The damage caused by (off road) racing are MTB race organisers exempt?

Posted: February 25, 2011 in 2011, The Polemics Page
Tags: , , , ,

This may make uncomfortable reading or may be controversial in some people’s eyes. It isn’t aimed at anyone in particular but it does address an issue that has always been close to my heart.

Racing in the winter, whether it be cyclocross or mountain bike, can cause damage to trails. Hundreds of wheels going over the same trail in a couple of hours are going to do one of two things, ride the trail in nicely or cause damage that takes months and sometimes up to a year to recover, just in time to be trashed once again. The factor deciding whether the trails are improved or damaged almost beyond repair is rain. If it is wet, trails will suffer. You can’t not notice rain, it falls out of the sky and makes riders wet and muddy but how come organisers see this and ignore the consequences?

Quite often, race organisers will use trails that have been in use by local riders for years. Let’s imagine a race is put on and it rains, no… it chucks it down and superb singletrack becomes a boggy morass and gets wider and wider as riders search for dry lines so you could get a truck down it by the time the race finishes. I have raced sometimes where the trails are unrideable and drop offs/bomb holes have become dangerous yet no attempt is made (maybe no thought has been given) to redirect the race because it would be too much work. Maybe this is the job of marshals or commissaires but they rarely bite the bullet and make any sort of decision until it is way too late.  Net result, the organisers use and plunder a resource, take the money and walk away leaving a disaster zone in their wake.

Is it morally acceptable for this to happen time and time again? Who cares? No one ever takes them to account (ironically they even get credit for creating the trails in the first place – bizarre or what?)and they can plunder a diminishing and finite resource to their heart’s content. Hey, it’s called apathy, we have had a couple of hour’s entertainment, the organiser has pocketed a very handsome pocket full of cash so he doesn’t care and as for us… it isn’t our forest so who gives a ****?

Whatever your feelings about this, let’s go off at a slight tangent for a minute. Imagine if you will, an off road race where organisers create mile upon mile of new trail for their race (trails that can and do serve the mtb community for years to come). The race will be on two wheels but instead of muscle power, the bikes are powered by the infernal, internal combustion engine. A lot of damage is done but the rather unsubtle difference is that organisers happily clean up after themselves. Trails are dragged and harrowed to minimise the impact on other riders and trails are ready for use in weeks.

First off, let me hold up my hands… Mea culpa, mea cupla, mea maxima culpa, I have raced, I have contributed towards the trashing of trails and I may do so again but the question remains, is it morally acceptable for the land’s trustee (let’s call it the Forestry Commission) to take their fee and let one organiser get away with murder, while another acts responsibly and sets an example? In my opinion, probably not and it has annoyed me for years. Maybe it is a question of responsibility. One of the first things you are taught as a child is if you make a mess you clear up after yourself. Why does it not apply to race organisers?

The question of responsibility also rests to an extent, with the riders. Ultimately it is their wheels which cause the damage and the organiser is merely (excuse the phrase) their pimp or pusher, providing the wherewithal for their enjoyment and pleasure. Can riders walk away expecting someone else to clear up after them or do they imagine their race fee covers that off? Have people even bothered to give it any thought?

How about this for an idea? Assuage your conscience, make some sort of recompense to local riders whose playground you have blithely trashed, make a (voluntary) contribution to the restitution of the tracks and make sure it goes to people who actually care for what happens in the forest and not those whose vision extends no further than their bank balance.

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Comments
  1. IMO the question of responsibility lies entirely with the FC. They own the land, they have control of the land, and they take a significant sum of money off the race organiser which you’d have thought would be used to help Timber fix/create the trails.

    I’d guess that if it wasn’t for these big events, there’d be a lot less mountain biking in the forest, meaning a lot smaller voice for mountain bikers (and a lot less income to the FC).

  2. slowjo61 says:

    OK… just for the record, I’m not anti racing, I’m just exploring the issue of responsibility. 🙂

    Let’s take it away from cycling then. Take an example where a village hall allows two groups to use its facilities, one is a play group which is a commercial enterprise and the other is a group of old folk who have whist drives every wednesday.

    The play group organiser hires the facility, cleans up the equipment after the children have gone home but doesn’t empty the bins, clean the loos or wipe up sundry messes from tables and other surfaces. The whist guys come along afterwards to find the venue superficially clean (i.e. no toys etc left lying around) but basically the place is dirty. They are upset and so forth.

