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Legal or illegal? Right or wrong?

Friday, 14 December 2012

Mud.

(I wrote this after reading Nick Bullock’s (author of the superb Echoes, buy it here, cough, cough.) blog about climbers tearing their way up Welsh winter routes that aren’t in condition. Have a look here and see if you agree.)

I came skipping in to work with a massive ‘morning after’ grin on my face. Last night was a very good night. No, not like that … I was biking.

It was awesome – frozen solid with clear skies, deserted trails and totally still and silent moors – the full works. The ground was rock solid, as fast and dry as the middle of summer. Ice creaked as I rode, and my breath smoked and the heather sparkled whenever I stopped. I didn’t really want to ‘stop’ stop either. I’d have carried on all night if I could have done and I’m already planning this evening’s ride.

Zoom back a few months and I got to work with an equally big grin on my face (riding clearly has an effect on me). This time, my grin was a bit of a dirty one. I probably had mud in my teeth. I’d just taken the long way in, having got up extra early to go and play in the mud for a couple of hours before staring at a computer all day. Again, it was awesome: muddy, sketchy and slippery – the full ‘British Summer’ experience. Nice and squelchy, lots of sliding around in corners and more than one over-the-bars stop into a deep trough of mud. I like stuff like that.

I’ll not tell you where I went yesterday, as it wasn’t entirely legal. But that’s kind of the point. The only tracks I left were in the frost (everyone likes leaving tracks in the frost). I didn’t leave a trace that will be there by the time Friday’s forecast rain arrives. I didn’t widen any singletrack, I didn’t deepen any puddles and my bike came home clean. And here’s the thing: I won’t ride that singletrack again – even though it’s one of my favourites – until it either freezes once more or it dries out completely.

Back-track a couple of months to the second ride and I’m delighted to tell you my location. I was in the Rivelin Valley. My route was 100% legal, but I probably – almost certainly – shouldn’t have been there. Even though I’d given it a couple of days to dry out (no really, I had), it was still sopping. My bike stole several pounds of Rivelin mud from the trails and deposited them on the office floor (sssh) and my washing machine almost went on strike that evening. I left no end of tracks, slides and body-shaped splats on the bridleways and, even with the best will in the world, there were times when I slithered off the trail and through the undergrowth. If twenty other riders slither with me, we’ve got a wider track.

So, on to my rather rambling point. Both rides in question were on some of my favourite singletrack. Sadly, it’s all singletrack that’s widened dramatically over the past (incredibly wet) summer. I’m not just blaming bikers: there are more footprints in the mud than there are tyres tracks, and we bikers can ride through rather than walk round the bogs to limit this. But the result is the same. Some sections of that singletrack have been pretty much ruined.

Forget the fact that one ride was legal and one wasn’t (even if I did have far less impact on the environment on my ‘illegal’ ride than on the other). The point is that the trails are widening. It’s not just bikers, walkers, horse riders; it’s all of us. I’m not even sure what the answer is, or if it even matters. Actually, scrap that, of course it matters. But I’m enough of a hypocrite to have no intention of putting my bike in a box and waiting for summer. I might stick to rockier trails for the next few weeks though. Maybe, as mountain bikers, we need to give more thought to when and where we have fun; I'm not sure it’s sustainable to just ride where we want, when we want.

Tom.

p.s. Here’s an additional thought for the riders:

Why had I dragged myself out of bed two hours before work? Strava. I wanted to measure up against everyone else in a month-long Strava trail race. I picked a quiet time, but my massive ego drove me out on to a muddy trail … But then again, it got me up and out of bed for a really good that ride I’d not otherwise have had. And I kicked John’s ass.

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