Online Feature: Access All Areas Part 2

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Dave once again takes up the torch of land access reform for mountain bikers in the UK and here, in an article reproduced from Issue 58, he takes readers’ questions and thoughts on the issue and adds his own.

Last issue I invited comments and thoughts on what I’d written in Access All Areas in issue 58, an article I’d hoped would stimulate some debate on the issue of riding footpaths. Between a lengthy forum thread and many emails on the subject, a good discussion has begun. Contact and feedback from local Rights of Way officers and a ‘source close to government’ has been very promising. I’d like to take the opportunity to address some of the points raised and look at ways forward to keep momentum going.

So with a bit of cut and pasting, here goes. Apologies in advance for not individually crediting people but space is at a premium and I’d like to make the most of my word allowance. Needless to say thanks to everyone who contributed.

“For me, trail use boils down to two separate but usually muddled issues: access rights and impact. I don’t give a stuff about access rights, they are historic nonsense. But I care a lot about impact: noise, distraction, erosion, damage and risk to other users. Impact guides my choice of trails.”

It was great to get a general feeling of consensus about this point with nearly all replies mentioning this approach. Access based on impact seems to be the right way to address the need for a better system of rights of way. Riding a footpath is in no way comparable to a trail bike on a bridleway, motorised users have a whole magnitude of impact more than we do.

“Many people will still be annoyed by it simply because it is prescribed by law. If the same person saw you riding the same piece of ground but it was classed as a bridleway, they may be unconcerned as to your presence. The mere fact that you are perceived as doing something you are not supposed to be doing can be enough to make someone angry, even if no inconvenience or damage is being caused. Many people just don’t like others “getting away with something” they shouldn’t be doing.“

This I think is the main issue we need to address; the ‘you shouldn’t be here’ argument. Calmly putting forward a counter argument showing a level of responsibility and common sense approach with an awareness for impact seems the best way of disarming it. Pointing out the random way we’ve arrived at the rights of way network we have.

“I have been riding off-road in the countryside for over 25 years, and have noticed other users’ reactions have gone from astonishment at coming across a bike in the early days, to confrontation and complaint during the initial MTB ‘boom years’ to general acceptance of us as part of the outdoors scene.”

A lot of opposition and early confrontation seemed to come from elderly ramblers not used to seeing bikes on trails; putting it bluntly, they’re a dying breed.Today’s outdoor user tends to have several different sports they take part in, the walker you meet today is likely to be out mountain biking themselves next time you meet.This shift away from tribalism is to our advantage as we can show that our impact is no worse than walking or trail running.

“Isn’t it that Trail centres have raised the bar a bit from what we expect from our trails? Most bridleways are pretty tame really so it is always tempting to go on a footpath. After going to a trail centre you see the possibilities and start looking elsewhere or complaining when your local trail is bulldozed flat.”

The requirement to maintain bridleways suitable to the needs of horses is definitely an issue where we’re better catered for on footpaths.Trail sanitising was certainly a factor in the widespread acceptance by riders of footpath poaching in Calderdale and I’m sure the same can be said of other areas. Removing the technical nature of trails not only encourages riders to look further afield but can also lead to more trail conflict by increasing the speed the trail is ridden. Fast approaching riders often seem intimidating to other users and are a common source of complaint. More technical trails keep speeds lower.

“Under current RoW law, access and surfaces of paths have to be kept suitable for the permitted user group (e.g. you’re not allowed to put a stile across a byway, or plough up footpaths) – how would that work if more of the countryside was open to cyclists?”

I think the best way forward on this is that no requirement to maintain paths for cycles is acknowledged. Stiles can easily be negotiated with a bike, admittedly some trails with many stiles would be unattractive to riding but that would be a small price to pay for wider access.

“Until MTBing actually gets itself organised and gets a voice with the same amount of clout as, say, the Ramblers or the British Horse Society then nothing is going to happen. You’ve got Sustrans, CTC, British Cycling, IMBA all with their own slightly different agenda (cycling as transport, cycling as fun, MTB racing etc) and none of them lobbying effectively for a change in the law – it needs ONE voice with a common aim.”

This is one message that has come back repeatedly from officialdom. It’s not that no one wants to listen to what we have to say (in fact everyone I spoke to said they want to hear from us) but rather that no one is speaking for us. Other outdoor users have the ear of government; is it really so hard for mountain bikers to get organised enough to have representation? At the moment we’re missing the opportunity to push at what seems to be an open door.

The CTC has a very good document on this matter. I don’t know how they are moving the debate along though or if this just sits on their website.

It seems to me that the CTC are the best placed to campaign for a Scottish style access code.They’re a well-established campaigning body that’s already recognised by government and has that Ramblers’ air of respectability. So what are they doing about the future of bike access to the outdoors?

Next issue I’m hoping to chat to the CTC and The Ramblers about their views on the issue of access, if you’ve got any questions you want me to ask email me (feedback and thoughts also welcome)

Comments (16)

    Ta for printing my little bit of rambling Dave.

    At last some sense. Lets all join the CTC!

    I wholly agree that we ought to be more organised when presenting our case to authority but we do need to be careful. When involved in m/cycle rights of way I was told that submissions by clubs and groups of interested parties were only counted as one opinion, certainly for the purposes of public inquiries, regardless of how many signatories there were. What we need is organised,co-ordinated,, individual responses as well as an ‘official position’

    Thanks Dave, we badly need to get something moving here.

    BTW, the link to the doc on the CTC site is slightly wrong, it should be:
    (note the removal of the space before the word ‘of’)

    Cheers retro83, the link has been updated..

    Well if the CTC fight our corner, I’ll join up straight away. They seem to be telling the mags what they want to hear (in a very broad, non-specific way) but aren’t achieving very much that I can see so far.

