Access All Areas: Divide and Conquer…

by singletrackjon 58

In our first two pieces on the state of access for mountain bikers, we covered the current access situation and what we think is wrong with it and we’ve started to talk about how we should progress. However, there may be a large white elephant in the room that noone wants to talk about.

Chris Porter begins:

“I’ve been waiting for years to read a well thought out piece on access rights to trails.

After two articles in Singletrack from ‘yer man’, I’ve still been waiting for years to read a well thought out piece on access rights to trails!

Divide and conquer.

It’s not walkers against cyclists against horse riders against horse and cart drivers (a new designation of legal trail!) against motorcycles against 4x4s.

It’s not that.

It’s us against them, ‘us’ being the trail using public, ‘them’ being the landowners who don’t want us to access their land. It’s as simple as that, divide and conquer. Stand back and watch the separate interest groups close down each other’s access. Encourage them to create interest groups. Jeeesus, we’ve got three or four different ones for MTBs alone!

The correct response to ‘we won’t listen to your requests unless you first form a representative group and then elect someone to talk to us’ should be: ‘Well screw you then, I’m happy riding the trails down which I can squeeze my sorry ass/MTB/horse/enduro bike/Land Crusier, etc…’

A 4×4 uses the same access law to access a BOAT ‘Byway Open To All Traffic’ as a cyclist uses to drive on the tarmac road to Afan (or to work) or a ‘Rambler’ (and there’s a veiled insult if ever there was one – rambler!) to drive to the Lakes…

Should you care?

The pernicious CROW Act from 2000 and the subsequent NERC passed in 2006 (some of the parts of the 2000 Act were only to be enacted in 2006, go figure?) between them allowed the government/landowners to deny massive groups of users access to a whole raft of trails. Whilst it’s mostly true that MTBs haven’t lost a lot of access rights due to these changes, some councils (mine included) have somehow used this opportunity to reclassify further still so that some RUPPs and Cart tracks have been downgraded to footpath status.

Incidentally, some of your readers will live along what used to be classified as RUPPs because there were thousands upon thousands of miles of them. Those people relied on that old access right to be able to walk, ride or drive to their homes. Now (look it up…), only the owner or lessee is allowed to access the property via the newly restricted bridleway route.

Technically, driving a car to visit a friend on a farm or in a cottage accessed via a restricted bridleway is breaking the same law as a motorcycle or 4×4 on a newly closed trail. We should be opening more access not applauding when some other user group gets access rights closed down.

The situation in which the reclassification has left us is a joke.

I can understand why no-one likes an illegal motorcyclist on a loud, illegal MX tearing across open ground or worse still tearing down a trail they should not be on causing confrontation. But that’s already illegal. Changing the law to restrict access to motorcycles and 4x4s in a blanket fashion does not make that selfish act any more illegal.

Would the Cannondale MX bike have meant harmony for all things two wheeled?

Because the perpetrator is already breaking 10 or 12 laws why would he think this new one is the one that makes him stop? What it does is to effectively remove law abiding pressure groups campaigning for access (for all!). It will also force loads more off road motorcyclists and 4×4 drivers to break the law, effectively beaching them at the end of a ‘legal trail’ faced with a choice of turn around (not always possible on a narrow trail) or carry on down the newly re-classified section? Want to check what’s legal and what’s not?

Simply pop down your local council office and have a look at the ‘definitive map’, remember an ordnance survey is NOT the definitive map. Most councils haven’t got a definitive map yet, the ones that have ask you to make an appointment to see it and there isn’t a facility to actually see across council boundaries! You’ll have to go and see their map as well! Encouraging law abiding access or discouraging law abiding access? You decide.

By(the)way, ‘mechanically propelled vehicles’ – it won’t be long before we’re trail centre only then? Trail centres = ‘permissive access’… Bollocks, should have teamed up with LARA, TRF, Ramblers, etc…

Divide and conquer.

Access may require the Akrigg of cart drivers.

By(the)way2, I saw a horse and cart on a trail for the first time in 30+ years of using trails, he was on a fire road, er, illegally! As I probably was also (on a MTB), does it matter?

