As the trails get busier the importance of Considerate Mountain Biking grows more important. Here we offer some perspective and guidance for riders based on the legal requirements and good practice models.
We have focussed this article on mountain bikers and yet in no way are we saying this user group is any less considerate than any other. All trail users share equal responsibility and this is simply aimed as useful and friendly advice. We hope you find it useful.
This summer the trails of the Peak District National Park have never been busier. Walkers, cyclists and horse riders have all been making great use of the outdoors and enjoyed the beauty and leisure opportunities the park offers.
But each type of user must be able to coexist with others and, if that doesn’t happen, it doesn’t take long before conflict arises. This might lead to verbal exchanges on the trails or, in extreme cases, there have been reports of trail traps being set that might injure mountain bikers.
Lots of great advocacy work has been undertaken by a variety of groups and huge strides have been taken. Here we simply offer some everyday ways riders can continue to forge constructive relationships with other trail users.
The International Mountain Biking say ‘The way we ride today shapes mountain bike trail access tomorrow’ and this sums it up really. We are all responsible for doing our bit.
Why do mountain bikers need to ride responsibly?
Mountain biking is extremely popular. The Scottish National MTB Strategic framework suggested 11.8 million people in the UK own a mountain bike. Of these, they suggested 1.3 million use them regularly to ride off-road. By any measure mountain biking is a popular sport – and growing in popularity.
Like with any user group, there is always the potential for our activities to cause conflict with other outdoor enthusiasts and landowners. Plus, there are visible signs of erosion on some tracks across our upland moorland areas. This certainly isn’t only caused by mountain bikers, but every hill goer needs to be sensitive to the potential damage caused by their activities. The popularity of outdoor sports also has knock on effects like parking problems, littering and the possible associated impact on wildlife.
Where can we ride?
Considerate mountain biking needs us to understand where we can and can’t ride. The rights for mountain bikers vary in different parts of the UK. In England, since the introduction of the 1968 Countryside Act, the riding of pedal cycles has been permitted on bridleways, restricted byways and byways open to all traffic (BOAT’s). It is still important to note that this right may be restricted by local bylaws.
The same laws apply in Wales although recently the Welsh Government announced proposals to change access rights for mountain bikers, cyclists and horse riders on public rights of way in Wales. They have begun, as they state, ‘the process of reviewing and potentially implementing responsible access to suitable rights of way by mountain bikers, cyclists and horse riders, which are currently off-limits to those user groups.’ It hasn’t happened yet, but once implemented this could be a huge development for mountain bikers.
In Scotland the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 established a right of access to most land and inland water in Scotland. Access rights derived from the act extend to a wide range of activities, including mountain biking. The act is clear that a person only has access rights if they are exercised responsibly. In Ireland the rules mimic England.
How do we do the right thing?
If you trawl the net you’ll find different ‘Codes of Conducts’ for mountain biking and they follow similar principles. The Rules of The Trail written by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) offers a good representative model.
RIDE OPEN, LEGAL TRAILS
Respect trail and road closures and avoid straying on private land. There are loads of great mountain biking guidebooks which will keep you pointed in the right direction. However, trails do change so it’s important to check the guidebook information is up to date. Also, if you are out on the trails and get to a track you aren’t sure about, do try to verify its legality before use.
RESPECT THE LANDSCAPE
Respect the dirt beneath you and practice low impact cycling. Avoid riding under conditions where you will cause damage. Wet and muddy trails are more vulnerable. When the trail bed is soft, consider other riding options.
This also means staying on existing trails and not creating new ones if possible. In wet conditions path users sometimes make new tracks to avoid the puddles. In dry conditions it is easy to rip off the fine surface vegetation layer which can expose the vulnerable peat underneath. We wrote about this in our Moors For The Future blog post here. A lot of it comes down to planning a route to suit the conditions.
RIDE IN CONTROL
Inattention for even a second can cause accidents. Know your limitations. Hone your skills somewhere safe and don’t underestimate the damage you can do to yourself when you fall off at speed.
SHARE THE TRAIL
Make known your approach. A friendly greeting works well. Take the time to slow down as you approach. Most walkers will happily move to one side to let you pass. If they do please take the trouble to say thank you.
MIND THE ANIMALS
Animals will always be startled by undetected approaches. When passing horses use special care and follow any directions from the riders. For the safety of all concerned it’s vital to slow down, let them know you are coming and give them a wide berth.
Know your equipment, your ability and the area in which you are riding and prepare accordingly. Know your route and leave plenty of time to allow for unexpected delays like mechanical problems, fatigue or that important cafe stop. Plan alternatives into your route plan to cut the ride short if needed.
Carry enough tools, food, drink and equipment to deal with any trail emergencies. It is also worth carrying a compact set of lights if there is any danger you could end up out after dark.
Luck favours the well prepared
Getting appropriate training might be the best investment you make. To learn essential navigation skills consider one of our navigation courses. To learn MTB skills consider one of our mountain biking courses. Lastly, if the worst comes to the worst having key first aid skills might be a lifesaver. Consider one of our ITC Outdoor First Aid courses. Finally, if your bike needs repairs, upgrades or a service, please do check out our Double Black Bike Repairs services.
Considerate mountain biking
So that’s it. Considerate mountain biking is the responsibility of every rider just as other trail users should be respectful in return. It is mainly doing the obvious anyway, so shouldn’t need additional effort on our two wheel adventures. Please enjoy the trails but protect their future for us all. Finally, the useful video from British Cycling below has lots of useful information on trail etiquette.