Cycling UK has emphasised that it is happy to work with local branches of the Ramblers Association to address concerns following suggestions that a number of local groups oppose the organisation’s campaign to open up more of the nation’s landscape for off-road cycling.
Rides of Way, Cycling UK’s off-road report found that a third of off-road cyclists ride regularly on trails whose status they do not know, while a further 74 per cent consider the current Rights of Way unsuitable.
At the moment cyclists (and horse riders) only have access to just over a fifth of England and Wales’ 146,000km rights of way network – 22 per cent in England and 21 per cent in Wales. According to Cycling UK's Campaigns Coordinator, Sam Jones: “That’s largely down to the archaic laws laid down prior to the invention of the bicycle, so it seems about time we looked into this and addressed the imbalance.”
The Craven Herald reports that a number of local Ramblers groups are against such a move with formal resolutions being taken resisting any change to the law that currently restricts off-road cycling to public bridleways and byways.
However, Jones clarifies: “We’re not calling for blanket access across the whole network, merely increased access.”
While he agrees that there are clearly routes which most likely aren’t suitable for cycling, such as the “narrow, steep and winding footpaths” cited in the Craven Herald article, he highlights metalled tracks which cars are currently allowed on, but cyclists are not, and says “that’s clearly something which needs to change.”
Cycling UK claim to be maintaining a ‘good dialogue’ with the Ramblers Association national body. Speaking to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) select committee earlier in the year, Cycling UK’s Policy Director Roger Geffen noted that conflict between different user groups is not inherent, but can arise when there are too many users in too little space.
The British Horse Society’s Mark Weston echoed that point and suggested that by increasing access by even a small amount, the load would be better spread across the network, rather than concentrated in smaller areas.
Nor are cyclists keen to come into conflict with walkers. As Jones points out, “those cyclists heading off-road are quite often people who enjoy a walk too.”