Funny that they don’t have the police manpower to police the Fox-hunting ban (a piece of law which was promised for 3 full parliaments) so they simply ignore it and allow the toffs to carry on running rampant over the countryside NOT following bridleways either! Yet they have found enough manpower to have dedicated ‘off-road’ teams in every sodding police Constabulary. They’ve even had helicopters out after motorbikes in South Wales. How long till we get fines as MTBers do in the States?

The cretin that emailed in saying he doesn’t worry about the law but worries about impact. For f**k’s sake! The M4 to Wales vs a 4×4 on the ridgeway? The A66 vs a sneaky enduro bike on the Pennines. What’s going to revert back to nature sooner? Impact? Western Lifestyle?

I guess that by impact he means erosion, er, erosion is how the currently dry bits of the planet got lumpy? It doesn’t matter. No really, it doesn’t matter… Which bit of this sceptered isle is still untouched by human intervention? Which bit is so sacrosanct that some mining or utility company doesn’t already own the mineral/water rights to it? You know the answer – get a grip…

Impact? Don’t talk to me about impact! Bikes and components from Taiwan? Shipped over in a rattan container on a wooden tea clipper I suppose. I should calm down I’ll get a coronary… It’s OK for me to break the law because I’ve decided I have less impact than the guy on the KTM, ergo, it’s not OK for him to break the law? That’s a bit inquisition isn’t it? Blah, go back to school.

People who talk about the ‘unsuitability’ of 4x4s and motorbikes using trails designed for horse and carts should remember that

a) most of our access rights in law date from after the invention of the internal combustion engine

b) whose land is it anyway? Act of “I’ll fight your for it!”

And c) ‘chaps’ like T E Lawrence (of Arabia) were happily thraping their Brough Superiors along these dirt tracks before tarmac was even widespread!

Long before Cormac Macarthy, this is T E Lawrence and ‘The Road’…

“Boa is a top-gear machine, as sweet in that as most single-cylinders in middle. I chug lordlily past the guard-room and through the speed limit at no more than sixteen. Round the bend, past the farm, and the way straightens. Now for it. The engine’s final development is fifty-two horsepower. A miracle that all this docile strength waits behind one tiny lever for the pleasure of my hand.

“Another bend: and I have the honour of one of England’s straightest and fastest roads. The burble of my exhaust unwound like a long cord behind me. Soon my speed snapped it, and I heard only the cry of the wind which my battering head split and fended aside. The cry rose with my speed to a shriek: while the air’s coldness streamed like two jets of iced water into my dissolving eyes. I screwed them to slits, and focused my sight two hundred yards ahead of me on the empty mosaic of the tar’s gravelled undulations.”

“…Over the first pot-hole Boanerges screamed in surprise, its mud-guard bottoming with a yawp upon the tyre. Through the plunges of the next ten seconds I clung on, wedging my gloved hand in the throttle lever so that no bump should close it and spoil our speed…

“A skittish motor-bike with a touch of blood in it is better than all the riding animals on earth, because of its logical extension of our faculties, and the hint, the provocations, to excess conferred by its honeyed untiring smoothness. Because Boa loves me, he gives me five more miles of speed than a stranger would get from him.”

Why is it great that the mass trespass happened to open up footpaths and bad that a mass trespass happens every single weekend because the pressure on our legal trail system is so overwhelming…?

Comments (58)

  1. “I’ve been waiting for years to read a well thought out piece on access rights to trails.”

    Still waiting.

  2. Sorry, I gave up 2/3 way through.

  3. Northwind +1.

    I’m not going to get the part of my life back I wasted trying to understand that rubbish.

  4. That was a bit of a ramble.

  5. Is this a troll?

    Not a well balanced article as it fails to understand the history of access and why it is as complex as it is.

  6. Someone with some bloody sense at last.Been Greenlaning for 30 years then along come the red sockers and stop me riding the same trails i have done which havent changed much in that time.Then the laugh is they get onto the council and complain they are now overgrown.I think we should have a free for all if you can fit on trail with what ever then use it.Might find there is alot less erosion.

  7. Don’t necessarily like what Chris is saying but deep down I agree, ultimately its the landowners keeping us (well, you, I live in Scotland) off the land.

