Where can I pedal my mountain bike?
Are bikes allowed on countryside footpaths?
Unfortunately not. Countryside access is a huge subject, policed by
specialist lawyers and 'rights of way' experts. Unlike in countries
like Sweden or Germany, we can't wander where we please in this green
pleasant land of ours. All outdoor users have to stick to 'rights of
way'. A bike, unfortunately, is not what the law deems a 'natural accompaniment'
to walking (such as a walking stick or a dog) so you can't ride on a
footpath. Technically speaking, you can't even walk on a footpath with
a bike. Cyclists are committing trespass by riding on footpaths - no
matter how wide - and could be prosecuted by the landowner for any damage
caused. Don't worry, it's a civil matter, not a criminal wrong. In practice
no landowner will sue you but riding on footpaths upsets walkers.
YOU CAN RIDE ON -
Bridleways (27 400 kms)
We've had the right to share bridleways with walkers and horses since
an Act of Parliament in 1968. Note the word 'share'. Horses get spooked
easily and we're faster than walkers so it's only fair give them due
consideration. Slow down, smile, say hi and pick up speed once you roll
Byways Open to All Traffic (3000kms)
Otherwise known as BOATs these allow all traffic to pass, including
Forest tracks and paths
Permission is officially required for riding through Forestry Commission
land. Often this permission has already been granted by the local conservator
and the Forestry Commission generally regards cycling favourably. Stick
to the waymarked routes, you don't want to meet a 60-ton logging truck
coming round the corner of a dirt track.
Green lanes (10 200kms)
A non-legal term for a pleasant unsealed country road, track or byway.
White roads (7000kms?)
Most roads on Ordnance Survey maps have colours to denote their status.
White roads have no colour so are not recorded as having any rights-of-way
status. When looking at an Ordnance Survey map they can appear to be
farm tracks or private roads when, in fact, they might be public highways.
Of the estimated 7000 kms of 'lost' white roads many of them are great,
totally legal trails for use by cyclists just waiting to be 'found'
and put onto the 'definitive map'.
It's a sign!
It's fine and dandy knowing which routes you're supposed to stick to,
but on the ground it's often a different kettle of coconuts. There's
not always a footpath sign when you need one and many wide, open trails
look as though they must be bridleways. It's therefore good practice
to always carry an Ordnance Survey (OS) map. These don't list every
right of way - check out the 'definitive map' at your local highway
authority for that - but will include the main ones. Or look for paths
that have coloured waymarking arrows: yellow on footpaths, blue on bridleways,
and red on byways that can be legally used by everybody.