Comment | Hatred of Cyclists is Far Too Common. And Now It’s Having Consequences for Mountain Bikers
...can't we all just get along?
Trail sabotage has becoming a near regular horror on UK mountain bike trails recently, and there doesn’t seem to be any limits. One recent instalment near Delamere (above) looked as if it was taken straight from the set of a low-budget horror film.
The big question is, why do some people think placing potentially deadly obstacles in the middle of a trail is acceptable behaviour? These aren’t the kinds of people who would be starting bar fights or kicking dogs in front of cars when they’re back in the city, so how come they don’t think twice before stringing a piece of wire between two trees?
Largely, the guilty parties in all this seem to be dog walkers or hikers who believe they have some sort of vigilante calling to “take back their outdoor trails" – the problem with that of course being that more often than not, it wasn’t their trail to start with, and often the trails in question are specifically mountain bike dedicated.
In our view though, the rise of trail sabotage has come as a direct escalation of the almost commonplace ill-will being directed towards commuting and road cyclists in cities around the world.
It’s become the norm for regular, otherwise quite friendly people to declare “I hate cyclists".
What might have started as a dislike for lycra-clad commuters or riders skipping red lights in city centres has spawned to the point where most non-cycling drivers in the UK will tell you they do not like cyclists, that cyclists should stick to the pavements, be forced to sit a road test or need to be more careful on the roads.
As a mountain biker who also regularly commutes on the city roads, stops at red lights and lets cars pass when appropriate, I can absolutely attest to the fact that if you cycle regularly, you will attract far more abusive shouts, honks of the horn and dirty looks – more often than not for absolutely no reasons – than if you use any other form of transport.
I would go as far as to say that the hatred of cyclists has boiled over to the point where commuter cyclists actively bring out the worst in certain drivers, and because so many people keep saying the “hate" word, it’s become a completely acceptable thing to say.
Sometimes it’s a horrible experience – just last week I cycled past a bus stop and was brought to a halt by a heckle from the sidelines calling me a “f****** c***" because I didn’t have any bicycle lights that he could see.
The thing was, I actually did have lights on my bike, they just weren’t turned on because it was 2pm in the day and the sun was, in my opinion, more than adequately lighting up both myself and the roads around me.
But whether that furious chap in question was right about my lights or not is not the point. That's another debate for another time. The fact that it’s not uncommon to hear these kind of sick profanities being spat out is the real concern. It shows that all basic human courtesy and manners have pretty much been left behind at this point when it comes to communicating with cyclists on the roads. It’s not uncommon for me to reach my destination on a bicycle and dismount thinking “why can’t people just be... a little bit nicer".
Drivers complain about ‘GoPro warriors’ filming the roads, but spend a month riding to and from work and even if you follow every rule of the roads we guarantee you won’t blame them. It seems to be almost every other day now we’re reading stories about cyclists who have been kicked off their bikes or forced off the roads by a car.
Sure, the majority of cars and cyclists co-exist perfectly fine, but as it becomes more and more common to openly admit, or even joke, “I hate cyclists" when driving, the minority continues to grow.
And this is now spanning beyond the roads. It’s an accepted, shockingly unsurprising turn for someone to say they dislike cyclists now; and when they say that, they’re not discriminating between road cyclists and mountain bikers or BMXers. A lot wouldn’t know the difference. They’re just saying that they dislike cyclists in general, and if it’s acceptable to dislike cyclists on the roads then it’s acceptable to dislike cyclists on the back roads and on the forest trails and, for the simple reason that there is a deep public ignorance among hikers and dog-walkers of what mountain biking actually is in certain areas, even on designated mountain bike trails as well.
Largely, mountain bikers and hikers and horse riders and dog-walkers have been able to co-exist well and with relatively little issue.
But just as that minority of drivers are becoming more and more extreme in their treatment of road cyclists, to the point of harm, danger and abuse, the minority of trail users who do not take kindly to mountain bikers riding where they deem is not appropriate are going to further extremes to try and keep them away as well.
The brigade mumbling ‘bloody cyclists’ under their breath are now thinking less about the harm they could physically be causing another human being when they chuck a log onto a trail, because when more and more people are actively pigeonholing cyclists as a negative force, it’s just less of a stretch for one or two of those people to do something drastic and act on it.
The problem is that a lot of these people still don’t really know what mountain biking is; the speed of the sport and the dangers involved, and the fact that any one of these traps that they lay could cause a fatal accident. A police statement said after a rider was injured in the Forest of Dean on such a trap a couple of months ago, "This is dangerous. We would urge those members of the public who are carrying out what they may think is a harmless prank to stop their behaviour before somebody is seriously hurt."
The other problem of course, is that there isn’t really an immediate solution for this, other than properly punishing the offenders. The warfare between cyclists and road users is in full flow, and it’s only getting worse on the trails as well.
So, my only plea, to anyone who’s made it to the final line in this article, is this: please just try and be a bit nicer to your fellow human being, and if you’re not a cyclist, think twice before saying that you “hate" anyone riding a bike.
We could use a bit of good will at the moment, after all. Didn’t you hear Donald Trump got elected?