I miss the Fast Show, particularly Paul and Harry’s piss take of the 4×4 fraternity. Two cammo clad numpties explaining the day’s mission, exclaiming “Let’s off road!” and promptly burying their vehicle up to the axles in mud.
Good job Whitehouse and Enfield never took a pop at the mountain biking community because we’d make a perfect target. High nerd count, never as rad-looking as we think we are and ridiculous clothing – perfect piss-taking material. And, as I found out the other day, it’s always sobering to see ourselves as others see us.
Me and the missus were on Blackamoor’s Devil’s Elbow when I spotted a lady and her dog on the way up, pulled over and waved her on. We got talking. She was obviously a Blackamoor fan, walked there nearly every day and clearly bore no animosity towards mountain bikers. We discussed the state of the trail and the hammering it’s taken this year due to the incessant rain. We discussed trail erosion in general, how everyone causes it whether on foot, Maxxi’s, or hooves.
I asked her if she’d ever had any unpleasant experiences with mountain bikers. The conversation then took an uncomfortable turn. She was remarkably reticent but admitted that occasionally riders came through too fast, too close and with little regard for her safety.
The fact that she was a lone woman is important. How disconcerting must it be when two or three helmeted figures covered in 661 armour on mountain bikes come tearing towards you? As far as the riders are concerned, they’re just having fun. To a lone walker, it must be an intimidating sight. The Internet is full of cyclists banging on endlessly about motorists making close passes. However, when we do pretty much the same thing it’s OK?
I explained about Ride Sheffield and our long running campaign to encourage riders to act responsibly. I rolled out all the usual platitudes about how it’s only a minority of riders who are irresponsible and that every user group has its idiots. And fair play to her, she agreed with all of it.
So why did I still feel uncomfortable? Why did I feel the need to apologise so profusely for this tiny minority? Why the nagging feeling that there’s more we can do?
I think the reasons are two-fold. First, we’re none of us blameless. I’m sure there are times when I could have slowed down more, left more room, stopped and chatted. Secondly, I know there’s an element within the mountain biking community who will always find someone else to blame. It’s always the fault of dog-walkers/runners/walkers/horse riders, never mountain bikers and the internet provides a perfect platform to trumpet those views. Generally, this assertion will be backed up by one example and that example will be used to condemn an entire user group.
So, by the same token, should all mountain bikers be condemned as hooligans thanks to that minority who don’t do the right thing? Remember, motorcycle trail riders include many responsible participants and influential groups such as the Trail Riders Fellowship but that hasn’t prevented them becoming almost universally villified.
Mountain biking is a comparatively young sport. It’s vitally important we recognise that for some outdoor enthusiasts the growing number of bikes on the trails has been an uncomfortable experience. Being friendly and respectful on the trail is the very least we can do to aid the transition to a time when we’re accepted as equals on the trail.
Attitudes have improved significantly over the last few years thanks to groups such as Ride Sheffield and Peak District MTB and more and more riders appreciating the benefits of behaving appropriately. Many land managers and user groups no longer see us as a threat resulting in Barbrook Valley, Longshaw Estate and Green Drive in the Burbage Valley becoming bridelways.
Since hostility on the trails is much less common than it once was, it’s now crucial we build on that momentum and reach a point where mountain bikers are accepted as legitimate and responsible members of the outdoor community. Trail Karma is simple, be nice, say hi!