Now, many within the off road riding world in the UK will freely endorse the use of Byways all year around but will stop short of exploring other trails such as bridleways and footpaths…because that’s the law.
However, I have stumbled upon bridleways and footpaths in the past by pure chance after misreading the path of the byway…and guess what? The trails were deserted! Now of course you would imagine that footpaths and bridleways would be most commonly used perhaps at the weekends or in the morning or late afternoons in the summertime, however…whatever the time, you can wager they are seldom used and especially so when away from large stables areas or out in the deepest countryside.
Of course there are many riders who with random abandon, ride these other trails and restricted byways because they are there. Now, I am torn with not wanting to break the ‘law’ by using my motorcycle on such a trail…and wanting to go ride them because there is nobody around and I’ll not do be doing any harm.
Case in point. Today, I was out on the byways again and there was a short stretch of trail that was bookended by byways. It was completely absurd that this restriction should appear smack bang in the middle. There wasn’t a change in surface or width…in fact it was almost like a single track lane at one point…so I merely continued at a slow and respectful pace until I rejoined.
I have done this on numerous occasions, even encountering walkers, cyclists and horse riders coming in the opposite direction…and not once did I ever have a crossed word with any of them, although I was rather expecting to do so. So if the majority of non motorised users don’t mind certain motorcycles using them, then what really is the problem?
The problem being that not all motorcyclists are respectful and conscious that their actions could alienate other users. If I ever come across a horse rider, I will make a point of giving them a wide berth or even stopping and switching off the engine. If I come across walkers or cyclists, then I will slow to a crawl pace as I pass but always offer a friendly hello and a smile…believe me it makes all the difference!
So as I reached the other end of the restricted byway and rejoined the byway (actually it hadn’t been signposted very well at all and I thought it was still the byway at one stage) I was soon cut off by a random farmer type in his 4×4. Now, at this stage I was on the Byway and he drove right across my path so that I could not proceed. As he got out of the truck, I thought I was in for an ear bending, but actually it was anything but!
He was perturbed that I had come across the restricted bit but he also said that he didn’t mind my bike as it wasn’t a motocross type and I was going slowly and quietly. As we chatted, he acknowledged it was a daft place to have a restriction but he just wanted to let me know that it was there. Of course I was very apologetic and verified that I could continue, but it was all very civilised and I was soon on my way.
Yes, I was in the wrong, but I hadn’t done any harm and I had been riding cautiously and respectfully too. You see there is a pattern emerging here! My non confrontational approach and apologetic nature certainly diffused the situation immediately which all added to the ease of passage too.
So the moral of the story is that some people are of course concerned that motorcycles will use trails and tracks when they shouldn’t. Some will object purely because they don’t like riders and others will make their judgements depending on how the bikes are being ridden. In this case it was clear that I was not riding like an idiot and a sensible conversation could be had…so I got to thinking why can’t we simply get some kind of approval or permit to ride restricted byways or bridleways etc especially when most people don’t mind responsible riders.
I agree totally that it would have to be governed properly and that the onus will have to be on the riders to behave accordingly, but I think there is scope to ‘legalise’ the use of these trails and still live in harmony with other trail users.
One of the other issues would be when they should be used. So for example, today I also rode along the Ridgeway in the Berkshire Downs, UK which is mostly a byway but is only open from April to October. This helps to keep the byway in a reasonable condition without being cut up to buggery in the winter by 4x4s, trucks and of course motorcycles. Perhaps a similar strategy could be used to allow access onto bridleways during the summer when it is largely dry and the trails are compacted hard?
As these are bridleways, another restriction could be that the motorcycle has the lowest priority of any other user. Therefore, they must yield to horse riders and walkers and not going faster than let’s say…15mph.
The amount of bridleways I have ridden on, whether on my motorcycle or bicycle, in the past and they have been totally empty just makes me think that we can make much better use of them and not impact on the local environment either. There would have to be a sensible approach to this and the responsibility would have to be placed on the bike riders primarily.
Everyone wins. People get out into the countryside more and take trade into the rural areas too. Just think of all the shops or trades that could be set up purely to service this extra amount of riders. Of course it would be naive to think that there would be millions of riders buzzing about the place if the rules were changed, but it would certainly help.
The other considerations would be that most motorcyclists don’t really want to go off road anyway, so it would only be attractive to off road types too, perhaps enforce a lower decibel rating on the exhaust tone to help also.
Whatever the restrictions placed on the riders, it would be a small price to pay to be able to access these trails legally and experience the amazing scenery out there. The bridleways are largely well kept, well mapped and not too technical either, so most would appeal to inexperienced riders too.
So a day out on the byways turned out to be a lesson in how to speak to people who may not want you there in the first place, but also it has become a point of discussion amongst myself and others…to allow access with limitations, with permits and with responsible riding too. It could be done and the benefits would be huge too.