ED NOTE: THE FINER POINTS
OF GETTING TO KNOW YOUR TRAILS
We all know that feeling. It all started with that entry level mountain bike. And then you rode more frequently. Started to get familiar with your first trail. Made some friends. And then you thought of upgrading your bike. And you came to the conclusion that you were no longer the novice that your cycling buddies used to know. Noob No More! It's time you showed your biker friends that you can teach them a thing or two, showcase the metamorphosis into the rad dude you have become! What better way to do this than social media bombing at some unfamiliar trail. You know? Those "paths-less-trodden" which only the insiders / pros know about? Because the regular, mainstream trails are just so yesterday. And snap!
Yeah you were so trigger happy with the photos and videos of yourself shredding down some rock garden with a landmark stream in the background. You had mentally crafted the snarky replies you were going to give when your newbie friends would comment, "Wooo nice place, where is this?!" But things did not turn out as expected. You realised the regular biker friends that were friendly to you started giving you weird looks. Was it your imagination or did you hear someone whisper (not so discreetly) "Poseur!" from behind. Congratulations! It's time to know the finer points to trail riding!
RIDING IS ONLY THE FIRST PART
Take another look at that last sentence in the paragraph above. Notice the topic for today is not "mountain biking", the focus instead is "Trail Riding". Mountain biking is a skill, and can be broadened into a complete culture and lifestyle (but that's another story for another day). On the other hand, trail riding is a mutually non-exclusive subset of mountain biking which involves cycling on natural terrain (as opposed to bike parks, park connectors or urban areas). Since this involves interacting with other users of said trails, some general etiquette should be observed. That being said, let's have a quick look at what types of trails we are talking about.
TYPES OF TRAIL
DESIGNATED (LEGAL) TRAIL
These are the trails which are approved for mountain biking. Information about them is usually published by the relevant authorities on official sources e.g. websites and pamphlets. In countries where the land is vast and there is a myriad of trails within a single national park, the co-ordinates to the trails will openly be available. In Singapore, the website to go to for such information is National Parks official website. Currently, there are only 3 trails that are designated as "legal" trails – Bukit Timah MTB Trail, Pulau Ubin Ketam MTB Trail and Kent Ridge Park MTB Trail. We are expecting the next update to include the new Chestnut South MTB Trail. One legal trail that is not mentioned though is Track 15 – a duo directional flow trail built with a combined concept of being a Park Connector Network with some flowy natural terrain. Track 15 can be accessed via Mandai Road or Gangsa Hills.
Legal / designated mountain biking trails are open to everybody, free of charge and maintained by the relevant land authorities. There are usually signages for easy navigation, a well thought out system of safety evacuation points and other amenities like a built-up trail head. Water and washing points, toilets, public tool stations and signages bearing information on the trail's difficulty level etc…
Cycling traffic at such trails are usually high on weekends and public holidays. As such, trail etiquette should be observed during rides.
Think of these legal trails as hawker centres. All stalls are licensed, with amenities like toilets and even wifi. Free-access to all, with the well-known ones being publicised on some foodie blog or touristy website. Eat there, bring your friends. Take as many photos as you want and plaster them on social media with as many annoying hashtags you can possibly think of. Intel on where to find the best Hokkien mee in town is always welcome.
These are trails that have been walked or ridden out but were never designated as mountain biking trails. They could be meant for motor sports or tow trails, hiking-only trails, military training ground etc… To cut a long story short, such trails are not legal for riding i.e. it is an offence to ride there. Doing so may result in getting caught by the relevant authorities and an accompanying state penalty – either a fine and/or jail term or the worst – having your bike confiscated.
These trails can be deemed illegal for many reasons:
- unsafe for biking due to soil erosion, landslide risk or lack of evacuation points
- presence of dangerous/venomous animals and plants
- military secrecy
Whatever the reason, the gist is that they were never meant for mountain biking. I mean, which part of 'illegal' would one not understand?
Those who choose to ride there do so at their own risk. Very often, the defence from them is that it's their prerogative to take the risk of prosecution by the authorities. Some even argue that if more riders were to ride that same spot, the local authorities may just give in and open it as a legal/designated trail eventually. The assumption of this outcome should not be thought of as a given.
It's a bit like discovering an unlicensed roadside pushcart stall at some dodgy alley. Hawker looks like a slimeball and his grimy fingernails reflect a high level of zero hygiene standards. The brownish gunk in his frying pan could very well be gutter oil – but what comes out of it is the most delicious fried chicken chop in the whole of Singapore. Sure, go ahead and eat if you feel like you can deal with the possible food-poisoning that follows. But – that the stall would become so popular and thus eventually be declared legal with a decent 'B' hygiene rating – is just a distant dream.
