Wales has always been a big player on the UK MTB scene, from the XC racing boom in the early 1990s and the origins of the trail centre movement to some legendary downhill races and the creation of bike parks to suit all tastes. A big reason for this rich history is Wales’ bumpy, rural geography. There’s plenty of open space and hills to go around – yet ironically Wales does not have a great rights-of-way network from a mountain biker’s point-of-view.
Head to the Lake District and it’s not difficult to put together a beautiful and technically challenging route in the heart of the national park, yet in North Wales’ Snowdonia National Park (for example) it’s much, much harder due to the disjointed nature of the trail network. This is not good for MTBers as it means awkward linking sections on roads that can be narrow with fast traffic. And it’s not good for other outdoor users either because it leads to a concentration of activity in certain areas while little-used trails that would be perfect for bikes lie neglected elsewhere.
Things could be about to change however, as the Welsh Government is consulting on a forward-looking set of plans which would radically reform access rights in the country – effectively allowing cyclists and horse riders to use the vast majority of the country’s footpaths.
To show just how significant this is, at present in Wales riders are restricted to just 21 percent of the whole rights-of-way network. If the reforms go ahead it will be the biggest thing in UK mountain biking since Scotland reformed its access rules in 2003. The Welsh Government has only put forward such bold changes because of the hugely successful Trails for Wales campaign run by lobby groups Cycling UK and OpenMTB in 2015 when the preliminary consultation was launched on the issue.
Already, plans are being discussed that would create epic new rides, linking existing trail centres together and enabling riders to explore more of Wales’ stunning landscape. But it will only go ahead with the proposals if mountain bikers (and other outdoor users) make their voices heard again now. Cycling UK has sent a detailed response to the Welsh Gov, supporting the proposals, pointing out a couple of minor flaws and making some convincing arguments in favour of reform. The campaigning charity has also put together an easy-to-use response form which allows people to express their support and to add their own thoughts if they wish.
You don’t have to live in Wales to respond to the consultation. You don’t even have to live in the UK. You just have to be enthusiastic about the potential of the Welsh Government’s plans. The consultation closes on Saturday, 30 September – so please don’t delay in having your say.