Room for both bikers and hikers in country parks

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 October, 2007, 12:00am

An Olympic-qualified sport that encourages a healthy lifestyle, showcases Hong Kong's country parks, and appeals to both expatriate and local athletes ought to be heavily promoted. Yet, the government, despite its professed slogans of promoting health and sport, has all but ignored mountain biking.

Since the mid-1990s, the sport has been banned in country parks to ensure safety to hikers. Today, only 10 trails are open to bikers while more than 1,000 hiking trails are available. It is not enough.

This is especially so because the sport is growing. An estimated 1,000 bikers hit the parks every weekend and more than 6,000 people have applied for mountain bike permits in the past 12 months.

It is also great for the city's international sports profile that mountain biker Chan Chun-hing has qualified for the Beijing Olympics next year, but embarrassing that he has to train on the mainland because of a lack of facilities and trails in Hong Kong.

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department is making the same mistake as the Transport Department: the government has been too slow to recognise and promote cycling despite its universally recognised health and environmental benefits.

Undeniably, safety is a legitimate concern. Mountain biking can be an extremely fast sport, and among some practitioners, also very aggressive. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department has a responsibility to hikers as much as to bikers. But surely, with proper management, more suitable trails can be opened up to bikers without compromising safety. Biking races like the Action Asia series have great potential to become major sporting events for the city.

That said, some of the more outspoken bikers should tone down their rhetoric. In dismissing concerns about safety as ignorance and prejudice against their sport, they run the risk of sounding arrogant and self-righteous. As with any other sport, there are bound to be bad apples. Aggressive and irresponsible bikers can and do pose a danger. But with better understanding and accommodation between bikers and hikers, and proper rule enforcement, there is no reason why we should not all share the great outdoors.