/ Motorbikes and scottish access laws

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jonny taylor on 14 Oct 2013
I had a brief run-in over the weekend with some dirt bikers in the woods upriver from Kinlochleven. Entirely my own instigation, I could have just stood aside and let them roar through, but I didn't feel like just letting it happen. In retrospect though I did start to wonder whether I was in the wrong. Just wondered if somebody could fill me in on what the actual legal situation is.

First the general question: am I right in thinking that scottish access laws do not by default permit motorized vehicles, including dirt bikes, to go wherever they please?

Second the specific question: presumably any landowner could give whatever access permission they might choose to. Are dirt bikes permitted to use the narrow rocky path on the north bank of the river Leven running up to the dam? It seemed pretty uncool to me (and they basically forced my girlfriend off the path and nearly sent her down the slope...), but for all I know maybe they were perfectly within their rights to be riding (albeit a bit antisocially) along there. The guy I had words with had a lot of chat about "you people coming up here with your rucsacs and telling us what to do" and something about "we made this path" which I presume was just meaningless bluster (I really can't see that being true...). Would be interested to know what the local situation is if anybody knows, though. Maybe I was out of order.
Cuthbert on 14 Oct 2013
In reply to jonny taylor:

Firstly, I think you are correct. Contact Highland Council access officers for proper info.

Donnie - on 14 Oct 2013
In reply to jonny taylor: I don't know about the particular path, but dirt bikers (and mountain bikers) quite often make their own, or at least enhance trails.
tony on 14 Oct 2013
In reply to jonny taylor:
> I had a brief run-in over the weekend with some dirt bikers in the woods upriver from Kinlochleven. Entirely my own instigation, I could have just stood aside and let them roar through, but I didn't feel like just letting it happen. In retrospect though I did start to wonder whether I was in the wrong. Just wondered if somebody could fill me in on what the actual legal situation is.
>
> First the general question: am I right in thinking that scottish access laws do not by default permit motorized vehicles, including dirt bikes, to go wherever they please?

Yes, the default is:
Access rights don't extend to:
- Being on or crossing land for the purpose of doing anything which is an offence, such as theft, breach of the peace, nuisance, poaching, allowing a dog to worry livestock, dropping litter, polluting water or disturbing certain wild birds, animals and plants
- Hunting, shooting, fishing
- Any form of motorised recreation or passage (except by people with a disability using a vehicle or vessel adapted for their use)
- Anyone responsible for a dog which is not under proper control, or
- Anyone taking away anything from the land for a commercial purpose.
AlH - on 14 Oct 2013
In reply to jonny taylor: You are right afaik that there is no default access to motorised bikes. However trials bikes are enormously popular in the village and more widely in Lochaber. Many local young people start on mountain bikes but aspire to move on to trials bikes. The annual Pre 65s weekend and the Scottish six day Trials ( http://www.ssdt.org ) are popular locally and bring a lot of income to the area each year. There has long been acceptance by local landowners of these events and de facto people (especially locals) taking their bikes off road at other times of the year. Note: I'm not a great fan of the events myself and my wife once had arrange rescue for an ill equipped and injured rider she found in a bog near Loch Treig whilst walking from Dalwhinnie to Fort William, I'm just explaining a bit more of how trials riding is seen by a portion of the local community. The Annual Trials Event is a big deal and Fort William gives itself over to the riders each year for the week.
Jim Fraser - on 14 Oct 2013
In reply to jonny taylor:

Yes, there are laws and then there is Lochaber.

This is one of the greatest and most established off-road biking areas in the world. Bikers, landowners, police and others may be found to have a slightly different approach to this sort of thing.
DH3631 - on 14 Oct 2013
In reply to jonny taylor: As stated above, access rights do not include motorised access, so legally you were in the right. However, as Al says, trials biking is popular in Lochaber and particularly the area around Kinloch, so in practice, many locals wouldn't consider the guys you met were doing anything wrong. I have seen traces of tyres right up to the summits of corbetts around there but in fairness they don't seem to do much damage if they know what they're doing. I'm not a biker and don't take great interest in the 6 day trials myself but am aware that this (and other trials events) are long standing traditions which bring money into the local economy.
Generally speaking the organised events will have all the necessary permissions in place but if you do come across people riding at other times you might decide to inform the council access officer and/or the police. To be frank though, if you haven't been assaulted or threatened I doubt it would be a high priority for the police, given the difficulty of identifying the individuals involved.
As an aside to the mention of kids getting into trials bikes after mountain bikes, one of the top local (adult) riders recently had to take a break from motorbikes. He proceeded to smash the local XC winter league (and a very respectable Ben race), so it can work the other way...
jonny taylor on 14 Oct 2013
In reply to AlH & everyone else:

