Inside every littering mountain biker lurks a silly, pouting child

It's not big and it's not clever, and neither are you

Near Llandovery, past the tiny Welsh village of Cilycwm, is a steep-sided valley that climbs to a beautiful waterfall. High on the right-hand side of the valley sits a bench, behind which the Cwm Rhaeadr trail passes. It’s there because the view is stupendous. Both the bench and the trail stare across waves of conifers that fall and rise to the distant ridge, and all the way to the roaring white falls. Close as the forest drops away, below the bench, grows a particularly tall tree. It’s all just gorgeous. In the tree hangs a ruined inner tube.


Somewhere in Britain, in a place perhaps strewn with broken toys, is the witless man/woman-child who tossed it there. Hello mate! Perhaps you’re used to throwing things and mummy and daddy clearing up after you?

This stupid tube, looping from the branches like a score of zero for humanity, has stuck in my mind. Why would anyone do this? Why would you toss a bit of nasty black rubber into such an unspoiled landscape? What motivated this pathetic wrecker? Let’s examine it scientifically, because I am a scientist, believe me. (By the way, I’ve noticed that this is all you have to say for something to be true these days — and nobody’s more scientific than me, believe me.) Also, because this discarded tube is a proxy for all the litter on the trails, it will let us draw wider conclusions. Which will obviously be totally scientific as well.

That’s you, that is
Dustin Iksander, Flickr Creative Commons

So, the tube in the tree. It couldn’t have been ditched to save weight, because the rider must have been carrying a spare one. If they weren’t they immediately regretted throwing this one off the hill, tried to climb the tree, fell out, cried, then rode off on their rim like downhill genius Aaron Gwin, only without the speed, or talent, or style, or good reason to do it, or the celebrated status as a worthwhile human being.

Meanwhile, sticking the punctured tube back in their pack would have added zero grams, while lobbing it saved maybe 200g. Perhaps this was the motivation? Certainly the weight loss would’ve made all the difference to the remaining 60 seconds of uphill, especially if they were used to hanging off mummy or daddy once their legs got tired. I’m going somewhere with this whole toddler thing, by the way.

It’s incredibly unlikely the tube was beyond repair, because as I’ve hinted this is close to the top of a fireroad climb. There’s simply nothing to create the long, unpatchable splits of a pinch puncture. So they could’ve fixed it later, at home with their warm milk, before being tucked in for the night. There’s a certain implication of dummy-spitting to chucking away a perfectly useable £5 tube.

That’s your bike, that is
Richard Masoner, Flickr Creative Commons

Love Where You Live

UK charity Keep Britain Tidy started up 60 years ago to combat littering, and has a particularly good slogan: Love Where You Live. But while there are clearly all sorts of economic and social factors that influence urban littering, it’s hard to see how they apply to the trails. People in a run-down town might well not feel invested in the place, or might see disrespecting it as a kind of protest, or simply see litter as a drop in the ocean of their other troubles, but if you’re lucky enough to be riding a mountain bike on a free trail that somebody else has created for you in a beautiful mountainscape, what possible reason could you have not to love it? To disrespect it?

All these tube-flingers, can-droppers and wrapper-flappers are people who’re used to dumping anything they’re bored with wherever it falls

“Behaviours that lead to negative environmental consequences are numerous and complex,” says Keep Britain Tidy on its website. “Understanding these behaviours has always been at the heart of our work, especially around litter.” Speaking not as a charity but as a scientist and a professor of sarcasm, I say the problem is simple. It’s a minority of selfish, spoiled babies. At least on the trails, anyway — because anyone who’s out there enjoying leisure time on an expensive and totally unnecessary mountain bike just doesn’t have any more complex excuses. They should be embarrassed, and here’s why.

The riders littering the trails are the spoiled toddlers of the world who’ve grown into selfish, entitled brats. All these tube-flingers, can-droppers and wrapper-flappers are people who’re used to dumping anything they’re bored with wherever it falls, because somebody else will clear it up for them. They’re people who think the adult world should look after their every whim and convenience. They think you will indulge their laziness because they are more important.

It’s obviously absurd to ruin the very landscape we’re all there to enjoy. It’s also incredibly easy not to do it — the lack of inflated tubes, full cans and unopened gels all over the trails proves that keeping hold of them is actually child’s play. So there it is, the only scientific conclusion possible (believe me): inside every single littering mountain biker lurks a silly, pouting child.


Feel free to point that out to any you encounter, although perhaps not through the medium of rap, as Charnwood Borough Council did, yo. You’re not a special little flower, nobody wants to clear up after you, and you’d do well to grow up and take your rubbish home.