    As far as motorbikes, if you want to see the results of motorbikes on trails, just go to Kinlochleven, some of the best trails in Britain that are used for Enduro and trials events yearly.

  8. Is the writer on opium?

  9. still waiting on the white elephant myself….

  10. Serious question – what happened to the copyeditor or proofreader that you had for the first two articles on this important subject? Whilst the chap above probably has some points to make, he needs some help to express them clearly in written form. That^^ above adds little to the debate.

  11. Gosh, that was an effort.

    I can imagine that being mumbled by some drunken old bloke down the pub, like Rowley Birkin.

    Grumble grumble access, mumble moan byway, humpf humpf, it’s everybody else.

  12. I assume that was written by Chris Porter of Mojo suspension?

  13. “…allow the toffs to carry on running rampant over the countryside NOT following bridleways either!”

    When did this turn into a class debate? Anyway, most people who hunt are rough as a badgers @rse!

    Some good points – shame the guy comes across as an ignorant lunatic….

  14. As a rant, i would have scored it higher if he used CAPS LOCK A BIT.

    As an article, er, rambled on a bit there? Sorry, can we say ramble?

  15. Can’t believe you’ve published that crap.

  16. Interesting, emotive subject..

    However I lost the will to live about 3-4 rambling paragraphs in, sorry.

  17. Bear this in mind. If the vehicles could fit between the walls then the track was designed for carts and would once upon a time have been ‘legal’ for a motor vehicle to drive down it… It’s called ‘Banks Lane’ Not ‘Banks Path’ or ‘Banks Bridleway…’

    Have you been there?
    Nope, thought not.

  18. As rants go, theres not enough random capitalisation, there appears to be no attempt at swearing or swear filter avoidance and not really enough exclamation marks. However, I’ll give you eight out of ten for the unstructured theme, lack of comprehensible point and sheer volume of work.

  19. If and when you visit your local council to see an access officer please be patient as due to government cuts they will be very busy. This will mean less people dealing with all the letters of complaint about the state of footpaths / bridleways.
    Remember footpath is the minimum right applied, its up to you to provide the evidence that the route has a higher status and that means all routes even those without current access rights. So instead of writing another letter of complaint, get out there and volunteer to help your local council make access better!

  20. Also that MX bike looks sweet!

  21. I would like to say I agreed with the writers point of view whilst disagreeing with his argument. Unfortunately this piece was so poorly argued that it was incoherent.

  22. Not sure why everyone worries so much about this? What the worst thats going to happen, an angry farmer, big deal.

    Don’t care, will never care about the signs or the land owners (most land is owned by the tax avoiding monarchy and aristocratic oligarchs) who deserve no respect.

    Ride anywhere, just be respectful of other tresspassers on foot and horse!

  23. I think it’s good that we should start thinking outside of mere ‘access for mountain bikers’ – the whole system is badly biased against free access and regardless of whether you think Chris is ranting or not, he has an extremely valid point.

  24. “The cretin that emailed in saying he doesn’t worry about the law but worries about impact”
    [waves] 😀

  25. Blame it on the Normans!

  26. Silver Machine the cannondale enduros looked great and were ahead of there time in some respects.Only problem soon as they got cover in mud they went pop.£7000 for an enduro bike 5 or 6 years ago was crazy.Nearly wrecked the company.Mind on the other hand they make a Quad which is great and they cant make enough of them funny old world.

  27. There seems to a lot of confusion on the issue of access. I agree with the writer that landowners want everyone off, they will use the access rules avaialble to do this, we are the easy hit.

    As I understand access, you can ride anywhere, but have the “right” to bridleways and higher status tracks. Not having the “right” is not the same as not being allowed to or being illegal. The “right” gives us protection in law from the landowners. No-one other than the landowner can ask to leave the land, Ramblers should know better.

    It is only illegal, and an offence that could involve the police, to ride on footpaths, these being pavements at the side of the road, this misundersatnding is probably the source of a lot of the indignation from other usergroups

  28. If it had been all non-motorised users need to band together I think he’d have been pretty spot but I really can’t ally with the motorised users. There is a tipping point to what’s sustainable (socially and environmentally), from my view point it very much comes down to engine vs no engine.

