March 26 2009.

With sales of road-legal dirtbikes down over 30% 1, and local authorities and anti-vehicle user groups increasing the pressure to clamp down on trailriding, the Trail Riders Fellowship (TRF) is calling for urgent action to stop irresponsible and illegal use of greenlanes.

Enemies of responsible 'off-road' motorcycling cite the thoughtless actions of the few - whether it be turning tracks into impassable bogs or using loud, illegal silencers and riding recklessly - as justifications for banning the vast majority of us from the countryside. Increasingly, cash-strapped highway authorities who can't afford to maintain or repair their unsealed rights of way (RoW) are bowing to such pressure and closing them down.

The TRF's warning follows a number of actions taken by local authorities in the Yorkshire Dales, Mid-Wales and other areas of the country favoured by trailriders, plus a growing number of videos posted on community website YouTube apparently glorifying damage to sensitive surfaces and/or the use of illegal routes. Many of these videos, such as those produced by 'Muddy Monkeys', 'brownie2uk' and 'Smokinride', show riders blatantly tearing up peaty upland tracks and riding off the legal track, thus encouraging others to do the same.

Whilst the TRF recognises that many people who take up trailriding do so to meet the challenge of riding difficult or 'technical' terrain, this should not be confused with responsibly riding on what are, in fact, unsurfaced public roads in order to enjoy otherwise remote and unspoilt countryside. TRF Press Officer Mark Williams noted that "Motocross, trials and to an increasing extent enduros are closed circuit sports that offer challenges to those that seek them, but riding what are often essentially competition machines at competition speeds causes damage to softly surfaced greenlanes which the local highway authorities are then increasingly shutting down using Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs).

"This tendency," he explained, "is compounded by pressure from local and national organisations whose avowed aim - explicitly or implicitly - is to ban all recreational motor vehicles from greenlanes."

An example of this at local level is the Yorkshire Dales Green Lane Alliance (YDGLA) whose chairman, Michael Bartholomew, has stated that "off-roading has to go" which as he is also chairman of the influential Yorkshire Dales Access Forum (YDAF), has enabled him to sway the imposition of several TROs in his area.2 Then there's the tiny but influential Cambrian Mountain Society which has similar aims to the YDLGA and is behind the Cambrian Mountain Pilot Project, a management initiative backed by three mid-Wales county councils whose draft report recommended reducing the existing RoW network in the area by over 95%, to just 28km of legally rideable routes.

Like the permanent TROs applied to 13 popular routes in the Yorkshire Dales National Park last year,3 this sort of action, quite literally, puts increasing pressure on the steadily dwindling network of rideable greenlanes, a network already virtually halved since 2006.4

Added Williams: "Irresponsible riding on many of what are becoming our over-used remaining lanes, especially during the sort of wet winter we've just had, puts them at further risk of closure. It's a dangerous vicious circle which those who care about our right to ride will hopefully make clear to the small minority5 who seem to think it's big and it's clever to tear along, and tear up, vulnerable surfaces. Even if left alone, their recovery can take many years.
Some dirtbike owners also naïvely believe that they can simply ride on common land or any unsurfaced lane simply because it is 'off-road', which also attracts much public outrage."

The TRF therefore urges its members and all other responsible trailriders to post comments condemning all such YouTube video clips - or demand their removal - and of course ride legally and responsibly on the dirt. The TRF's established Code of Conduct provides sensible guidelines to that end and can be viewed on their website where you can also join the only organisation actively fighting to keep Britain's greenlanes open to trailriders: