Episode 8 - “Coming through!”: cycling’s new aggressive associations

Roger Boulter’s recent book draft (see www.boulter.co.nz for the full text) won a 2020 WSP Golden Foot Award. This post outlines some issues covered in the tenth of twelve chapters.

Coming through!”: cycling’s new aggressive associations

Cases of people building mountain bike tracks without permission on public land (e.g. DoC estate or local council reserves) and then assuming they would be granted retrospective approval, seems to herald a new and aggressive mentality associated with cycling in only recent years. What amounts to ‘bullies on wheels’ in regard to recreational land may also transfer to other situations.

Contributing factors may include associations of cycling with affluence, status (“the new golf”) and physical strength, with a raised and positive official profile for cycling as physical activity (whereas in previous years ‘recreation’ cycling was ineligible for transport agency support). An assumption that mountain biking will regenerate local economies may also play a part.

Natural areas are governed by ‘Reserves Management Plans’ for a good reason. Precious ecology can be serious damaged by, for example, mountain bike facilities which by their nature require scoured surfaces to give the thrills and challenge which are the source of mountain biking’s attractiveness. These scoured areas can channel rainwater, in turn starving plants of water they need, and causing erosion and silting of waterways.

A new insistence associated with some forms of cycling – a mentality that I am “Coming through!” regardless of other people – may disregard these factors, or something as basic as seeking and obtaining permission before initiating a track-building project. Mountain biking’s economic benefits cannot be assumed; some New Zealand economists have warned of a possible impending ‘peak trail’ market saturation.

Apart from ecological effects, proper consideration also needs to be given to alternative uses of the resource (e.g. a recreation reserve); potential for illegal spreading of mountain biking beyond paths specifically identified for their use (which would seem likely and, with no enforcement, probably inevitable); and the interests of people who prefer to enjoy a natural area’s peace and quiet.

People on foot may also suffer significantly in urban transport, as a consequence of increasingly insistent calls for cycling to take place away from motor traffic if it is to be sufficiently appealing (for both new and existing cyclists).

Although ostensibly proposed to benefit walkers as well as cyclists, ‘shared paths’ (increasingly common in official proposals only in very recent years) generally originate as a means of helping cycling; may replace rather than supplement footpaths; and are often accompanied by behaviour expectations radically restricting the free-movement nature of walking and thereby radically reducing its attractiveness (quite apart from any actual safety implications).

More significant, and more adverse to walking and its various substantial public benefits, are calls to legalise some or all footpath cycling (issues covered in the next chapter).