Tim Luckhurst: Sorry - horses and motorbikes just don't mix

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Despite sub-glacial progress through Parliament, the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act is now law. Otherwise arcane, it has become a target of loathing for motorcyclists. The Motorcycle Industry Association describes it as "a catastrophe for off-road motorcycle activity".

One of my friends says, "It is a selfish conspiracy by twitcher twats and posh tarts in Barbour jackets." Their vitriol is directed at clauses intended to cut motorised use of Britain's unsurfaced road network.

It takes a powerful threat to bring motorcyclists and Chelsea tractor owners into alliance, but this has done it. As far as two wheeled off-roaders are concerned, ministers have caved in under a barrage of sanctimonious claptrap from "extremist ramblers" and the provisional wing of the environmental lobby. Green lane bike riders are forming up in the same phalanx as fat merchant bankers who demand the freedom to drive their 4x4s straight from the executive car park to the trout-fishing stream.

Incongruous allies? I think so, and my advice is to retreat fast from an argument that can do us only harm. The MCIA does a fine job promoting bikes as a clean, socially responsible means of transport. It has taken big strides towards persuading middle Britain that motorcyclists are not psychopathic, thugs. Demanding the right to chew grass into mud, spit stones at frightened walkers and startle horses is not constructive

I enjoy off-roading but as a keen walker as well as a motorcyclist I think the MPs are right. Trail bikes and 4x4s are as appropriate on historic Rights of Way as pedestrians on the chicane at Silverstone. But there is a more important reason to abandon this argument. As soon as we do, motorcyclists will have the moral authority to demand new and stringent restrictions on the use of horses on public roads.

Meetings between motorcycles and horses are terrifying. Too large a proportion of my teenage years were spent riding close behind vast horses on narrow cobbled streets. They do not just rear. They buck, kick and otherwise bounce about as well. Twenty years ago, during the Common Riding Festival in the Scottish Borders town of Peebles, I was knocked off a Suzuki by a frothing stallion. The dense beast was not pacified by my deceleration to crawling speed.

Since then I have been immensely wary of horses. They are large and irrational and my leathers are designed to protect me against falls and slides, not metal-clad hooves. But it has been clear for some time that caution is not enough. More and more often I find that the twisting rural switchbacks that make natural motorcycling playgrounds are infested by these relics of feudal military technology.

There are 10,000 accidents a year involving horses on roads and the cause is indisputable. The horses should not be there in the first place. It does not matter how sane or responsible the motorcyclist. We can come round a corner entirely legally at 60mph on our taxed, MOT'd and insured vehicles and run slap-neigh into the back of the local pony club ride-out. Some times we do not get that far. A steaming heap of equine excrement on the apex of a bend can turn a tempting lean-angle into a month in traction.

Forget your sympathy for little Georgina and her chums. A car may only get dented by the flying hooves of her demented steed. I fall off and get trampled as well. And then I have to sue the rider for compensation because, absurdly, these lumps of perfectly edible protein may be deployed on public roads without even third party insurance. And their riders suffer from the pompous delusion that we are responsible for frightening them. Enough. They can have the green lanes if I can have the Queen's highway. Is it a deal?

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