The Only Way Is Ethics….

Should Ride Sheffield impose a voluntary ban where trails have become badly eroded, even if the erosion is not entirely the fault of riders? John Horscroft examines the issues….

Mountain bike advocacy groups have a tightrope to walk because, if there’s one thing riders hate, it’s being told what to do. If a self-appointed ethics police dares to suggest that we should act responsibly, there’s every chance someone in the biking community will shout, “Oi, who died and made you king?!”

However, if we simply ignore rider behaviour, we risk falling off the other side of the tightrope into irrelevance. Over the years, Ride Sheffield has been assiduous in building excellent relationships with many local land managers. We regularly talk to Danny Udall of the Eastern Moors Partnership, Nabil Abbas of the Sheffield Wildlife Trust and Rebekah Newman of Stanage/North Lees. Often, we’re offering help, sometimes we have a request to make. It’s all about give and take.

Sheep Skulls track - a great example of co-operation between Ride Sheffield and land manager Danny Udall.

Sheep Skulls track – a great example of co-operation between Ride Sheffield and land manager Danny Udall.

So when a land manager asks for help, it’s our duty and in our interest to respond positively. If riders have been acting irresponsibly, building trails in a Site of Special Scientific Interest for instance, (yes, it’s happened), then asking for help from the riding community is usually a fairly pain-free experience. The vast majority of mountain bikers are sensible people who love the great outdoors in all its diversity and like to see it protected. Ride Sheffield wouldn’t have been as successful as it has been in its first five years without the wholehearted support of its members.

The problems usually start when it’s something more contentious such as riding trails in poor conditions or reacting badly when challenged by walkers or horse-riders. Start questioning how people ride, and the poo can very quickly impact the air-conditioning.

Should certain trails appear on Strava? Should we try to influence riders who cause damage on sensitive footpaths? Altering trails by straightlining corners has to be wrong, no?

Debates surrounding issues such as these can, as they say, break the internet. Just look at Singletrack World and you’ll see the kind of endless debate I mean. By contrast, over the years, the Ride Sheffield Facebook page has been a haven of reasoned debate. Issues raised may elicit the odd deranged reply, but the Ride Sheffield community usually takes great delight in shouting down those who talk out of the wrong orifice.

Influence means trails. Burbage Green Drive - now a bridleway.

Influence means trails. Burbage Green Drive – now a bridleway.

It’s essential everyone knows that if we post something on Facebook or the website, we’ve thought long and hard about the rights and wrongs of it. Trust me, very often the land manager concerned will have a good deal of sympathy for the mountain biking community, but we have to be seen to do the right thing. We have so few rights and are such a young yet fast growing sport that many of those who have enjoyed the solitude of the Peak District for years find themselves unsettled by the growing number of bikes in the landscape.

Therefore, we have to continue be the good guys. If we fail to respond to a request for help from land managers, we may end up being the lumped in with the irresponsible fringes of the motorbike trail riding community, who have few allies in the outdoor community and therefore, no power.

So, do we stick our necks out and address some of the issues that face mountain biking? Is it our place to decide what constitutes poor behaviour? Or do we simply generate debate on the Facebook pages, website and Twitter and let the members decide?

Ox Stones track in 2009, considerably narrower than it is now.

Ox Stones track in 2009, considerably narrower than it is now.

It’s a toughy and no mistake. Maybe the simplest answer is to deal with every case on its merits. We’ve recently become aware of a major erosion problem on an informal path on Houndkirk Moor. The trail that runs from the Ox Stones down to Jumbles Road has gone from a perfect ribbon of singletrack to a wide path in a matter of three years and although all users have contributed to the erosion, mountain bikers are probably the biggest culprits.

We could ignore this, but it’s not the Ride Sheffield way. So we’re suggesting a voluntary ban on that particular trail to allow the heather to grow back. We will also be discussing the possibility of contributing volunteer labour to any restoration schemes that Land Manager Danny Udall may suggest. We’re keen to hear what mountain bikers think of this suggestion, so please get over to the Facebook page and have your say.

A map of the area can be found here

Over to you!