    I too gave up before the end.

  29. It’s articles like this that mean my STW “Forums” button gets far more use than the “Home” button 🙁

  30. What PTR said.

    What a contrast to the well-reasoned articles by Dave. The charming Mr Porter calls a contributor a “cretin” []. Porter’s boorish attitude dilutes any value in his “article”. He’s just a guy that fixes suspension and I’m surprised Singletrack has published such vulgar drivel. Post your nonsense on the forum like the rest of us Porter.

    I suspect he just wants to rag his motorbikes over Welsh mountains with impunity. I hope the helicopter gunships get him [joke].

  31. I have to ask Singletrack:
    Is this written by Mr Mojo?
    If it wasn’t, would you have published it?
    Jon, this isn’t a discussion on RoW access, it’s a discussion about a crap article that you’ve published.
    Very, very surprised that you’ve allied yourselves with this badly written and clearly biased unresearched article.
    This should have been published on the Forum, not your Home page.

  32. The sceptical answers above have restored my faith in Singletrack and the mtb world at large. For a while I was afraid I was the only person who thought it was utter bobbins. This is what the world will be like if audio dication becomes reliable and cheap.

  33. As far as I can decipher it, this article makes a few points:

    – Banning motorised traffic is the thin end of the wedge and will inevitably result in a situation where, a few years hence, we will only be allowed to ride in velodromes.
    – A vociferous and well-organised lobby of mountain bikers opposes every attempt to get access opened up for motorised users.
    – All landowners are chinless toffs who want you off their grounds.
    – It doesn’t matter how much damage 4x4s cause to trails, the Earth’s going to be swallowed by the Sun in a few years anyway.

    Not really convinced, sorry.

  34. More of a Trojan horse than the elephant in the room. Thought I’d by mistake stumbled on Trail Rider Magazine’s web site for a second. Northwind wins. . beside any fool knows many councils definitive maps are going online and no need to go anywhere near their offices.. check out oxford and hants. .not that they are much interest to read

  35. Begging your pardon, but didn’t diverse user groups get together and force a major rethink in the FC sell off debate? This was largely about access to permissive paths. The first point about divide and conquer is a good one and we shouldn’t overlook it, despite the polemic that follows…

  36. For an organisation (singletrack) that imagines itself to be at the forefront of debates regarding mountain biking and access, you could at least try and find someone who is well-informed and capable enough to sustain a coherent and thoughtful argument on these issues. Frankly it’s an embarrassment to the magazine and mountain biking more widely if you can’t do better than publish this dross.

  37. I’ve been following the articles both online and in the magazine about improving access for cycling. Like everyone here I’d like to see open access, like the system in Scotland and I’m sure I’m not the only one here who’d be happy to do what I can to move things forward. However, reading these articles and the comments that follow I’ve become increasingly unsure where I’ allowed to ride at the moment. All of which leads me to ask if it would be possible for someone to get in touch with a ROW officer to clarify the current system and to then post this in a proper article please?

  38. I liked this latest artical, to me it points out that all countryside users are loosing out. I used to do loads of Green Laneing on my motorbike as well as ride my mtb.

    Each seprate group is / has been severly restricted and the trend contiues.

  39. Easy. Just an inevitable consequence of unfettered capitalism.

  40. Keep it all nice and illegal I say. No law abiding suckers on the footpaths means they don’t get all muddy and cut up for me!

    This whole campaign needs to pipe down a bit. If it draws too much attention the powers that be might actually start enforcing these pathetic laws then we’re all fooked.

  41. I think that I agree with Scottidog, about the campaign. It will be too easy to clamp down, rather than open up. To use sterotypes, road tax dodging cyclists, and toffy nosed horse riders, are not likely to gain much sympathy amongst the Daily Mail reading classes.

  42. bajsyckel +1

    Mr Mojo interview in next months mag?

  43. Well, the article has done one thing and that is to provoke a response!

    And that response just goes to show how much ignorance there is on the whole subject and a lot of that is down to how different people interpret a little bit of knowledge and combine it with their own interests / prejudices to create the sort of stuff written in the above article!

