Offroad riding - frozen in time or evolving?
There's been some pretty disturbing news coming out in the Hunter recently as Hunter communities opt for vigilante responses to dirtbike rider problems, with tales of wire traps strung across local Hunter trails (shudder). See here:
Cessnock and the Hunter have been the birthplaces of some of Australia's best riding talent - it's easy enough to understand how they're heroes to local kids.
I still remember very well what it was like to experience my first motorbike rides at mates places on their farms, on a mix of old farm bikes, kids bikes and arm-stretching motocross bikes. I still also remember how much thrill there was in buying disassembled motorbikes in tea-chests for a song, to have a go at putting them back together and getting them running. I remember the pester power I would muster to have some time on those farms, in order to have some riding time. I'm lucky my parents took the time to do it. Not every kid is.
I've never lost the appetite for riding, having a string of powerful enduro bikes and off-road riding experiences, but my outlook on adventure riding has changed. I've spent enough time picking up broken people to know the impact of speed and unforgiving terrain, or having the weight of a motorcycle pin you down. I've been fortunate to only lose skin, or break a rib. Others have not been so lucky. If I'd had the option of a lighter bike, lightly powered, that could be ridden quietly, I'd have snapped it up. But it didn't exist. Until now.
As a kid, I was fortunate enough to grow up in a small town with crown land available, not too far away. Like many kids of my day, we took our chances to go into the bush, far enough away from town to not annoy the living daylights out of people. Not all kids have that chance though. Eventually, I was old enough to get my license, buy a registered bike and adventure away, legally.
I've taken my registered bikes into National Parks, state reserves and found some amazing country which I've since taken family back to. I might never have discovered those if I'd never ridden or gone exploring.
I've ridden in dedicated off-road facilities, experiencing thrills, spills and camaraderie, where even experienced riders can fall and break themselves just as badly as a remote National Park.
I've also lived in the ACT for the last 13 years, where we have a world class racing and off-road riding facility at Stromlo Forest Park in close proximity to the suburbs, where off-road riders of all ages and stages can mix together and learn, bench-race or play-race, or just hone skills in new terrain. Dirtbike riders there have had the same challenges of riding trail access, feeling like the poor cousins to their mountain bike riding brethren. But that's changing.
The thing I know now, looking back, is how much noise and erosion the bikes make, and how wearing that can be on a persons psyche, testing a persons patience to the limits of their sanity and reasonableness. It's enough to drive desperate people to desperate acts, as unlawful as they are. I can see how it happens. I sure as hell don't support it or condone it - trap setting is just as likely to seriously injure a licensed, insured rider, or family mountain bike rider, as it is the undesired rider.
I can't help but wonder what a difference might take place if the bikes being ridden were silent, electric, incapable of tearing the ground up in the same way, or going as fast. Whether the local community would back having a dedicated riding facility nearby, where kids could be supervised, or ride their bikes in risk controlled environments, not too far from home, mastering their skills on progressively more complex tracks, on silent, agile, adrenaline inducing but lighter, slower bikes. It's been done elsewhere. At MtStromlo Playground. At DarkGreen Motorsports. At Rays MTB parks in Milwaukee and Cleveland. At Whistler. It's why many of our customers are switching from dirtbike riding to a different option, a halfway point between a mountain bike and a dirtbike. Having a bike with a bit of modest power allows you to create terrain where you no longer need huge downhills to build momentum, within acceptable risk margins.
It can happen here in the Hunter as well. If you want to help me make it happen, let me know.
Here's just one way to reinvent off-road and adventure riding..