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The Government has increased the number of country park trails open to mountain bikers following an outcry from frustrated riders.

The two extra trails – one at Chi Ma Wan in the Lantau South Country Park and another in the Shek O Country Park – will give riders a choice of four routes.

The move followed warnings made by the Hong Kong Mountain Bike Association that a wave of individual riders would break laws to ride on country parks trails unless their choice of routes was expanded.

Bikers say the two existing routes, along a concrete water catchment in south Lantau and a remote track in the Sai Kung West Country Park, are unsuitable and remote.

Hong Kong Mountain Bike Association chairman Richard Barton-Smith welcomed the new routes, but said they were only a beginning.

‘It is a very good start. We hope it leads to development of a more comprehensive network of trails across the territory,’ Mr Barton-Smith said.

The association had urged the Agriculture and Fisheries Department to open two tracks on Lantau – one around Chi Ma Wan and another near the Big Buddha.

The department agreed to open the Chi Ma Wan trail and a Shek O route, but said the trail from the Big Buddha was unsafe for cyclists.

‘It is not suitable. It is very steep – we have considered it very carefully,’ said assistant director Wong Fook-yee.

Mountain bikers wanting to use the country park trails can apply for a free one-year riding permit from the department.

The scheme would be placed under continuous review to ensure bikers and hikers did not clash and the paths were not eroded, Mr Wong said.

 

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Mountain bikers warn frustration over laws banning them from country parks could erupt in a wave of illegal rides unless the Government opens up more trails to cyclists.

Under the Country Parks Ordinance, cycling in all but two areas in country parks is prohibited and punishable with a maximum $2,000 fine and three months in prison.

The Hong Kong Mountain Bike Association proposes allowing riders on two country park trails on Lantau Island in a pilot scheme integrating bikers and hikers.

Convictions for biking in country parks have increased dramatically since 1993, when 17 were prosecuted, to 110 last year.

Association chairman Richard Barton-Smith said bikers were becoming increasingly frustrated.

‘Tension in the biking community is rising, especially among those who have been arrested. They are seriously angry,’ he said.

‘A lot of people have gone out and bought bikes and suddenly realise that riding is illegal.’ The Agriculture and Fisheries Department set up a pilot permit scheme this year on two routes – South Lantau and Sai Kung.

Association member Brian Paterson said the concrete path along a water catchment in South Lantau and the remote Wan Tsai peninsula in Sai Kung West Country Park were hardly ideal.

But the 869 permits issued expired in August. Mr Barton-Smith said there had been no further official communication, and bikers had no idea where they stood.

The 150-member association has been forced to restrict its monthly fun-rides to Lamma and North Lantau, but many individuals were breaking the law, he said.

‘Very definitely people will break the law, simply because you’re not going to stop a growing sport,’ said Mr Barton-Smith.

The association has suggested two existing country park trails – down from the Big Buddha and around the Chi Ma Wan peninsula on Lantau – be opened to bikers.

Mr Barton-Smith said bikers and hikers could avoid potential conflict by common courtesy. Biking caused no more damage to trails than walkers, he said.

With about 2,000 mountain bikers in Hong Kong, which offers some of the most challenging riding in the world, the sport was growing and could bring in eco-tourism dollars, he added.

Agriculture and Fisheries Department assistant director Wong Fook-yee said the proposals were being considered and a decision would be made this month.

Hong Kong lags behind Singapore, which set up trails four years ago.

 

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Cyclists will be allowed to ride through two country parks during a six-month trial starting today. Permits will be issued by the Agriculture and Fisheries Department for Sai Kung West Country Park (Wan Tsai Extension) and the catchment area from Tung Chung Road to Kau Ling Chung in Lantau South Country Park, which were previously off-limits to cyclists.

Senior Country Parks Officer Lai Ching-wai said applicants, aged between 12 and 18, should seek endorsement from parents or guardians on their application letters.

‘The department will not accept any group applications nor applicants under the age of 12,’ he added.

No fee will be charged but permit-holders should observe the code of practice for cyclists and have the necessary safety equipment, including suitable helmets. Cyclists should apply for permits from the Director of Agriculture and Fisheries. The application, in the form of a letter, should be addressed to Canton Road Government Offices, 14/F, 393 Canton Road, Kowloon or faxed to 2311 3731.

Mr Lai said there were many locations in country parks where no permit was required for bicycle riding. Among those are Plover Cove Main Dam and its access roads, Hok Tau Road, Kam Shan Road, Lau Shui Heung Road, Shing Mun Road, Tai Mong Tsai Road, Pak Tam Road, Hoi Ha Road and the cycling track at Tai Mong Tsai. Other than in those areas, cycling is strictly prohibited in country parks or special areas.

 

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Amateur mountain biker Sin Tak-chiu, 32, is hoping to represent Hong Kong in next month’s Asian Mountain Bike Championships in Taiwan.

Mr Sin started cycling 16 years ago and switched to mountain biking almost eight years ago.

