It seems impossible sometimes. The endless tension between the respectable and the radical seems to pick at the gut of so many groups and movements.
Mountain biking in England and Wales is restricted to the arcane backways, the brief and rare and disconnected; BOATs and RUPPs and Bridleways and all that. As riders, we clearly have choices to make as to how closely we toe the legal line, how much of the countryside we say is out of bounds to us. Maybe we can sneak our access in, with cheeky furtive rides at odd times of day or night? Maybe we should see the law as something wider than us and obey it diligently?
No. Our stingy access laws are as clear a mark as any of the aristocratic shadow still draped over the UK. Land access is a radical idea. This is not mere playing around in the mud with bikes. Allowing the aristocratic state to dictate our ability to move about our own country, in our own non-damaging way, is kowtowing to an ancient injustice.
Land ownership in the UK is incredibly concentrated, reflecting a history of theft and persecution. Vast tracts of the UK are owned by lords and barons. It’s bloody medieval out there. Mountain bikers shouldn’t be ok with that. The groups that supposedly represent us shouldn’t be ok with that.
The unceasingly gentle approach of all our cycling groups has failed. Not only has it failed, it has done so spectacularly, with pathetic cycling rates in this country. I’m sure our gentle letters and polite campaigns will lead to access rights being extended to us in the next half century. I’m sure quality cycle infrastructure will be built in the next few decades, or the few after that. The CTC have been saying that for years.
That’s not good enough.
So ride where you like. Ignore the label of “trespasser”, created to shackle us plebs. When we ride footpaths, we’re not trespassing, we’re protesting. It’s our land, lets ride it.