Respectful Riding

​“Where can I ride?”

This was the biggest question I asked myself when I had an opportunity to get a dirt bike a few months ago. Growing up, there were back roads, railroad tracks, and trails for dozens of miles in every direction from my house; I was able to leave my driveway and ride all day long without hitting the same dirt twice. Back in those days, a guy could ride wherever he wanted, and I loved exploring on my 1978 Yamaha IT250.

Until this May, I hadn’t ridden a dirt bike in over 15 years. In 2009, I moved away from my hometown and I’m unfamiliar with the lay of the land at my new locale; I don’t know anyone who off-roads around here, and I’m not acquainted with the various folks who own the land all around me. I come from strip mining country, so most of my riding was on coal company property—I knew I could ride for miles without disturbing anyone. Where I live now, everything is privately owned, so the first time I really rode my “new” 1975 Yamaha DT250 was when I trailered it 90 miles to a bike-friendly campground.

It’s common in the off-roading community to see land owners vilified for their reluctance to allow people to use their land for recreational use, but this frequent gripe is unfair. The fault isn’t with the landowners, but rather the overwhelmingly realistic threat of negative consequences that come with allowing a rider on one’s land.

First and foremost, this is the era of the lawsuit. Unfortunately, trespassing riders who get hurt can sue the landowners—and unbelievably, win vast settlements. In such a ridiculous environment, a landowner would be insane to allow someone to ride on his or her property!

In addition, there is always a risk as a landowner that once you show leniency in allowing someone to use your land, that person might take advantage of you. We all know the story: A kid gets the idea he has free run of a piece of property and before you know it, he’s bringing other people on the land to ride too. Then, one day when he can’t go, his friends come riding without him; they aren’t as considerate as the first rider, and they ruin the situation by being disrespectful to the landowner. As an owner, why put yourself in a position to have someone overstepping the boundaries?

Lastly, most landowners are understandably protective of their property. Many of them have fences, gates, animals, outbuildings, and homes to take care of. Picking up a bunch of littered beer cans isn’t something a landowner should have to deal with. Mending a fence battered down by a rider who lost control and didn’t fix it is unacceptable. Noticing your animals’ demeanor change from docile and easy-going to uptight and skittish is regrettable.

These are some of the issues landowners face when they consider allowing a stranger—or even someone they already know—to ride on their land. We, as a community, need to do our best to show respect to landowners. If we see a hole in a fence, we should try to fix it. If we see litter, we should clean it up. If we see a group of animals, such as cattle or sheep, we should do our best to steer clear of them to avoid spooking them. We have to earn acceptance by landowners.

Being respectful and considerate of landowners is the most important first step in trying to change the relationship between riders and landowners. The process will be long and tedious, and there are always going to be people who will deny outsiders access to their land, but a lot of these folks are good people who remember a time when they were able to venture out onto unknown lands without being chased off or prosecuted. We need to do our best to show that we’re not so different, and that we can offer something in return. Maybe it’s money. Maybe it’s a helping hand. Whatever it is, find out what you can offer your local landowners today.

-J

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~ by hamiltonjacobs on August 11, 2013.

One Response to “Respectful Riding”

  1. […] Its size is legendary, and for those who never saw the machine to which the bucket was once attached, no imagination is sufficient to capture the colossal size of the excavating marvel. It was the largest dragline ever built in the world. I appreciate history, and respect its preservation and remembrance. I also respect property, and try not to trespass. […]

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