Fair enough, that makes a lot of sense and I probably shouldn't have stuck my oar in. Can't say I'm a great fan myself, but hey ho.
biped - on 14 Oct 2013
In reply to jonny taylor:

I saw two of them (trials riders) last weekend on the Loch Eilde Mor path. It's exactly as AIH and Jim Fraser say. I've seen them riding into Coire na Tulaich as well. Provided there aren't millions of them all the time, i quite like them, it looks huge fun.
John W - on 14 Oct 2013
In reply to biped:
> (In reply to jonny taylor)
>
> i quite like them, it looks huge fun.

I hope you've got your flameproof undergarments on, because expressing such a heretical opinion usually results in demands for excommunication from the UKC massive at the very least!

JW ;-/

Mad Hatter 1988 on 14 Oct 2013
In reply to biped: Well done that man for an opinion not based on pointless hatred.

Also good skills on knowing the differences between trials and trail riders, people seem to lump them all in together.

Personally, having done a small amount of trail riding, as long as they aren't rude, going to fast for the conditions and people around( I still think the 20mph self imposed speed limit the TRF have is to high), and they aren't to noisy (I love bikes but hate 2 stroke and stupidly loud exhausts) I can't see a problem, its just someone else enjoying the countryside in a different way.
Martin W on 14 Oct 2013
In reply to jonny taylor:

> First the general question: am I right in thinking that scottish access laws do not by default permit motorized vehicles, including dirt bikes, to go wherever they please?

Yes.

> Second the specific question: presumably any landowner could give whatever access permission they might choose to.

Can't see why not. It's their land.

> Are dirt bikes permitted to use the narrow rocky path on the north bank of the river Leven running up to the dam?

You could ask the landowner - I think it might be Alcan there. Andy Wightman's book seems to suggest so.

> they basically forced my girlfriend off the path and nearly sent her down the slope...

Even if they had permission to be there, you also have a legal right to be there, and they have a legal obligation not to endanger other people with their bikes. If there was a good reason for you to be kept out of the area then the landowner should have applied for the relevant exclusion order.

> Maybe I was out of order.

You might have been mistaken about their right to be there (ie if they had permission) but you weren't wrong to complain about their behaviour if it was reckless and put you or your girlfriend at unnecessary risk.
steelbru - on 14 Oct 2013
In reply to jonny taylor:
I take it that applies all year round, so in winter, if plenty snow, you're not supposed to be on the trails or hills on a ski-doo ? Not done it in the UK, but great fun in Canada whilst on a ski holiday
biped - on 14 Oct 2013
In reply to Martin W:
> (In reply to jonny taylor)
>
> >
> You might have been mistaken about their right to be there (ie if they had permission) but you weren't wrong to complain about their behaviour if it was reckless and put you or your girlfriend at unnecessary risk.

That's the crux of the matter for me. I don't really care if they have permission or whatever, but I do care if they are behaving like arses, especially if they try to justify it by using the old *I have every right' chestnut.
jonny taylor on 14 Oct 2013
In reply to biped:
I should probably clarify that I had words with the first guy, and it was the last guy (who had definitely not heard/seen our conversation) who then barged through, so I was purely grumbling about what I felt was the intrusion, rather than any antisocial riding at that point...

And just to reiterate what I said earlier, thanks everyone for filling me in on the situation, and it sounds like I shouldn't have been having a go at them purely for being there.
M0nkey - on 15 Oct 2013
In reply to biped:
> (In reply to jonny taylor)
>
> it looks huge fun.

I bought a trials bike last year because I have road bikes that I never use over the winter and I wanted to still ride a little bit. Trials is great fun and generally speaking the most polite discipline of the off roaders. The bikes are so light and the tyres run at such low pressure that you often won't see a tyre track, so they don't tend to cause damage to trails etc in the way that other off roaders can. They are also generally pretty quiet machines (particularly the 4 stroke ones) so they aren't annoying to others. Lastly, but not leastly, they are pretty slow machines. At top revs in 5th gear you might reach downhill mountain bike speeds but generally you are bumbling along.

And the ARE great fun.


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