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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 heartily concur with the views of Lawrence Matthews ‘Cycling fines are ridiculous’ (SCMP, September 17) concerning the Government’s persecution of mountain bikers. Why has the Government chosen to effectively outlaw this sport by giving cyclists Hobson’s Choice.

Either they gamble with their lives against Hong Kong’s traffic on narrow, congested and lung-choking roads or they face imprisonment for daring to enjoy fresh air while taking some invigorating exercise in the green great outdoors? It is indeed lucky that an earlier incarnation of the Government did not choose to adopt a similar ban on the equally environmentally-friendly sport of windsurfing. If they had chosen to reduce the use of Hong Kong’s waters only to power-boats or swimmers, we would not have a gold medal to celebrate from the Olympic Games.

Mountain biking is now an Olympic sport and Hong Kong has talented mountain bikers, but there is nowhere to practise and bring these skills to Olympic standard without breaking the law, as all off-road trails are in country parks, which are designated off-limits.

We appreciate that there is a danger of hikers wandering into the path of a bike, but to prevent this is hardly cause to throw someone in jail. Off-road bikers stick to paths and do not cause any more damage to trails than walkers.

Furthermore, there are villagers who ride bikes through the parks purely to get to their homes. Do the concerned authorities jail them for using the only mode of transport available to them? I feel the Government should reconsider this law and rather than place a total ban, strongly consider designated trails for bikes, a code of practice, or possibly a time restriction allowing bikes into the parks at certain times with the proviso that hikers have the right of way.

In these days of fearsome and polluting congestion on Hong Kong’s roads, and with the average citizen confined to air-conditioned buildings for most of his waking hours, the Government should be encouraging people to ride bicycles.

Gregory Pinches

Yuen Long

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http://www.scmp.com/portal/site/SCMP/menuitem.06f0b401397a029733492d9253a0a0a0/?vgnextoid=b7a9076c93d02110VgnVCM100000360a0a0aRCRD&s=Archive

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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