Generally, Britain's National Parks are welcoming havens for cyclists, with lots of tiny back roads and challenging terrain to tackle. The Yorkshire Dales and Lake District in particular are famous for their riding. But the New Forest seems determined to go against this pattern.
The New Forest National Park Authority (NFNPA) has just released its draft plan of management for 2015-2020, the document that will determine how the park is run for the next half decade. But where similar plans from other national parks are positive about cycling, NFNPA just sees it as a problem.
Here's what it has to say, in the only section of the plan that deals with cycling in the park in any significant way:
4.20 A major issue which has arisen over the last few years is the increase in large and nationally organised cycling events. There has always been support for responsible family cycling in the National Park, but the scale of these new events and their impact on local communities has provoked wide-spread debate and concern.
4.21 The National Park Authority and others wish to see better controls in place for such major events, which may require the updating of national legislation. In the meantime discussions with those involved locally have led to a new cycling code, a charter for organisers of cycle events and improved advice from the Safety Advisory Group1 which will be widely promoted and monitored for effectiveness.
There's no such grizzling in the Lake District's draft plan of management for 2015-20, which opened for consultation on November 2. Like the New Forest, the Lake District is a working landscape with lots of tiny roads and animals wandering about. Anyone who's encountered North of England sheep knows their reluctance to get out of the way.
Nevertheless, throughout the draft plan's appendices, the Lake District makes numerous references to encouraging "more utility and recreational cycling".
Moving people around is a challenge for all national parks. Encouraging cycling is an obvious way to reduce the impact of car use on thee often-fragile lanscapes. The Lake District's plan recognises this. It says:
The GoLakes Travel programme has given us an exciting glimpse of how the Lake District could be for visitors – integrated, high quality cycle routes, a network of jetties for lake services to make frequent stops at, buses and boats that carry bikes, improved railway station facilities, electric cars for hire by the hour, and charging points to keep them on the move. It is now time for us to apply what we have learnt from this pilot programme elsewhere in the Lake District.
It's clear that despite the geographical challenges it presents, the Lake District National Park Authority sees cycling as a significant part of its effort to get people out of their cars.
The maximum elevation of the New Forest is 129m, a mere pimple compared to any of the hills in the Lakes. You'd think that cycling would be a good way for the New Forest to encourage people out of their cars.
However, having axed a planned rural bike hire scheme, surely perfect for "responsible family cycling", the New Forest has painted itself into a corner. Or rather a bus seat. The draft says: "It is hoped that improved public bus services for both visitors and local people will help to reduce private car use in the future."
The authority therefore plans to:
Improve opportunities to use a range of sustainable transport options, including the New Forest Tour39, Beach Bus and other seasonal bus services. The target is to achieve a 5% reduction in the number of visits by car by 2020.
There's no explicit government guidance on cycling in National Parks, presumably because the relevant ministry, DEFRA, thinks providing such guidance would be like reminding park board members to breathe.
But DEFRA's guidance document English National Parks and the Broads: UK Government Vision and Circular 2010 says: "Parks are attractive locations for large-scale community, charitable or other events and festivals such as organised charity walks, cycling events, cultural and musical events and fairs."
NFNPA's hostility to sportives is clearly exactly contrary to this policy, and needs sustained public pressure to change.
A tip of the hat to New Forest cycling campaigner ForestCyclist for drawing this to my attention. He's calling on everyone to read the draft and email your feedback to: policy [at] newforestnpa.gov.uk (subject: Draft%20plan%20of%20management) .
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.