A member of the Hong Kong Cycling Association, he takes part in almost every local mountain cycling competition and has competed in Japan, Taiwan and the Netherlands.

But he says he has been forced to cut his training lately as the Government is cracking down on cyclists in country parks.

Mr Sin lives with his parents in Sheung Shui.

What’s on your mind? I’m hoping the Government will let us cycle in the country parks. More than 90 per cent of Hong Kong’s mountain roads are in country parks, so it’s hard to find anywhere else to train.

How do you train? I don’t have a coach because I’ve got more than 10 years’ experience riding BMX bicycles, so it’s not difficult for me to handle mountain cycling myself. Usually, I spend about six hours a week training with my friends. We ride from Repulse Bay to Shek O just for fitness training.

We now seldom go to the country parks as the increasing number of prosecutions has really scared us off.

Any tips for beginners? The first thing is to fit yourself out with safety equipment like helmets and pads. And it’s better to go cycling with experienced cyclists when you’re learning. It’s dangerous if there’s an accident on the mountain and no one’s around to help. A new mountain bike costs anything from $3,000 to more than $30,000, but learners don’t need to buy expensive ones.

What’s your goal for future competitions? I’m looking forward to getting a better result in the local competition two weeks away. Five bikers will be selected to enter the Asian Championship after the race. I’m hoping I’ll be one of them. I also want to introduce cycling to more people, because it’s safe and inexpensive. The exercise helps people lose weight. Mountain biking is even more enjoyable; you travel to the country and take pleasure in the environment.

 

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I am writing to add my voice to those other letter writers regarding the ban on bicycles in our country parks. I would especially like to add the viewpoint of the drivers of motor vehicles in Hong Kong to this issue.

Forcing all cycling in Hong Kong on to the public roads causes inconvenience and danger to the motoring public.

While driving, I hate trying to overtake bicyclists. Let’s hear from the Automobile Association, the bus and truck-drivers’ associations and the police on this issue.

First of all, we should be clear: regulation four of the Country Park and Special Areas Regulations prohibits even the mere possession of a bicycle in a country park. This means that it is illegal even to walk with a bicycle on a country park trail.

On Sunday, October 6, a group of exhausted cyclists and I approached the Tai Tam Road entrance to Tai Tam Reservoir Road, which cuts across Tai Tam Country Park. There was the usual crowd of walkers and picnickers and fishermen there and also a park warden. At that point all we wanted to do was walk our bikes west up Tai Tam Reservoir Road to Hong Kong Parkview.

This would have avoided many miles of riding around Tai Tam Country Park on Tai Tam Road and Repulse Bay Road, which are narrow and heavily travelled by cars, buses and trucks. The park warden prohibited us from even entering the country park with our bicycles, citing regulation four, but the warden didn’t do anything about the fishermen.

As a consequence, we had to ride our bicycles on Tai Tam Road and Repulse Bay Road. This was not only risky and unhealthy for me, for which I accept sole responsibility. Also, many cars, buses and trucks were delayed and inconvenienced. Those that swerved out into the opposing lane to get around me (God bless every one of them) did so at considerable risk to themselves.

The country parks are for everyone’s use.

This includes not only the walkers, but also the motorists who would have to deal with fewer cyclists if cyclists were also allowed to use the country parks.

At the very least, the country park regulations should be amended to allow persons to walk their bicycles on country park trails.

Preferably, bicyclists should be allowed to ride on country park trails if they: Abide by a code of behaviour (for example, passing elderly walkers slowly, with caution and respect); and, Spend a certain amount of time each year maintaining the country park trails.

For example, the Hong Kong Trail along the catchment from the northern tip of Tai Tam Harbour south to To Tei Wan Village is so overgrown in places that it is dangerous even for walkers. I would be happy to donate 10 to 20 hours of my weekend time per year with a weed-whacker and some boots and goggles to keep this and other trails rideable. This would impose a clear and sensible limit on the number of cyclists using the country parks.

GILLIS HELLER The Peak

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It is a sad fact that the sport of mountain biking has been given a bad name by a minority of individuals who are too selfish to consider the environmental impact of their riding and the safety of other trail users.

I refer to the banning of cycling in all Hongkong country parks. The Agriculture and Fisheries department regard the sport as being dangerous. Let me attempt to allay their fears.

Most cyclists are friendly, considerate and forward thinking. We yield to other trail users.

We consider the environmental impact of our riding and try to minimise it. We don’t damage plants or grass and don’t scare animals.

The amount of damage that we create on rides is minimal compared to, say, a group of picnickers. Yes, our tyres do leave marks, but then so do the boots of hikers.

The machines we use are reliable, with certain breaking power and the gearing to tackle the steepest of climbs. Mountain bikes are designed to be able to handle terrain previously thought unsuitable for cycles. We wear helmets.

So the Agriculture and Fisheries department needn’t be afraid for our safety.

The Agriculture and Fisheries department should change this outdated law that was passed in the area one speed BMX bikes.

EDWIN CHENG Jardine’s Lookout

 

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