North by Northeast

Mountain Bikers are conservationists
3 December, 2006, 10:21 pm
Filed under: bike, environment, outdoors

Hi. My name is Brian and I am a member of the Nature Conservancy and the New England Mountain Bike Association.

Recently, NPR had a story on this phenomenon, where mountain bikers like myself are being less lumped in with so-called “extreme” outdoors-people (see Dirt Bikes, snowmobilers, ATVs, jet-skis) and more so with human-powered outdoors-people, like hikers, kayakers, climbers. This is huge. This, along with new scientific evidence supporting the fact that the environmental impact of bikes is as little as hikers (careful PDF!), and sometimes less. The study showed MTB had significantly less impact than horses and motorized users. Plus, almost no mountain bikers are known to leave feces on the trail, like the equestrian contingent. 🙂

Now, this is what people like myself have believed for a long time. However, it’s important for land managers to note that there is a small contingent of mountain bikers who treat the land much the same as the motorized contingent. These people like to travel off-trail and try to build their skills with jumping and other natural-feature involved activities. I think there’s nothing inherently wrong with their activity since they’re still human-powered and they’re not polluting nor very noisy like a dirt back or ATV, and they simply can’t cause nearly the erosion. But they still can cause more damage than those who simply ride the trails. The best way to deal with this is to accommodate these people by designating areas for their use. This keeps them form digging deep into the forest and making their own areas. If you believe the mountain bike rags, this is happening all over the Northshore area of British Columbia, considered the birthplace of the hucking style known by many names, but free-ride is one of them.

Unsanctioned building of these areas in the wilderness is just a bad idea. Not just for the impact on the land, but these activities are simply dangerous. I think that the free-ride craze, although it’s not for me, is a lot better than a lot of things people could be doing, and thus should be supported by providing designated areas monitored by land managers and close to roads so the guys who land on their heads can be driven to the hospital.

The reason this study and future studies on the same topic excite me is the law of the land when it comes to wilderness designation. Currently, when an area is designated as wilderness “mechanical transport” is expressly prohibited. Right now, that’s read to mean “no bicycles.” If science can prove that the rubber on my tires has the same or less impact than the rubber on my hiking boots, that may open the lands up to bikes. And I think, given the size of wilderness tracts, that the mountain bike is the ideal vehicle with which to explore them. No noise, no pollution, long range, faster than foot, and low impact. Lower than domesticated animals, even.

With the International Mountain Bike Association‘s recent work along with the National Parks Service, we are that much closer to parity among nature lovers: equal access in areas that can take the traffic. IMBA is the leading voice in the mtb community for ecological responsibility.

IMBA has an action center where you can learn when to contact your legislators to voice your support for mountain bike access. Even if you don’t ride, if you care for land preservation, mountain bikers are great allies to have on your side. Help them to help yourself and the planet.


3 Comments so far
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I am extremely hesitant about opening up “free ride” areas for one reason – I am pessimistic and do not believe for a second that free-riders would limit themselves to the designated areas.

“But the best areas are off limit to free riding!”

“Screw them, I have a right to bike wherever I want!”

This brings me to my second big problem with MTB riders – inconsideration of hikers. I will say upfront that I lay this at the feet of just a few “bad apples” that give all MTB riders a bad name, but it is enough.

I equate it to how road cyclists feel about automobile drivers – “They are bigger, faster and never give way. Sometimes I feel like they are intentionally going after me! They are dangerous!”

As it is, MTB riders have a very bad image, at least to me. I believe this is a common feeling among other serious hikers/backpackers, as well.

(Granted, I also bitch and moan about car-campers, people that practice anything but “Leave No Trace” while camping for the night, and a huge chunk of the population that head into wilderness areas.)

Comment by Hank

First off, saying you don’t trust free riders to stay in designated areas is like saying we should round up all the illegals and send them home… free riders are here, and they’re not going away. If you don’t give them a place to ride, they will make their own, unsupervised. Most bikers are responsible because they realize any slip ups would lead to more restrictions on access. And guess what? Bikers pay the same taxes as hikers to maintain public lands. And as many people as we can get to support public lands, the better.

I don’t hate car drivers when I ride on the road. I hate assholes. They don’t just drive cars, sometimes they’re pedestrians who don’t look… it’s not how you recreate, it’s how you interact with the trail and the people on the trail. I can’t tell you how many campers and hikers I’ve seen litter, or who won’t even acknowledge you when you pull off trail to let them by. Never had an equestrian be rude, when I’ve pulled over for them.

Comment by noreaster

hey! horse poop is organic and natural fertilizer for the woods and stabilizer for the trails! 🙂

Comment by jess

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