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March 2015 Issue
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Looking out for each other

A cheerful encounter between bikes and boots on the Mangapurua Track


 Walking or cycling, or walking and cycling? Barbara Morris  ponders whether both can fit on the same track


I suffered a minor injury recently when a mountain biker came hurtling around a blind corner on a shared-use track. I jumped up the bank as a pedal grazed my leg while he hurtled into a large blackberry patch.

Justice done, I thought, while hauling him out of the prickles, and thus refrained from delivering some choice words about protocols on shared-use tracks. After his apology we parted on friendly terms, me with less spring in my step, he with less hurtle in his pedals – at least for that day.

Many trampers have similar stories of near misses when a biker fails to see them or maybe assumes, being bigger and faster, they have the right-of-way.

And it is such anecdotes that influence the negative view held by some trampers about sharing traditional tramping tracks with cyclists.

As a tramper who also enjoys biking, I can relate to these misgivings. It’s not easy to relax while walking a shared-use track – always expecting the unexpected in the form of bikes swishing up from behind without warning or bearing down on you at speed from above.

The metamorphosis of delightful traditional tramping routes into road-like tracks is not usually received with much enthusiasm by trampers. Such changes can lead to wistful nostalgia for the good old days when feet-only held the monopoly of entry to public conservation lands.

But, positiveness has also come from these changes. Many trampers have grasped opportunities to occasionally swap boots and trekking poles for Lycra and pedals to explore new trails. Old knees can find biking a pleasant option for a day in the bush. Modified tramping tracks as well as the new cycle trails can provide an easier experience for families and new trampers, thus increasing general appreciation of the outdoors.

Not all tramper-biker encounters are of the negative variety. I enjoy meeting riders on tracks – once I know they are there. A smile, a greeting, a chat.

A television news item a few months ago asked whether cyclists and cars should be sharing the same piece of road. In an ideal world the answer is obvious: cars and cyclists should be separated, each group travelling without fear of collision. Could a similar construct be applied to cyclists and trampers? The disadvantages would, I think, outweigh any advantages. Seasonal restrictions perhaps offer a more acceptable way of ensuring a bike-free experience for trampers who feel threatened by cyclists on tracks.

Recently revised Conservation Management Strategies are sending clear signals that biking on the conservation estate is here to stay, is likely to increase, that more tracks will become shared-use and that users must learn to live in harmony.

But the onus for maintaining harmony does not lie solely with the users.

Marketing of shared-use tracks for biking must be done with thought and care for both user groups. I feel distinctly uneasy when I see such tracks being extolled by DOC as offering ‘a fast and long descent’, ‘a stunning section of downhill riding that is sure to please’, ‘a fast and flowing 2.5km descent follows’, ‘flying high on adrenalin’, and ‘tailor-made for adrenalin junkies’.

The developing phenomenon of ‘drift’, a process where some trampers no longer use shared tracks because of fear of collisions with cyclists, must be acknowledged by track makers. They must listen to complaints by trampers about hardened surfaces – fine for biking but an uncomfortable experience on multiday tramps.

In the absence of our ideal world, I believe it’s the duty of cyclists to keep trampers safe and happy on shared tracks in the same way that cyclists expect car drivers to look out for them on the roads. It’s a pecking order of social responsibility.

Easing up on blind corners and buying a bell could be a good start.

Barbara Morris is a Taupo tramper and has served on the Federated Mountain Clubs executive and the Taupo Tongariro Conservation Board