    Is the village hall committee responsible or is it the person who hired the hall and failed to clean up?

    One more area of responsibility has occurred to me. While the forest is a brilliant venue and we can all accept that racing is a healthy and laudable thing to do…. once the racers have gone, isn’t there a responsibility to leave the forest as it was for those riders who choose not to race? Are their reasonable expectations not to be catered for either? Doesn’t the organiser have a moral obligation to them too?

  3. In response to Jamie W above. I often hear that bandied about. The facts are however a bit wide of that mark. Races in Thetford forest do NOT draw in vast sums for the FC. I don’t particularly want to bandy numbers about, but if a whole seasons racing gets to having 5 noughts in the number that would be a VERY good year, compare that to the organisers take which on entrance money alone would be in the order of £75,000, (simple sum based on 5 sell outs)
    Compare that the FC’s current investment where in the last year or so they have invested well in excess of £60,000 in the trail network. That dealt with a whole 2 kilometres of trail !!

    To put that into perspective, this year alone at Thetford D2D nailed 10 miles of trail, and yesterdays WS4 a further 6. If my maths serves me correctly that would be about £720,000 worth or reperation to that same standard.

  4. Peter Harper says:

    >>Thetford D2D nailed 10 miles of trail, and yesterdays WS4 a further 6

    The TIMBER trail drag was at this race – why wasn’t it used?

  5. PS : AS Chairman of TIMBER, I have to say the FC have bent over backwards to help us since I’ve been involved, and personally I’d object quite strongly to anyone suggesting differently. Remember, I am on the inside of that relationship, and am not known for my love of bureacracy.

  6. Well they way it went was like this, I’ve been speaking to Paul Hore and the Cycle Trail Development Meetings at High Lodge ever since Dusk to Dawn about trying to minimise the impact of wet races on the trails. So I’ve spent a lot of time researching such things via IMBA and then adapting their suggestions for our particular circumstances. Having tried to get the very simple trai ldrag we built deployed onto the D2D loop before it dried out and left a rutted unrideable surface for the foreseeable future, I’ve become used to receiving a promise of support from TMTBR, doing the 80 mile round trip to Thetford, only to be palmed off with some excuse or other after I’ve travelled or taken time off work. However, I had higher hopes having actually managed to get Paul to give it 5 minutes or so trial on icy ground on the Monday, (yep that’s more time off work) after WS2, and achieve a positive response from him. So having see nthe forecast I raised the prospect of a wet race at the CTDM last Wednesday, and advised then that I would as agreed bring the trail drag over to be towed around the course after the event when they do the post race sweep of the trail.

    As Paul was busy when I got there, I spoke to Fergus about it, and it seemed like all systems were go. I had actually started to think it wouldn’t be needed, as the place dried out, then we had the hail storm. SO I went over to Fergus as the event started to wind up and asked him where he wanted it. At which point, I basically got the same sort of fob off that I’ve had previously, i.e. well if you can wait until we’ve finished clearing up we’ll do it then, say about 7 tonight? To which I said no that’s fine I’ll put it away in the container. That was followed by an offer to do it on Monday. Sorry guys I’ve tried to be nice about it, but that’s enough now.

    I am a simple person, but at the age of 54, I think I can spot eventually when I’m having the piss taken out of me. So all bets are off on that front, and despite my best efforts to find a simple, easy, cheap and painless solution for everyone I guess we’ll have to look to find an alternative less amenable solution. Having just spent the last 3 or 4 months resolving race damage to Risbeth Woods some years after the event that caused it I am not inclined to be particularly forgiving in respect of any further races on way marked trails if we are unable to canvas even this extremely moderate concession to common sense.

  7. Graham – I’m not having a dig at the FC. John asked the question of responsibility, and IMO the responsibility for looking after the land lies with the landowner. Just to follow on with John’s analogy of the Village Hall – if the Village Hall Committee have charged someone (whatever the amount) to use the hall, and they’re not happy with how it’s been used, then they’re the only ones who are in the position to do something about it – whether that means upping the fee or laying down some ground rules – so that the different groups can all enjoy the facilities. The different groups are likely to have different opinions on what defines a “clean hall,” and the committee will have to manage that. No one else will.