    Sustrans, now I have to say I am disappointed with them. They seem to have an agenda and their approach is not compatible with MTB. Its about big national routes and working within current laws etc. They are not a game changer and that’s what we need.

    Very good point about the ‘dying breed’ of ramblers who strongly oppose bikes on footpaths. Those born in the 70s/80s will be much more accepting when they reach 70 years old themselves, and meet a bike on the way up the footpath. Only when we have support of the ‘ramblers’ will bikes be accepted and permitted. Unfortunately, we cannot speed time up!

    It’s great you’re prepared to take a lead on this Dave.

    People joining CTC and orchestrating a bolshevik campaign to get them to champion the cause is an interesting idea.

    The complicated bit as mentioned in the article is we want legal access to stuff that many people might consider dangerous/unsuitable for bikes…

    There’s opposing things going on here – access generally means accessibility, i.e. if it’s open access it should be *easily* accessible, no stiles, easy gates, etc …and non-technical trails. Most of us want to retain the technical challenge of the places we enjoy and want to continue riding. Most of us will have experienced the dead feeling inside when a once-precious bit of trail has been flattened, straightened or otherwise improved. See the issue?

    We almost need a caveat emptor like clause for cyclist, ‘well you can ride here if you like, but there’s no guarantee there’ll be a track, whether it’ll be any good, whether you’ll enjoy it or even be able to ride it.’ How’s that?

    Good on singletrack for keeping the ball rolling. I’d suggest letters to MPs as well to make government aware of the need from individuals too. I just got a reasonable responce from my MP, saying he will raise it with Ministers and let me know their responce. Can’t just wait for others to do it all.

    If anyone wants a copy of my letter to get them started get in touch, email in the profile.


    I don’t undetstand trail sanitising for horses – aren’t they pretty good off-road?

    CTC have been pushing mountain biking in their mag of late but there were two anti MTB access letters in their most recent issue. I’d rather see them there than have them censored but I was saddened to see it all the same.


    Some horses are pretty useful, but a lot are flaming dangerous.

    ‘well you can ride here if you like, but there’s no guarantee there’ll be a track, whether it’ll be any good, whether you’ll enjoy it or even be able to ride it.’
    IME thats what lots of bridleways are like, don’t we already have a caveat doobery? AFAIK a ROW is just a ROW just coz bikes/horses/whatever are allowed to use it don’t mean they can/should/would want to.

    Seem to remember something about bridleways have to be kept in a useable state – is that right? Who defines useable anyway? You’re not going to get a horse up rosset gill….are you?

    One vague anomoly has just occured to me and it centres around a South East, North West divide that probably only exists in my own experience.

    I divide my time between Kent and Cumbria.

    In the South East I have experienced occasional (but ‘regular occassional’, so that you almost expect it) hostility when I have been using legitimate bridleways.

    In Cumbria I have only ever had two adverse comments when using any track, and they were both from the same fella. He is acknowledged locally as having behavioural difficulties, but in his defence, I was poaching on a footpath at the time…saving this is an LRT/ tractor track that has footpath status but has been used by locals on bikes for a very long time. Most Cumbrians are very tolerant.

    Where Cumbrian landowners do start to get angry over public access issues is when local authorities of dubious merit, morals and truthfullness, try and force rights of way across their land where none have ever existed before.

    Anomoly observation now over……….. start of mild rant (ish)

    There have been two instances recently in and around Broughton and Coniston where I have found myself wanting the proposed rights of way various inter-connected-sneaky-bastards were trying to implement, while being utterly unable to do anything other than oppose it. I have watched one of my neighbours spend something in the region of £6,000 to £10,000 to defend his private property against repeated attacks that have tried to invent a right of way across it for the purpose of accessing an enclosed site beyond it for various development plans. They have never offered to buy it from him, all the approaches have required him to simply surrender it, and the more recent ones have been ‘surrender it or face expensive litigation’ (bit like blackmail realy, only I expect the shonky developers’ lawyers will tell you different). More recently I have seen the farming population of Woodland face the same threat. LDNPA presented it as a consultation over the possibility of building a cycleway from Broughton to Coniston. The resultant report was not a simple consultation, it was a thoroughly costed detailed plan of how they were going to do it and it appears the funding was already in place. In other words they were not bothered about what anyone thought, they were already lined up to do it, and have probably only had to abandon it due to the current financial climate. All these attempts have focused on opening up money making opportunities for an identifiable minority at the expense of my neighbours and these farmers and I was not impressed.

    So the contributer to the first article on this issue, who pointed out the cost on the landowner, was right.

    I still feel that there are real howling examples of wrongfull designations out there where footpaths should so obviously be bridleways, and cases like the Ashdown Forest where horses and, judging by the evidence on the ground, numerous motor vehicles are allowed across “public access” land, when we as cyclists are not.

    Should we just push hard to resolve those individual issues locally or should we push to go Scottish and solve all the issues at once for existing rights of way?

    Scottish sounds good to me.

    The majority of us posting on here believe the current mtb legislation to be daft. Whatever the law says I will continue to ride responsibly on trails over the hills that provide me with fun on my bike irrespective of the legal status.

    We read in all the mtb guide books, in IMBA’s “Rules of the Trail” and in many other places that off road cyclists should obey the law. To me is like doffing your cap to a nonsense law whilst at the same time cocking a snook to it by riding “cheeky trails” when it suits us. Let’s include in our campaign an attempt to advocate the omission of the “Obey the Law” references in future literature and current codes of mtb conduct and substitute it with the need to ride responsibly at all times. Don’t mention THE LAW. Riders who think that riding responsibly includes obeying the law will have a clear conscience and those who think that it doesn’t will also have a clear conscience in that they are riding all trails responsibly. Let the law look after itself and let the mountain biking community simply advocate responsible riding.

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