The Soapbox: Please Lay Off the Throttle

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Words by Chris Southwood | Images by Chris Southwood

I recently posted a comment of Flow’s Facebook page about the wish for moto riders to stop trashing our trails.  That post got many comments and I thought it best to take the time to clarify and expand my thoughts.

My favourite local trails aren’t legal. Not for mountain bikes, not for 4WDs and not for dirt bikes. But with the illegality largely unenforced, the area is a bit of a playground for all comers. For as long as I’ve ridden there everyone has coexisted nicely and there’s been a good balance between users. Dog walkers, motos, mountain bikes, teenagers smoking drugs.

I’m used to these trails being chopped up, rough and loose. That’s one of the reasons I ride there, because the trails are so technical, unpredictable and always challenging. In many ways the motos have shaped some of the best of parts of the trail, berming up corners on the fireroads or created cool rock scrambles that are good to ride down.

Yet over the last couple of years the numbers of dirt bike riders on the trails seems to have gone through the roof. This isn’t a problem in itself – motos have just as much legal right to be there as I do. But when the rise in moto numbers seems to be accompanied by a collective decline in their respect for others, then we have a problem.

For me personally it came to a head a few days ago. I’d been avoiding the trails because it had been raining a lot; with so much sand and clay in the trail surface, riding in the wet trashes your bike and chews up the trails. On the fireroad into the trails I was almost cleaned up by two guys on dirt bikes, riding side by side round a corner at 50km/h. No sorry wave, they just forced me into the scrub and kept going. But it wasn’t until I hit the singletrack that I really got the shits…

The singletrack I was riding had been built by mountain bikers: it’s tight, very technical – most motos wouldn’t get out of first, maybe second, gear. As I mentioned, I’ve been avoiding it because of the rain. Apparently some moto riders haven’t been so worried.

This trail has always had a few motos ruts, but nothing like the massive channels that confronted me now. Big, deep trenches dug up by riders who have either no idea how to use their clutch lever or who just don’t give a stuff about anyone else enjoying the trail too. In other places, new lines had been simply ridden through the bush where the corner was too tight for a moto to make it easily around. Sections of scrub just flattened by riders who didn’t stop to think for one second, that perhaps this trail wasn’t really built for motos.

As I’ve said earlier, rough, technical trails are great. But rendering them almost completely unrideable to anyone without 125ccs under their butt is just selfish. And trashing the bush in an area that’s already seriously contentious with the green lobby is counter-productive for everyone. If motos are serious about getting more trail access, ripping a shortcut through the bush to avoid a corner is about the dumbest approach I can imagine… This kind of stuff will get the whole area closed down to all users in no time.

I’ve heard all the arguments: that it’s fundamentally an access issue, that motos need more legal places to ride too, that it’s just a few bad apples giving moto riders a bad name, that mountain bikers do the same thing to walking trails. All of these arguments miss the basic point that on the whole, motos and mountain bike trails don’t mix. This is especially true in areas where there are hundreds of other trails users looking to enjoy the same patch of dirt over a weekend.

If you live in a capital city and want to ride a moto, you cannot expect to just be able to ride the same local trails as shared by walkers and mountain bikers and then, when the inevitable confrontation happens, chuck your hands in the air and say you’ve got just as much ‘right’ to be there as anyone else. This is over simplification in the extreme and the worst kind of feigned ignorance. In terms of the impact upon both the trail and other users, a moto is in a different league. In one wet ride, a moto can tear apart a singletrack in a way that 100 mountain bikers never could – this cannot be denied with a straight face.

Yes, moto riders have the same legal rights to ride these trails as I do (or in this instance, the same lack of rights), but that’s no excuse for flouting common sense and ruining the trails for everyone else.

Ridden by few and ruined for all.

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