Oi! Get orf moi land!
Why is it that mountain bikers are so despised? Your average woolly hatted rambler, or red-coated fox murderer, seems more socially acceptable these days. Now we hear legislation is to be passed that may well further limit our access to the countryside.
So let’s examine the prejudices and ask: “where does the landowners fear of mountain bikers come from?” Is it that:
a) We gouge great ruts in the land with our massive 2in tyres?
b) We will run off with his wife/her husband?
c) Or worse, we’ll ‘worry’ the sheep – some sheep do look attractive after a long day in the saddle. No I must not go there…
The problems seem to stem from the fact that we have insufficient clout to influence politicians in this country. The rest of Europe, and even the States, readily embrace mountain biking, providing plenty of routes and play areas without any UK-style fuss.
So what can we do about it?
Letter writing to your local MP is a start and well worth the effort. However I fear that the average MP will simply file your letters in the bin shaped cabinet in the floor, you know, the one with the used coffee cups in. We need to mobilise, to hit them where it hurts – in the opinion polls!. We have a government that responds to PR so how can we use this against them?
Here are a few thoughts:
1) Move from single letters to a petition. Stand outside your local supermarket and get signatures.
2) Get in touch with the local media and make sure they cover the petition either being signed or handed in to the local MP.
3) Lobby the council directly and ask what their plans are for providing places to mountain bike. Better still turn up at a council consultation meeting.
4) Look for sympathetic MP’s – I always found Charles Clarke a useful ally and Neil Kinnock is also influential in Europe transport issues.
5) Contact the ramblers association and tie in with their protests, they are well organised and already have a high profile. Remember that we share the same objectives.
Tips for success
I don’t want to be accused of inciting people to break the law, but should you decide to take the ‘French’ approach to protesting you might bear the following in mind:
1) Keep the protest peaceful, you’ll harm your case if you damage property or are unruly.
2) Do everything in public! If you do decide on a mass trespass make sure you get the media to cover it.
3) Choose a spokesperson who is media friendly. Don’t fall into the trap of having a spokesperson who confirms the prejudices of middle england. So sorry no nose studs, mohican hair, or hate tattoo’s. Play the PR game and show people what a nice, clean cut bunch we are.
4) Be clear on your local objectives. You ought to be able to state that you want access to X area and demonstrate what a reasonable request this is.