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Adventure Motorbike

Adventure Riders and Their Impact on Natural Environments

Riding a motorbike or motorcycle depending on which country you’re in has always been a passion enjoyed a few lucky ones. If we then start categorising riding styles we have the racing, the cafe, the vintage, the chopper and then you have the ADV rider, ADV stands for Adventure, and those riders are (or used to be before big brands noticed the holy-grail of money making) normally even more mysterious than the others. 

But why mysterious? Perhaps I’m using the wrong adjective but a truly ADV rider is a person who most of the time prefers to enjoy riding alone on both paved roads as well as gnarly trails. I might be generalising a bit by saying that we enjoy riding alone but I am just saying for my personal point of view, definitely personality, background and even nationality influence your preferences. On other hand, some might say that ADV riding is not just about getting off-road, but I’ll leave that for another time, although in short, you’re right adv riding involves both tarmac and off-roading and not just dirt. 

Let’s just assume that adv-riding is just about riding off-road simply big brands like (in no order of importance ) rev’it, honda, ktm, yamaha, mosko, acerbis, kriega, spidi, alpinestars, fox racing, etc sell us in their ads “the emotion and thrill of riding off-road and getting muddy whenever there’s a 1cm pond”, even though you could avoid it, but what’s the fun in that, right?

If you’re an adv-rider I haven’t told anything you already know so let me ask you a question:

 

Do you consider yourself a nature lover or a nature destroyer?

Let’s assume you answered “I am a nature lover” and I am very happy you did so, because I am a nature lover myself, especially mountain lover. 

The problem with adventure riding is not riding off-road, the problem is where we do it, how we do it, how often we do it and what are the solutions to it.

Where do we do it?

This is perhaps the main and most important question out of he three I’ve posed before.

I presume that if you’re an ADV rider and hence I will ask you the following question: 

What are the similarities of the following countries? Brazil, Kazakstan, Canada, Spain, Australia, Italy, Vietnam, USA, UK. 

Can you notice the difference? Brazil, Canada, Kazakhstan, Australia, USA, Vietnam are massive countries with a lot of empty land and scarcely populated regions with plenty of unpaved roads making them idillic for advriding. 

Compare that to the situation in Spain, France, Italy, UK, basically Europe (sorry Brexiters, but I’m adding you to Europe) These countries are old, small, densely populated and have very or no natural land left after centuries of natural resources exploitation and ownership of land. Just in the case of Catalonia (where I live), in Northeastern Spain, 88% of all mountains are privately owned. That means that in most cases you’re invading a private property and that leaves you with a few places to ride off-road, which in many cases involved entering national natural parks. Of course every European country has its differences but I presume the situation might be the same.

This poses a problem for the biodiversity ( flora and fauna ) of the natural parks around this region. I wish I could talk about another regions but since I don’t have enough data, I will stick to Catalonia to give you an idea of the problem adv-riders are facing.

I am sure that if you’re an adv-rider you like mountains, trees, the green, seeing wild animals but have you ever stopped for a second and think that by going there over and over again ( I am not saying you do ) you are causing:

  • Land erosion
  • Stressing the fauna ( impeding or interrupting mating seasons, births, hunting, feeding)
  • Hurting the flora (think when you go over a tree root ) 
  • Polluting creeks or rivers ( think that nice river crossing)
  • Air and Sound pollution (especially after-market exhaust, removing the DB-killer, or removing the catalytic converter)

Yes, I’ve decided to play devil’s advocate because I am both an adv-rider but I am a mountain lover and it really makes me mad when I read comments of riders saying they don’t ride fast, or they don’t go on single lanes, or that they cross rivers because it is fun but the water takes away the pollution, and in the end our motorbikes are built to do that. That shows ignorance about the problem and a very short-sight vision of life and the consequences of our riding behaviours.

Still, this post is not about ranting but about understanding the problem and finding solutions to the problem so we can enjoy adventure riding and also take care of nature and its habitat.

How do we do it?

I guess this is an easy question to ask although a lot will depend on the kind of adventure rider you are. Are you the kind of rider who needs over 100hp machine to feel like you can enjoy your motorbike, knowing that this will burn more petrol, wear quicker your knobby tyres, it will be a heavier bike (unless you’re riding an enduro bike) or are you the kind of rider who is happy with 24hp knowing that with this kind of motorbike you can do exactly the same and the impact on the mountains you visit is considerably less?

Here we can also stop for a second and define what adventure riding is. For some adventure riding is to go on a day-trip and ride +-80kms of gnarly trails with some technical bits and fast lanes. Here you wouldn’t normally carry luggage, since you know that you will ride around 80 or 90kms you don’t fill up your tank to the brim, making your bike easier to ride off-road.

For others adventure riding is to go on a two or more days trip, ride on tarmac and off-road carrying a sort of luggage (panniers, duff bags, reckless bags or simply a rucksack) visit villages, get to know the local people, get on technical mountain trails as well as reaching mountain edges to take a nice break enjoy, eat something, make a coffee or drink something and why not meditate and be grateful for being there.

