Responsible riding is key to allowing cycles on paths of the National Park.
Scratch the dust off a modern mud-spattered thrill-seeking mountain biker, and you might find a company director or marketing executive.
Which could be why the gains made by mountain bike groups like Ride Sheffield and Peak District MTB are becoming shining examples across the UK.
“By working together, you can make things happen,” said John Horscroft, as he rode along a prime example: the popular rocky footpath along Froggatt Edge has now become a concessionary bridleway, thanks to the willingness of land managers the Eastern Moors Partnership to get visitors talking about what they’d like in their local countryside.
“We asked walkers, what are your fears about opening up the path to cyclists?” said Chris Maloney of Peak District MTB. “They said we think mountain bikers will come haring down here and won’t care who they’ll hit.”
“So we talked to them about the benefits,” said Ride Sheffield’s John Horscroft. “The small percentage of mountain bikers who are a pain in the arse will come here anyway, whether it’s a footpath or not. But once it’s a bridleway open to cyclists as well as walkers, you can exercise some control, and talk about rights and responsibilities.”
“We’ve had one incident on the new concessionary bridleways since 2013, and one complaint,” said Danny Udall of the National Trust / RSPB Eastern Moors Partnership. “I think that’s pretty spectacular over four years. Mountain bikers are doing their own self policing, which is just what we want.”
The incident in question was a cyclist in a group knocking into the arm of a walker as he rode past, said John Horscroft. “His mates behind him stopped to check the walker, and then chased after him and said: ‘What the hell are you doing?’”
The incident appeared on social media, influential local pro riders joined the debate, and the point was made that irresponsible riding could lose the path for other mountain bikers. Trail policing via peer pressure is very effective, said Chris Maloney, particularly when you’re being ticked off by a professional MTB champion.
Ride Sheffield and Peak District MTB have several thousand social media followers, so word spreads quickly about new trails negotiated with sympathetic land mangers like the Eastern Moors Partnership, the National Trust, and Sheffield Council.
And trail gains lead to cyclists paying heed to codes of conduct like the Peak Bike Code which encourages cyclists to protect their trails and the local environment, and to ride with respect for other people, encapsulated in the slogan you’ll sometimes see on trail markers: ‘Be nice, say hi.’
Example on wheels John Horscroft left a wake of bonhomie behind him as rode along Froggatt Edge. He noted: “People weren’t used to seeing new bridleways. And for walkers and climbers and horse riders, it shows that all the different Peak District user groups can coexist.”
Danny Udall is delighted with the success of the partnership work on the Eastern Moors: “Years ago people had to fight for access to these places. Nowadays it’s more about making decisions about how we look after these special places together. We know that if people are connected to the environment, they’re more likely to care for it. Mountain bikers from Ride Sheffield regularly help to maintain the trails they use, for example. We think there is plenty of room for everybody.”
Along with the twitter trail update service Keeper of the Peak, Ride Sheffield and Peak District MTB have recently published ‘The Advocacy Files’ as guidance for other groups around the world how to work with landowners to develop and maintain trails.
This month a new link with the British Mountaineering Council’s ‘Mend our Mountains’ campaign will lead to significant conservation work on the nationally-famous ‘Cut Gate’ route between Langsett and Upper Derwent, and the Great Ridge between Mam Tor and Lose Hill.
And the Eastern Moors Partnership are now looking at two new concessionary bridleways along the ‘Cairn Path’ between Houndkirk and Burbage, and from Totley across Nell Croft.
“We’ve reached a tipping point here, with more and more people riding bikes, and land managers keen to work with a listen to us.” said Chris Maloney. “Now we’d like to see the successes here mirrored and growing all over the country.”