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Where can I ride off-road? Your questions answered

By Richard Simpson -

Riding Skills

 06 December 2010 11:45

By Richard Simpson of the Trail Riders Fellowship

There is increasing pressure on land use on our overcrowded island, and the days when you could just ride on wasteland and commons or up and down tracks and bridleways without getting in serious trouble with the law are now long behind us.

Here's a handy guide telling you where to ride:

What if I want to go really fast?
If you want to race, or ride cross-country at race-pace, then the good news is that there are loads of places where you can ride, at a price.

Many motocross tracks have open practice days and there are also enduro practice days where you can try your skills on an easier, longer circuit against riders with a rather broader range of skills. The bad news is that these are commercial ventures: you pay to play.

The same goes for the wide range of competitive events that are on offer almost every weekend all through the year: rallies, enduros, hare & hounds and long-distance trials all offer you the chance to test your skills against the terrain and other riders in an atmosphere that is less frantic than the average motocross meeting.

You can find out more at www.enduroland.co.uk, www.acu.org.uk and www.amca.uk.com

What if I want to explore the countryside on my off-road bike?
If however, you are more interested in getting out into the countryside and exploring Britain’s fantastic heritage of old roads, then trail riding is the way to go.

While the number of legal routes available has been sadly depleted by legislation and selfishness over the past 10 years or so, most parts of rural England and Wales still feature enough vehicular rights of way to make it worth getting the bike out on a Sunday morning.

You just need to know how to find them.

How do I know what's legal?
Your first step should be to arm yourself with a set of Ordinance Survey maps for the area you are interested in: the Explorer (1:25,000) and Landranger (1:50,000) are the best, but you can also view on-line at http://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/oswebsite/getamap/.

Public rights of way in the countryside are shown by red symbols. Check the map’s key and you will see that there are different symbols for footpaths, bridleways, restricted byways and byways open to all traffic. It is these last that we are interested in: they are shown on the map as a series of +++ marks.

You should be able to piece together a decent riding route incorporating byways open to all traffic, and normal country lanes.

Remember that all these routes, whether they are byways or Tarmac , are public roads, which means that both you and the bike must be fully road-legal.

How should I ride? Can I blitz it?
On the byways, you need to take extra care. These are shared routes, and you will probably encounter walkers, cyclists and horse riders, some of whom may not expect to see you, or may not understand that you have as much right to be there as they have.

It’s best to give them, and any local residents, as little to complain about as possible.

Why should I go steady?
The main motorcycle-related reasons given for banning vehicles from byways open to all traffic (which is done by Traffic Regulation Order) are excessive speed and noise.

By keeping speed and noise down, you remove two of the main justifications for any ban. You can further help the case by stopping for horses (kill your lights and engine: most horse riders are well-disposed to trail riders and some are very good-looking) and giving walkers the chance to collect any stray dogs or children before you pass.

It never hurts to give a friendly greeting as you go by, either.

If I see a good trail, why can't I ride it?
Resist the temptation to stray from the route onto neighboring land.

Nothing winds farmers and gamekeepers up more, and the retaliation can range from complaints followed by police ‘sting’ operations, to illegal, and potentially lethal, buried nailboards and wires strung at neck height between trees!

What is a TRO and why do trail riders hate them?
We’ve already mentioned Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs), and these are rapidly becoming the bane of trail riders everywhere.

They were originally intended for protecting certain roads from large or heavy vehicles, and for the creation of one-way streets and pedestrian zones in town.

Now they are often used by local councils to close or restrict unsurfaced routes: either in response to complaints from ‘vocal locals’ or because the route is being damaged by vehicles and the council cannot repair it.

Permanent TROs are signaled by the same big, round, signs showing a picture of a motorcycle jumping over a car that we are used to seeing in towns. Temporary TROs are indicated by A4 pieces of paper on little signs: but ignoring them gets you into just as much trouble.

Temporary TROs are also often introduced when the local council actually gets its act together to repair the lane and are there to allow this work to go ahead, so it is important to respect them!

What other routes can I ride?
Unclassified County Roads. These are normally shown by big red dots on OS maps and described as Other Routes with Public Access.

The only way you can be sure that these are legal is by checking with the highways department of the local council that they ARE on what’s called the List of Streets, but are NOT recorded on the Definitive Map and Statement as bridleways or footpaths.

If so, then they will have vehicular rights. Probably!

That sounds unbelievably complicated…
Fortunately there is help at hand from the long-established Trail Riders Fellowship. This organisation has over four decades of rights of way knowledge and is run by trail riders for trail riders. 

There are 45 groups spread across England and Wales, which will be only too pleased to welcome you and involve you in their activities.

Visit www.trf.org.uk, where you will find a website with loads of interesting information and a friendly public forum. We’ll see you there!