help and guide. In some places, even partner as the landowners seek to embrace the ‘new’ riders in the Peak.

And with that engagement comes a need to educate and guide; which can only be a good thing. I’ve seen calls to rewrite the countryside code recently and there are ongoing discussions about a biking code of conduct. Again, all good things which have been accelerated through high visitor numbers on the back of COVID.

I’m not going to get into the e-bike debate because it’s never about the bike. The bike is an inanimate object. It’s all about the rider and their behaviour – and with better provision and associated guidance, marketing and education; that rider – ebike or not – will inherently gain a greater understanding of those fragile relationships. And advocacy groups should be and are getting more confident in calling it out. 

I’ve talked about a tipping point before, that moment where opinions shifts and things will start being somewhat easier when it comes to making a case for mountain bikers in the Peak. Before when I talked about it, I was referring to the result of many hours of emails, phone calls and slog from those self-same advocacy groups grinding out the arguments and posing the questions. Now, with the seemingly huge increase in people wanting to get out on their bikes, landowners are beginning to come to the advocacy groups for support.

As vaccination takes effect and things begin to calm down, the shops and gyms will reopen and the demand will drop off a bit – but there will be new riders out there and everyone has to understand that there will be increased demand. Be Nice, Say Hi comes through strong. Open dialogues, a bit of patience and collaboration would be very welcome.

You see, I wouldn’t do what I do were it not for the fact that I am optimistic about our relationship with the outdoors and the people and places in the national park. Temporary frictions in time give way to dialogue, better future relationships and developments.

I’ve got to believe that, and I truly do.

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