The Tipping Point

What would it take to stop you riding a trail? Given the addictive nature of mountain biking, just how big a red flag would have to be waved to stop you heading out? And who would have to be waving it?

Let’s start with the easy one, conditions. It’s been a bone of contention for years but I’ve the distinct impression that more and more riders are making informed decisions about where and when they ride if conditions are bad.

Advocacy groups all over the country such as Ride Sheffield, Peak District MTB, Ride Calderdale, Lake District MBA and Pennine Mountain Bike Action are all singing the same song, that we have a responsibility to look after the trails. Add the Keeper of the Peak Twitter feed which keeps the community informed about conditions in the Peak and it becomes a message that’s hard to ignore.

What’s more, mountain bikers are heading out on a regular basis to repair trails and more and more individuals are calling for responsible riding on social media. The sense of shared endeavour is growing.

Obviously, there are still riders who will use every excuse they can to justify bog trotting; it’s my right, walkers go out whatever the weather, it’s only a bit of mud. But, as usual, I’m probably preaching to the converted here. If you’ve come to this because you are a supporter of one of the aforementioned MB groups, in all likelihood you do the right thing anyway.

So let’s up the ante. What if you became aware that a trail was home to an endangered ground nesting bird? Or owing to a change in land use, nightjar were returning to a particular habitat and you were being asked not to night-ride in that area? What if there was archaeological significance, how would you react to that? Again, I’m guessing most of you would heed that advice.

So why is there such a clear divide between those who give a damn and those who don’t? Some riders are new to the sport and their ignorance is understandable. Those who have been riding for years and care little for ground conditions or wildlife impacts may feign ignorance, but they know full well what they’re doing.

Is it simply the toxic combination of adrenaline and testosterone that leads to reckless riding because I’ll wager most irresponsible behaviour is committed by blokes? Is it mob rule? Is it ignorance of the consequences? Or is it that fabled second childhood they’re going through, a determination to be the rebel without a clue, never listening to reason, never thinking about anyone but themselves?

Their justifications are unfortunately reinforced by the mountain bike media, who regularly  champion going out however bad the weather, (got to keep the wheels of industry turning), publicise videos that show irresponsible behaviour and do little (with a few noble exceptions) to boost the message coming from advocacy groups.

What will bring us to the tipping point where peer pressure will ensure those who ride irresponsibly will feel obligated to change their ways?

Crucially, the media have to realise they strongly influence how people ride and respond accordingly. Do an internet search for ‘responsible MTB riding’ and you’ll find the few examples of good practice are utterly overwhelmed by a welter of product placement, irresponsible videos and ‘how to wheelie’ advice. It’s depressing.

So what’s the prescription for a saner mountain biking world? Advocacy groups and there supporters must persevere even at the risk of coming across as the fun-police. Magazine’s, both on-line and in print, must wake up to the fact that they too have a responsibility to influence how riders conduct themselves. And the wider industry must finally appreciate that continued growth is dependent on their customers not acting like dicks. How do we achieve all this? Well, to channel Churchill, blood, sweat, tears and internet insurrection.