A ride of contrasts

bog bridge picture by Dan Phillips

It was all going so well, the trails were much much drier than I’d expected and surprisingly it was quieter in the woods than it has been recently. The stay local lockdown rules seem to have been heeded generally by everyone. The trails have suffered from over use yes, but once things open up and the amount of footfall lessens the ground should recover given enough time and a dry Spring.

As we were riding along Dan and I were discussing the fact that because riders haven’t been able to travel to riding spots that there had been a lot of trail building going on. Most of the trails locally have been there for years and are away from the most popular walking paths. So generally there’s not too much conflict between cyclists and walkers. The area is owned and looked after by the local council. The woods are maintained by the local ranger service working for the council and as long as the trails aren’t overly dangerous, there are “chicken” runs and they don’t use footpaths the rangers turn a blind eye. We’d never ride at peak times, such as Sunday afternoons in normal times as it’s just too busy with families , dogs and horses. However, in lockdown it’s busy all the time and I guess the local riders are bored so many new trails have sprung up and go across footpaths and paths that get very busy.

As we pedaled along one general use path I pointed out a trail that came down the steep bank to the left of us. The trail wound through the trees, then over a log drop into a shute that crossed the path and then carved round into a man made berm, also on another path. As we stood there considering if we had the skills to actually ride it (no is the answer from me!) an old chap and his dog came towards us. we moved on out of his way thinking it was a good job we hadn’t been riding down that steep route at that moment. Then, three riders appeared on that very trail. It’s a trail that needs commitment to clear, once you drop over the log there’s no going back as the pick up in speed is high. The lead rider narrowly missed the dog. The dog, who was getting on a bit looked a bit stunned and didn’t know which way to turn, back to his owner or away from the riders who now were following their friend down the trail. They were committed and if they tried to stop would almost certainly have crashed. they were dropping in straight at the dog.

I’m not sure how they managed it but they all missed hitting the dog or the owner and thank goodness for that. The lead rider was stood next to me sharing pleasantries and I’ll be honest I just had to ride away before speaking my mind. It wouldn’t have done my day any good to get into an argument over how riding these trails at peak times can cause conflict. Yes, some people will ask why we were riding at this peak time but we were trying to keep to the quiet areas and when we were in a busy part we always give way and employ judicious use of the Timber bell! This time they were lucky and no one was hurt from a collision or by crashing but it was pretty close. Yes, the dog was off the lead and I’ll admit I’m not a fan of loose dogs even if their owner claims they are under control but in this instance the dog was well behaved…or terrified. We didn’t stick around to see the old guys reaction either but it certainly wasn’t going to be a good one and he’s going to leave the woods with a bad impression of cyclists that he’s going to spread.

So, I’m in conflict about this. I’ve ridden this area for 30+ years and there has always been trail building. I’ve enjoyed riding these trails. Trails that 99% of the time have been away from the most popular areas. I can see it from the side of the riders, they can’t head to a trail centre or over the border to Wales or into the Forest of Dean for example, local is all they have at the moment. But, it’ll only take one incident where someone gets seriously injured and makes a claim against the council and the call to ban all riding in the area will rear it’s ugly head and the high volume of people at the moment increases the chance of that more and more.

My only hope is that the promised opening up of the country in the next few months will ease the amount of traffic on both sides and things will settle down again.

If you have similar issues and I’m sure it’s the same all over the country then please please think before you route that trail through a busy area used by everyone. Think before you drop into a trail where if a person or an animal gets in your way it will be difficult to stop

Share the space as if you’d like to ride it over and over for the next 30+ years because if you don’t you might find that that privilege has been taken away.

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