In my case, over the last two years I have played a bit of both roles and I can say that the latter is my preferred way of adventure riding. One day I will write a full post about what adventure riding means to me and I my opinion about the current trend of adventure and how big companies have negatively affected the true nature of adventure riding worldwide for the sake of growing their budgets.

The problem I see with one day-trips is that normally this kind of adventure riding. First of all, I will not call it adventure riding, because it simply is not an adventure, you are most likely riding on trails where you will come across hikers, mtb riders, horses, cattle, goats or even cars, of course as long as you keep yourself within the legal trails. Normally this kind of riding outing is performed by more than two people, sometimes the groups can be more than 6 bikes at a time and this will take me to the next point…

How often we do it?

In a region as densely populated as Catalonia, and with a population who have the financial means to buy new motorbikes the chances of finding group of riders in the mountains over the weekend is quite high. This year, the year of COVID-19, despite all restrictions imposed by the government a lot of people had the opportunity to jump on their bikes and ride off-road and not just during the weekend but especially during the summer period when Spain lifted all restrictions and we could ride whenever and wherever we wanted.

The consequence of this was the an iconic landmark of the TET that crosses the Pyrenees is the Pic Negre in Andorra was packed by all sort of vehicles and not just by motorbikes. Due to this a month ago the local government announced new measures to reduce the amount of vehicles and motorbikes going up causing havoc to the trails. 

Of course in order to understand why did this happen we have to understand that this year more people than ever before decided to explore by land and what was nearby instead of jumping on a plane. We cannot blame ourselves for riding off-road the problem is the frequency and the manners how we ride in the trails. 

How did we come to this?

Adv-riders in Spain, and I would dare to say motorbike riders in general, have been seeing as a plague, especially in 2020. The reason for this is because after the first lockdown in Spain, people who have lost their riding skills, grabbed their bikes and got injured. In the case of adv-riders,   groups of more than 4 bikes at a time would go through mountain trails above the speed limit (30km/h) and in some cases this was done next to hikers, horses, etc.

But why? 

Why do we ride fast in places where we are meant to go at 30km/h? 

Looking deeply into the problem and taking into consideration that most of the riders are male riders, the problem can be boiled down to:

In the past men would go to an office, but now the remote working is in place, most men work from home next to their families. This increases testosterone levels that when not released in their normal environment increase the confidence of the rider, make the rider go at faster speeds, attempt daredevil moves and lastly show the pack that they can ride more aggressively and harder trails. We men, need to release that energy built in ourselves, there’s nothing wrong with it. But when you’re caged for a certain amount of time and suddenly you’re released from he cage, your reaction is no different from a captive tiger released back into the wild. You want to run, feel free, hunt, hurt, feel energised and that you’re capable of what you used to do and more. 

Even if you disagree with my view, let’s say ok we are hurting nature. 

Are there any solutions? 

Yes, but solutions have been implemented overnight by the local government:

No vehicles ( cars, motorbikes, quads) can enter the park until May next year. This, however, is not new. The local government usually shuts mountain trails to any kind of vehicle during the winter season but most riders fear this is here to stay.

Realistic Solutions

  • Charging for riding within Natural Parks: I know this idea has been discussed before in the past and when discussed with my friends, they disagree with this. But I don’t see it as a bad idea at all, on the contrary, the advantages of charging (providing the funds are reinvested in the park) any kind of vehicle is good. By charging you can control the amount of vehicles that enter the park, you can create jobs employing people from neighbouring towns, you can keep the trails clean and optimal for riding or driving. I know that there is a mountain pass in the neighbouring region that does this already and people do it. However, a few people know about this, before the local gov doesn’t want to promote it in order to keep the mountain vehicle free. 
  • Selling seasonal natural park passes: I thought about this option but the problem is that people are sneaky and they will buy one pass and then pass it over to their friends, it is better to pay for single entry.
  • Hire teams of people who keep a log of who enters the park. The members of these teams will have to also check for the speed at which vehicles are going. 

It sounds crazy, but I can only see a win-to-win scenario. On one hand, you are employing people to take care of the mountain and on there other hand you’re preventing motorbikes to speed up where they are not meant to. This team could also offer road assistance in case a vehicle breaks down in the middle of the trail. 

If you’re an adventure rider the subtitle above might have caused you a bit of anger or discomfort and trust me, a couple of years ago I would have felt uneasy as well, but time changes and so have I.

I’m aware that in this post I have left out other problems faced by natural parks or mountains around the world, but since I don’t have enough information about those places I didn’t want to write about what I do not know.

In the end, the ideal scenario would be good for local governments to involve actively adventure riders and listen to them, as well as riders listening to ecology organisations, natural park directives and local government authorities. In that way, we can all come to a sound solution that can benefit not just the economy and pleasure riders but ultimately look after the place we claim we like the most  “the mountains and the natural spaces”. 

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