Also, contrary to what you may think, taking photos and publicising them is not doing the hawker a service. He's doing an friggin' illegal business – again, which part of 'illegal' does one not understand? There you are broadcasting it with pictures and dropping pins on his exact location. When the health authorities clamp down on him, he will most positively be thanking you. He doesn't get to do business, and fans of the gutter oil chicken chop cannot get their fix. Everyone will be so damn grateful to you. Sounds familiar? #STRAVA
Another very important long term rippling effect about riding illegal trail is this: Instead of giving the "I'm-cooler-than-thou-and-I-dont'give-a-damn" reply to supposedly law abiding bikers or even the land authorities, this whole issue on riding illegal trails could spin off to more serious outcomes … From impounding bikes to trespassing to those-that-I-do-not-want-to mention ones. Also, such irresponsible actions would detrimentally affect efforts made by the other mountain bikers in terms of advocacy and promotional works. In my opinion, that's a lot of damage.
And yes, I do hear the other side of the argument – the lure is just too great to bear. As a rider, I feel you too. Just take a step back and think for the mountain biking community at large.
This is the interesting part with plenty of grey areas. Attempting to define 'secret trails' is a little tricky so let's start with another food analogy. Remember the godzilla of a durian season that took us by storm sometime mid of 2015? Imagine that you're the owner of a legit hipster cafe with relatively good business. Being very clever and enterprising, you decided to leverage on the durian craze and start selling durian puffs. They happen to be so kickass that the traffic to your cafe increased by multiple folds and it's fullhouse every evening. You decide to extend business to 24hr (for which you don't have a license) and make use of the empty space (borrowed from your neighbor) just outside your cafe so you wouldn't have to turn away customers. Everything goes well at first because all the FB and Instagram posts are exponentially increasing your popularity. And then everything blows up in your face when your customers start getting rowdy at late hours. You don't clean up the mess created in the borrowed space. The residents living nearby get pissed off. Your neighbor gets pissed off. They call the police on you. Busted. You have no choice but be relegated back to your original space and opening hours. See the parallel?
Firstly, secret trails are … secrets. Rule number 1 of riding a secret trail is: You don't talk about secret trails. Rule number 2 of riding a secret trail is: You don't talk about secret trails. You get the point. Tell your friends and immediate inner circle. But with discretion. Publicity is not always the best way to go.
Secret trails are not illegal trails. They are just trails that the public has been given permission to use but its usage is bounded by conditions. Such conditions range from ensuring low traffic, limited time access, seasonal usage, pre-requisite of skill so no one gets hurt. The entry criteria could be anything that the builder and permit holder want. It is binding, thought not 'legally', but by ethics and courtesy. Like if I were the neighbor who lent you the space for your durian puff business – I don't want anyone to choke and die in what was supposed to be my space.
SO, CAN I RIDE OR NOT?
At this point, I should expect to hear arguments that state land should be open to public and not exclusive only to a selected few. Reiterating, many times, access to secret trails are granted due to some mutually agreed upon conditions being adhered to. So it is hard to generalize on the reason why there may be exclusive treatment when it comes to secret trails.
But look into this line of thought: To gain entry to secret trails, earn your right. Forcing you way in by force (literally) is not cool. By saying "forcing your way in", I would guess that the aggressor just discovered the existence of this trail and wants to argue his/her way in. Well, this person didn't start the whole idea of a trail at this secret location, nor was the permit applied by him/her, nor did he/she took part in the planning and building of the trail. So he/she can't blame anybody from the secret trail group for not sharing the information.
And while we are at this, some special trail etiquettes for secret trails – We do not talk about secret trails in social media. We do not post our photos and strava ourselves in there. Nor do we check-in to that location. Remember, nobody likes the scumbag who ratted on the location of our favorite gutter oil chicken chop.
And we do keep the place clean from litters and fire hazards. And no over sanitizing or widening the trail. Leave the trail maintenance to the organizer to call for trail days. No one should claim ownership and think just because you know of its existence, you have right to modify it. Respect the trail, respect the trail builder group. And work as a community. These are basic rules of respect we have for each other so everyone can cycle happy.
INCLUSION, COOPERATION AND HUMILITY
Bikezilla has been a big advocate of unity among groups when it come to cycling – any discipline of cycling. And naturally, this translate to general inclusiveness amongst all cyclists in terms of activities. But this inclusiveness comes with some basic etiquette and "house rules". No, Bikezilla do not set such rules, the community set them. We simply respect these rules. It's like visiting a friend's house. You would observe basic courtesy, not mess up the place or take things without permission. You remain cordial because you know the house is not yours. Similarly, the trails you ride in do not belong to you (unless you are that rare few who own mountains).
Gate crashing could always get Tom inside places and have his day of fun, but that would only make him a bigger jerk to everyone else. And it would be a matter of time before he get shunned on all fronts – trailheads, social media and everywhere else. And then, that would be a real insiders' information blackout for Tom. The trails are used by a whole bunch of folks – bikers, hikers, other interest groups and animals. A sense of co-operativeness (We didn't say boot-licking!) and humbleness would go a long way to maintain harmony and get you invited.
So, know what trail you are riding and do the right things. And we may be able to enjoy more trails for a longer time.
Ed: No trails were harmed during our information gathering and photoshoot. All opinions stated in this article are our writer's personal views and do not necessarily reflect that of Bikezilla's.