    I apologise for using the word “significant” if it’s wide of the mark.

  8. slowjo61 says:

    Consensus thus far seems to be that the current situation is untenable and there is a contingent liability upon both parties (albeit to different degrees) to ensure the resource is maintained in a manner liable to meet the reasonable expectations of all forest users. As I see it then, the FC need to insist that repairs are done and organisers need to undertake to make good any damage done, to an agreed standard.

    Would that be fair? I am sure (from what I have heard) that the FC have done/ are doing their bit albeit falling short of compulsion at this stage. Maybe they have something in hand.

  9. Peter Harper says:

    They’re our forests – the FC looks after them for us. The FC don’t want anything to do with the offpiste trails used for racing. Arguably we don’t want them to have anything to do with them either. There’s a very good reason for that. The FC don’t have the resources to look after the way marked trails so they can hardly be asked to spend time maintaining trails for a few hardcore racers. If the FC found themselves responsible for these trails they would have to shut them (probably by driving a harvester down them) because they can’t be maintained properly to meet their duty of care obligations.

    The situation is that a couple of races have wrecked a large proportion of trails used mostly by racers. There’s a solution to make them recover faster – I would have thought that the racing community who pay to take part in these races would insist that their trials receive some love and attention. Especially as the corrective actions are so cheap and easy to implement.

  10. Jamie: I was responding to this point “they take a significant sum of money off the race organiser which you’d have thought would be used to help Timber fix/create the trails.” Absolutely not having a dig at you, but that is a commonly held belief which was justified and reasonable up until about 2006. However, in fact, the FC have since 2006 with the help of TIMBER taken an entirely new view on the trail network at Thetford and have invested substantially in it to the tune of well in excess of £60,000. The revenue from racing in that time does not cover that investment, so in fact they have invested more than 100% of what they receive from races.

    I constantly hear about how much revenue the races generate, which is fair enough, they do, but the fact is the majority of that does not reach either the trail network or the FC. Conversely, racing does of occasion do a lot of damage. Much of the work we do is actually restoring trails that have been mullered, not by public use, so much as heavy race usage in foul weather. Think about it, If you go out in the forest on any wet day you will not see hundreds and hundreds of members of the public riding. You do however see that on wet race days with hundreds of laps over wet trails.

    We have nothing against racing, quite the reverse, in fact we have been very vociferous in trying to stop the FC from banning races touching any of the waymarked trails. I am personally on record on several occasions objecting strongly to that policy. However, we also have been trying to seek a low cost low hastle method of speeding up recovery of trails after wet events. I personally have spent considerable time and money developing a simple low cost trail drag for that purpose, and studying trail formation and recovery over many years.

    You would expect that would be a welcome thing, but in fact all I’ve met with is resistance and disrespect. In the circumstances I feel that it is entirely reasonable to be more open about the realities as above, and fight our corner accordingly. You won’t have seen that before, as we would always take the approach of persuasion and discussion rather than confrontation, but the third or fourth time you’ve travelled 80 miles for a pre-arranged appointment only to be fobbed off I bet you too would be slightly miffed.

  11. Just reread that, and beleive it or not despite all that spiel I missed an important point. One very good reason the pressure is coming from us and not the FC is that the local FC bods are bound by a set of rules which dictates how they must operate trails. the caveat in that is that if they don’t have the resources to adhere to those rules they must close the trails permanently as referred to by Peter above. If they get actively and publically involved in the maintainence of “wild trails” the terms of these rules will kick in. they don’t have the resources, nor do we, so they would just have to close them.

    So in fact by “actively” not getting involved they are actually quietly doing the likes of you and I a favour by turning a blind eye. Don’t believe that? Well we already have to carry out trail inspections and repairs on some wild trails because accidents have been reported and their existence is as a result undeniable.

