Fighting fire with fire?

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TRF:

Hi James. This is a very interesting video for a number of reasons. All riders are aware of the sensitivities that come with accessing the countryside in vehicles, and at one time or another we are often faced with confrontation. Could you give a little background to what took place in your video?

James:

Back in 2013 another TRF member and I had just started the return half of a ride from Wiltshire to Cheltenham and back when we were denied access to an unclassified road by a farmer who insisted that the road was actually a bridleway. The farmer obstructed a gateway and insisted that we turn back and leave ‘her’ property, which led to an impasse as we were unwilling to do so until we had explained our position.

I keep a video repository on YouTube of ‘green roads’ which I have used so had my camera running for the entire duration of the confrontation.

TRF:

In this case, as I would expect with all trail riders who ride within the TRF Code of Conduct, you were clearly within your right to access the route that the farmer was blocking. You were not breaking any rules. However, she was clearly not happy and we will never know exactly why - perhaps 20 riders had come in convoy the previous week, and whilst not illegal, very disruptive. Or perhaps she just didn't want you there. Either way, your film shows remarkable restraint on your behalf when confronted with such anger. How did you stay so calm?

James:

 

I don’t think the video shows restraint so much as rationality. A tirade of abuse or – even worse – intimidation – would only serve to reinforce the preconception that the farmer had made about us. Remaining calm, polite and reasonable enabled me to take control of the situation and demonstrate her preconception to be resoundingly wrong.

 
I don’t know what previous experience the farmer has had with motorcyclists but in retrospect think it improbable that she did not know that a road crossed her land. What you see in the video is mainly theatre brought on by resentment to the presence of the road and a perceived threat to the welfare of her animals, which – when we were finally allowed to continue our journey – we discovered to be non-existent.

The second half of the ride, post confrontation...

TRF:

I think it's a very good point that meeting anger with anger rarely results in a positive outcome. It's easy for those who take issue with trail riders to disassociate their perceptions and frustrations with the actual person standing in front of them. What advice would you give to anyone else who finds themselves in a similar situation?

James:

 

Firstly, always spare a thought for the next riders through. People are only too happy to judge us by the behaviour of the criminal minority of motorcyclists who have no respect for other people or the laws of the land, so it is essential to never give someone cause to complain. Complaints quickly become ‘Chinese whispers’ liable to manipulation by the anti-access organisations that rely upon the continual exaggeration and misrepresentation of conflict to make their drastic proposals appear as viable ‘solutions’.

 
Make a point of acknowledging everyone that you meet with a friendly wave, ‘hello’, ‘thank you’ or ‘you’re welcome’ should they first thank you. Doing so enables them to see you as a fellow human being rather than a hooligan intent on threatening their safety or spoiling their enjoyment of the countryside. You should see every person you encounter to be an opportunity to improve the image of trail riding.

Secondly, take the time to learn where you are riding and why you are allowed to ride there. Conflict becomes a lot easier to manage when you are able to explain exactly why the law entitles you to use any particular green road and what someone should do if they think your use is unlawful. Nothing is more frustrating than hearing someone say ‘so-and-so said it was a road, I believe them so that settles it’. A few minutes spent understanding the significance of the terms ‘Definitive Map’ and ‘List of Streets’ and then being able to identify how Ordnance Survey convey this information on their maps turns an uneducated fool into an informed motorcyclist.

People will usually back down if you invite them to take a photo of your number plate and report you to the Council. Why the Council? Because only they – not the police – can say what is or is not a road

Finally, consider the image that you project as it forms the basis of people’s preconceptions about you. As Alan Kind wrote in his 2014 article for the TRF website entitled ‘River Green Mill – Green Lane Saved!’:

“Do you see someone who is equipped for quietly ‘exploring green lanes’ (the TRF’s strapline, once upon a time), or someone who - for most other citizens - has no legitimate place on our unmade ancient highways? You decide, because it is your future and you can help to change it. You don’t give a monkey’s for what people think? Well then, enjoy it while you can.”

TRF:

Do you think that confrontation is just an inevitable part of trail riding? Is there anything that we as a club and as individuals can do to reduce the chance of it happening in the future?

James:

Confrontation remains rare with the overwhelming majority of people from other user groups being happy to share roads with motorcyclists. The minority of people who decide to remonstrate without good cause tend to be either ignorant to our rights (usually because they can take walking where they like for granted with only so much as a telling off should they stray onto private property) or unwilling to accept them. The former are best dealt with by being able to explain yourself in a friendly manner and the latter best dealt with by understanding what it is that they are trying to achieve – namely, that they are trying to spoil your day. Patiently hearing them out before informing them with a big smile that you’re ‘having a great day’ and that ‘this will all be over when we part company’ is a good way of showing them that they have no power over you and that you are not rising to their bait.

TRF:

Finally, it was a nice touch to see you write a letter to the farmer at the end of the film. You didn't need to do it. Why go to the effort?

James:

Because I was grateful for her change of heart on the matter and wanted to thank her for her gracious compromise – particularly as we were about to turn around when she backed down and we knew that other motorcyclists would want to use the road.

 

 

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