Ride Sheffield recently attended a meeting convened by Mike Rhodes, Access and Rights of Way Manager for the Peak District National Park Authority. He had received a number of reports about mountain bikers behaving badly. Two of those who had experienced bad behaviour was present at the meeting. One described an encounter on Derwent Edge where a group of mountain bikers had forced him to leap to one side for his own safety while the other had a similar experience in the White Peak.
What makes this vitally important is the identity of the people involved. One was Terry Howard, Ramblers representative and a man that Ride Sheffield has got to know well over the years. Terry is ever-present at stakeholder meetings, member of the Local Access Forum and a fund of historical detail about the Peak District and the fight for access. Terry is not in the first flush of youth which makes his treatment by the mountain bikers on Derwent Edge all the more reprehensible. It also means that we’re dealing with someone who was personally involved in the fight to increase access to the Peak. The thing is, he didn’t risk getting in a bit of an argument with a member of a different user group, he risked getting a smack in the head from a game-keeper or hired thug.
Which perhaps goes some way to explaining why Terry has been an ally of Ride Sheffield over the years. He has, in the face of opposition from some of his own members, supported the upgrading of a number of footpaths to bridleways. He’s is own man, independent in a big way and judges every case on its merits. He recognises that the vast majority of mountain bikers are reasonable people. So if he says mountain bikers acted badly, you can take it as read. All of a sudden, riding like an idiot and pissing off one of our allies doesn’t look so clever does it?
The other complainant was a gentleman who described himself as an occasional mountain biker and trail motor cyclist. Again, we’re not talking about a died-in-the-wool opponent of the knobbly-tyred fraternity. He was bringing this incident to our attention more in sorrow than anger. But what really struck me was the fact that he is a trail rider, a community who have been cruelly let down by the mavericks in their midst. He knows better than anyone just how damaging it can be to a user group if some of its members resort to aggressive behaviour. Witness the number of Traffic Regulation Orders now proscribing the behaviour of the trail riding community. Do we really want to end up being tarred with the same brush?
I’m sure we’d all like to think that these are isolated incidents. Most of you reading this will shake your heads at such behaviour – it is inevitable that I’m always preaching to the choir when I address the Ride Sheffield faithful. But I’m increasingly aware that we seem to be approaching some kind of tipping point, where even though the vast majority of riders are conducting themselves impeccably, there is a minority who threaten our good name.
Which is why this very subject is debated endlessly on every mountain bike forum. Most of the comments may be from the enlightened majority but those who insist on resorting to vitriol and name-calling will always be the ones the neutral observer remembers. Yes, every user groups has its idiots. Yes, the current rights of way legislation is a joke. Yes, conflict between mountain bikers and walkers will sometimes be exaggerated by the latter. Yes, the inestimable value of mountain biking to the nation’s health and wealth is consistently ignored. But if all you do is hurl abuse, no one will take you seriously. Worse still, those who speak on your behalf, whether local campaign group like Ride Sheffield or national body such as OpenMTB or CyclingUK, will find it harder to make a case for greater access.
So don’t let those who would happily see us become the new pariahs of the great outdoors win. Challenge them wherever you find them, on the forums or trails because one day this sport is going to have to grow up.