  12. Ok – I get the difficulties in responsibilities because of the off-piste stuff.

    As for the apathy of racers with respect to cleaning up – here’s my position as a racer and very regular forest rider: please don’t shoot me for it!
    – I really enjoy the races, and I think the organiser does a fantastic job of organising them. I have no problem with him making some sort of a living out of it, and think it’s probably unhelpful to suggest he’s just in it for the money.
    – I don’t like the damage to the trails from these events but I don’t see the problem as severe as pointed out by others here. For example, as far as I’m concerned last Sunday’s race only trashed 3 sections of trail: (1) the MX trail next to double shocker (and Howes pit), (2) the tight, woody bit next to the black trail off FR11 (3) a small section at the top of the bouncy uphill. A total of maybe 1-2 miles. Both (1) and (2) were part of the D2D course that was trashed before. Next to all these trails are perfectly good alternatives where people can ride while the trails heal. Given the size of and scope of trails in the forest, this seems like a small concession for 4 races that catered for 500 people per race. The weather for D2D was bit of a nightmare last year, but I can’t say I’ve felt that there have been a shortage of good trails since then. The trails always seem to heal up (eventually) so I don’t get the “diminishing resource” argument. But I guess I could just be ignorant?
    – In case this is viewed as selfish, the races do generate income for the forest that can be for the benefit of all forest users, even if it’s only a figure with 4 noughts – Graham, I’m guessing you meant 4 noughts rather than 5? :-), and the popularity of them must encourage the FC to want to support mountain biking.

    Of course, if there’s an easy, inexpensive way to make the cleanup quicker then I’d be more than happy to (help) pay for it.

    Whatever the case, it’s seems a real shame that the various MTB organisations can’t get along. I’m thankful we’re not having to fight against, say, bird watchers and walkers who don’t want to see any mountain bikes at all!

  13. Hey like I said above, we have been really vociferous in supporting the organisers. In particular at a time recently when one wrong word from us would have permanently excluded the races from even crossing a way marked trail, and that includes both the blue and the green. So it’s not like we have a vendetta or anything.

    My view is that I have absolutely no right whatsoever to prevent 100’s of racers from enjoying themselves. If anything quite the reverse, which is why we took that stance with the FC. In fact my personal view is that I feel that all the interested parties should work together for the overall good. I’m perfectly prepared to do that, and neither do I have an issue with profit. Personally I love it, and have a great deal of admiration for what Paul and Frank have achieved.

    In that supportive vein you will note we took it upon ourselves to immediately repair the sections of way marked trail damaged by D2D this year. No one asked us to, but I knew full well that there was some concern being expressed at High Lodge and Paul was away. So we just did it. Given the concern, I have then sought to mitigate that by coming up with a cheap, quick and importantly convenient method of “dragging” the trail post wet races just to smooth the surface over so when it dries, it dries rideable. In experiments I’ve done elsewhere it reduces recovery time by as much as several years! For example the original WS3 loop at Tunstall is still largely unrideable. Whereas last years MSG loop where the TROG boys dragged it was back in use within a few weeks. I’m not claiming that I have all the answers or that this is the panacea to all ills. All I am trying to do is the best I can for everyone who enjoys the forest.

    We spoke to TMTBR about this, and I have so far made arrangements to do this on at least 3 separate occasions since D2D. The latest being made last Wednesday. To date every time bar one that I’ve shown up I’ve been fobbed off. Once I can accept, twice is maybe a coincidence, beyond that you have to question what is going on. So now I am.

    The bottom line is, while I no right to stop racers, the same equally applies to the race boys trashing miles of trails without the slightest effort to rectify them IMHO. Ultimately, the argument will be about how many trails they create. Answer: We have created more trail this last 12 months than the racers ever have. Using what already exists is not creating trails.

    Now the embaressing bit: For the record I am dyspraxic and I have problems converting thought to written word, which is why I never use one word when 1000 will do, as I tend to worry about whether I’ve explained myself properly. So the 5 noughts was a cross between 4 noughts and 5 figures. Sorry if that was confusing, unintentional.

  14. PeterH says:

    Agree with all the above. Maybe I was exaggerating the damage. I certainly don’t have anything against TMTBR or the races. We’ve received a lot of support from them in the past and they encourage participation which is great. And I’ve no problem with anyone making a living. I just wish some effort would be made to fix the damage to the trails.

    They’ve lost my business as I can’t justify to myself that it’s acceptable for me to take part in an event that could trash the trails when nothing will be done to put it right.

  15. slowjo61 says:

    For all the rhetoric above (mine more than anyone else’s) maybe PeterH has hit the nail on the head.

    ‘I can’t justify to myself that it’s acceptable for me to take part in an event that could trash the trails when nothing will be done to put it right.’

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