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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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