  44. I’m glad that the article was published by Singletrack, and that the comments above are only attributal to readers. Never read such a list of blinkered narrowminded comments since I last read the GLEAM website. I’m off to ride along the Sirhowy ridgeway on my Husky, or perhaps I should ride the cheeky DH trail down from the mast. Both are illegal, both are fun and neither harms anyone else more than the other.

  45. Any credibility we might have as MTB’ers goes out of the window when this sort of garbage is published – I’m sure that there are some points in there to be made, but they are lost in the rant……..

  46. PTRs comments are the only ones that seem to make any sense..

    there was some mention of thin ends of wedges too.. I would see the present situation more as a fulcrum perhaps..?

  47. One or two grains of truth buried in there, like the fact that many landowners don’t want increased access for any of us, the great unwashed. And the suggestion that we should be looking to make common cause with other groups. But I’m afraid I can’t accept that mountain bikes, motorbikes and 4x4s are all equal.
    Environmental impact is a big issue. The most nonsensical paragraph in the whole piece is the one that begins “I guess that by impact he means erosion…” Well, yes, he probably does. I certainly would say it’s one of the most important elements of mountain bike impact and to dismiss it like this is just dumb.
    As it happens I recently wrote an article on erosion for another magazine (Cycle) and in the process looked at lots of research evidence and the experience of people such as trail builders. What the evidence clearly says to me is that overall, mountain bikers and walkers have pretty similar impacts. There are some circumstances in which mtb’s cause more erosion but also some in which walkers do more damage. But motorbikes, 4x4s and horses all cause considerably more erosion. An inconveninet truth for some but there it is.
    It’s really interesting to ride some of the tracks in the Lakes and Dales which have been made off-limits to motorised traffic. I’m sure they still get some illicit use but it’s at a much lower level. It’s really good to see how they are recovering. This says it all to me really.
    Unfortunately if you asked a sample of walkers for their opinion I bet a high proportion would see mtb’s as much more damaging than they are. We need to reach out to walkers and other allied groups like fell-runners but allying ourselves with the motorbikers and 4×4 users would completely undermine this. And it’s not just about erosion but also about how we behave as mountain bikers. I actually find – riding mostly in the Lakes and Dales – that most walkers are friendly and usually hold gates open for us and so on. This is a good base to build on.
    As one or two people have observed, the Scottish Access Code has worked pretty well overall. Similar laws have been in place in Sweden and Finland for much longer. Surely this is the model we should be aiming for.

  48. ““I guess that by impact he means erosion…” Well, yes, he probably does”

    In my email to Dave, erosion was one of the impacts I was alluding to for sure – and I agree that bike tracks are roughly equivalent to boot prints. If there is more erosion, its that we have added to the erosion already caused by walkers as biking has become more popular. But eroding pristine public footpaths gets us in trouble.

    BY “Impact”, I also meant disturbance to wildlife and residents. For example, a local public footpath through an SSSI leads to a gate next to a house. This is an brilliant bike trail. Riding it demands respect: avoid walkers, avoid when soft, don’t create new lines or build, be quiet when going through the gate.

    Yes Porter, the M4 is orders of magnitude more impact than my bike track, but what can you or I do about it? Nothing. But we can be concerned about our impact on the hills and woods that we love.

    Landowners in general are not our enemies. The situation may be different in Wales, but most around here largely ignore us if we respect their needs, regardless of legal “rights”. And landowners control the key asset we need for our sport – land. So don’t make enemies of them.

  49. Could a right to roam work in England? Scotland, Finland and Sweden are much less densly populated than England and arable farming plays a much larger part in the rural areas.

  50. Amongst all that unedited ranting there were some valid points. However, the impact to a trail isn’t just erosion it’s to do with wildlife too.

  51. Dunno why you had to throw CP’s rant into the pot – it added nothing. Anyway what’s wrong with promoting riding on the (assumed) cheeky stuff like this
    What’s wrong with wanting it both ways?

  52. Well, the article has done one thing and that is to provoke a response!

    Which is why we (Singletrack) started the debate about access.

