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Mountain Biking Is Inappropriate In Wilderness

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Old June 8th 16, 07:03 AM posted to rec.bicycles.soc
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Default Mountain Biking Is Inappropriate In Wilderness

Mountain Biking Is Inappropriate In Wilderness

by George Wuerthner

George Wuerthner is an ecologist
and former hunting guide who has written or edited many books including,
Thrillcraft: The Environmental Consequences of Motorized Recreation. He
personally visited more than 400 designated wilderness areas.

I just got
back from a mountain bike ride. The trails outside of my hometown of Bend,
Oregon have numerous loops and degrees of difficulty, and riding my
bike is a pleasant way to unwind, get some exercise, and enjoy pedaling
the fear of being hit by a car. The trails are located in previously
forests on the edge of town. These lands do not qualify for wilderness or
special protection, and thus are an appropriate location for mountain

The key words here are “appropriate location.”

That is the same
qualifier I would have for my four-wheel drive vehicle as well other
“thrillcraft.” I am grateful to have a four-wheel drive vehicle when
driving in
snow, muddy roads and the like, but that doesn’t mean I feel it’s
appropriate to
drive it everywhere it can go. Similarly, just because my mountain bike
climb steep hillsides and traverse meadows, doesn’t mean I think it’s
appropriate to use wherever I might feel like it.

Although I can’t speak
for all mountain bikers, I think my experience while on my bike is
representative of most cyclists in that I am more focused on the trail and
sense of movement than I am aware of and in tune with my surroundings. In
words, the natural world I am traveling through is more a stage for my
experience. Whether that stage is wildlands or not is irrelevant to my
experience. This fundamental indifference to landscape is the primary
between mountain biking and the Wilderness Act’s goals.

This is not to
say that mountain bikers do not enjoy wildlands or that they are immune to
beauty of nature. Indeed, when I stop cycling, I often look around and
appreciate the setting. But the reason I am biking is not primarily to
nature, and I think it’s safe to say that most mountain bikers would
agree. When
careening down a mountain we must, by necessity, be focused on the trail
front of us, not the natural world around us.

Our wildlands are not
outdoor gymnasiums or amusement parks. Part of the rationale for
designation is to provide an opportunity for people to contemplate and
natural systems.

It is clear from a reading of the debate around the
creation of the Wilderness System that recreation is not the prime
rationale for
wilderness designation. The act says little about preserving recreational
or adapting new types of recreation. In testimony before Congress in 1962,
Howard Zahniser, the chief architect of the Wilderness Act, stated
“Recreation is not necessarily the dominant use of an area of wilderness.”
In an
essay he authored in 1956, Zahniser wrote about the spiritual benefits of
wilderness, which he considered one of its highest purposes: “Without the
gadgets, the inventions, the contrivances whereby men have seemed to
among themselves an independence of nature, without these distractions, to
the wilderness is to know a profound humility, to recognize one’s
littleness, to
sense dependence and interdependence, indebtedness, and

I do not believe mountain bikes contribute to the
development of humility, nor a sense of dependence, interdependence, and
responsibility. There are four major reasons why mountain biking should
not be
permitted in officially designated wilderness areas or in any areas that
strong candidates for wilderness designation.

Legal. The
Wilderness Act is unambiguous about the kinds of activities that are
acceptable in designated wilderness – namely travel without “mechanical
advantage.” The rationale for the law, as stated in its opening paragraph,
“to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding
and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the
United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for
and protection in their natural condition.” Mountain bikes are part of
growing mechanization. The sophisticated advancement of mountain bike
reduces the natural limits imposed by primeval character, whereas those
or traveling by horse remain within natural limits.

Bike proponents often suggest that mountain bikes may do less damage than
a pack
of horses or even a Boy Scout troop. This is a specious argument. The
effects of numerous tires create additional erosion, sedimentation in
and potential for trail damage. The idea that some activities do more
than another is not a reason to expand damaging activities. There is a
cumulative impact from all uses, and adding to existing use can only
impacts. The main goal of wilderness designation is to preserve wild
nature, not
to preserve recreational opportunity.

Sociological. Any
mechanical advantage – whether it is a dirt bike or a mountain bike –
the backcountry. This has several effects. Those walking are easily
surpassed by
those using mechanical means, which can psychologically dismay other
users. On
heavily used trails, the threat of a fast moving bike changes the
experience for
other trail users. If you are a hiker, the ability to relax and soak in
natural world is impeded when one is anxious about having to jump out of
the way
of a bike.

Philosophical. The spirit and letter of the Wilderness Act is to
protect lands that retain their “primeval character and influence.” The
advanced the technology that we drag along with us, the greater our
from the spiritual values of wilderness areas. To many who are walking in
contemplation of nature, mountain bikes are an intrusion. They are no
to many wildlands enthusiasts than if a bike were to invade the Sistine
or were ridden in the Arlington National Cemetery. The fact that many
bikers are oblivious to the spiritual values inherent in wildlands is one
why those walking find mountain biking obnoxious at best, and even

For me – and many of my fellow wilderness advocates – the
goal of conservation is to preserve the remnants of wild nature, not to
self-indulgent recreational opportunities. With ever more technological
available for distraction and diversion, we need the sanctity and
that Wilderness Areas represent more than ever.

The above essay says it all in my estimation. Anyone stupid enough to
disagree with any of it is beyond the pale. I suggest that all mountain
bikers who think it is OK to ride on trails used by hikers read and reread
the above until it sinks into their thick heads.

Ed Dolan the Great - Minnesota


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