    Talk is good and we need to hear from all viewpoints to decide the best way forward.

  53. If there is ever a genuine opportunity to sort out land access issues, please keep the writer of this article as far away from that opportunity as possible. I agree with a lot of what he says, am affected by the issues discussed and he’s STILL managed to get by back up!

  54. “Could a right to roam work in England? Scotland, Finland and Sweden are much less densly populated than England”

    I point out that the open access rights that these countries enjoy are not restricted to largely uninhabited areas. Scotland’s central belt, for example, is quite densely populated.

  55. What a fantastically crap article, i feel for all of you that live south of the border and have to put up with all this hassle. I am so glad to be living in scotland where common sense prevails on this matter.


    NERC has actually been quite useful to my small neighbourhood in protecting us from LAND GRAB DEVELOPERS (a bunch of less than honest local business people posing as a privatised Tourist Info Centre) who were/are trying to force an entry into an isolated site they have just bought that has no access of it’s own. Their attempts and the synchronised attempts by their political bum chums to take my neighbours’ land away have largely floundered on this piece of legislation ………….
    so it’s not all bad.
    Still cost my neighbours in the region of £10,000 between them, if not more, plus loads of stress they didn’t need or ask for, but they had no choice because they were not being offered any money and their property would have drastically been compromised. They were just being told, give up your land or face large lergal bills.

    I want access but I don’t want small property owners bullied to f… to get it on my behalf…………. because I am a small property holder (5meters by 1.12 meters of my property was threatened) and I cannot afford the legal bills.

    Then step out a bit to the recent LDNPA attempt to shit on 30 or so farmers between Broughton and Coniston to create a cycleway across land these farmers bought privately, fair and square 50 ish years ago from the defunct railway company…(since when was a railway line a public right of way…try walking down one in front of the transport police and you will find it is not) and again I’m suddenly not so keen to force the issue. I’d rather remain on good terms with the farmers than I would want to be spending more than 5 seconds within 100 meters of at least one of those LDNPA executives. Might catch a dose of masonic corruptus…especialy bad on Thursday evenings I’m thinking.

    By way of explanation…..LDNPA drifted it in as a consulting exercise, but then produced a very detailed planning application for the project and Sustrans funding, without considering the results of the consultation first!!!! ie bollocks to you, we are going to do it no matter what you, the owners of this private land, say.
    An alarming near riot at a public meeting, probably coupled with the worsening financial climate put a halt to that one, but they are still keeping the menace in the wings.

    And it’s a real shame because I would have loved to have seen that facility…but it needed prolonged and non hostile negotiations over a period of ten or so years to get everybody onside for it. Everybody needed to feel they were getting something out of it before it could ever get off the ground BUT LDNPA went ‘bullyboy deadlines’ and cocked it up for everyone…now battle lines are drawn and it ain’t going to happen without loads of grief. AND I will be supporting the farmers.

    BUT then there is one of my personal niggles, the ASHDOWN FOREST fiasco, where there is loads of public access all over it and horses are allowed over a lot of it ….and we are not, due to an archaic piece of legislation (1974…was that a good year…no it was not) that was penned before mountain bikes came on the scene. A piece of legislation now preserved by bigots whose only tangible excuse is that we cause erosion….like horses don’t! Even the bloody Romans were allowed to build a road on it and drive chariots up and down….why aren’t British mountain bikers allowed there?

  57. While the ROW subject is very complex and I think mis-understood subject,as an ex trail rider like Trimix,I have seen quite a lot of law abiding, responsible, Off road motorcycle riders go into other pastimes like mountain biking or competion motor sport,this is largely due to the local authorities downgrading vehicular rights of way,and reducing the opertunities to enjoy there hobby lawfully.
    Yet the “motoxers” who blatantly disregard any “new” legislation are still carving up the publics countryside with the blissfull ignorance of a criminal!
    Once again the lawfull majority get penalised while the minority carry on regardless!

    (Stephensons ground Coniston Cumbria is an exellent example of Illegal usage from Moto X/Enduro riders).The law is an ass,and legislation is only enforcable with money/manpower and more appropriatley education and liasion with ALL row users, and landowners.

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