Earth Island Institute logo, tap or click to visit the Institute home page

Go Back: Home > Earth Island Journal > Issues > Autumn 2014 > +/-


Ticket to Ride?

+/-The Wilderness Act is clear in its prohibition against road-building, “motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats” and “landing of aircraft.” It also prohibits “other form[s] of mechanical transport” in wilderness areas, and land managers have interpreted this to include mountain bikes. Wilderness stewards say that mountain biking is incompatible with the character of wildlands, and that cyclists sometimes do disproportionate damage to trails. Mountain bikers say their self-propelled machines (no noise, no emissions) fit within the wilderness ideal and, besides, do less damage than a line of packhorses. Is mountain biking compatible with preserving backcountry areas? Ecologist and author George Wuerthner says No. Mike Van Abel of the International Mountain Bicycling Association says Yes.

Wilderness Can Work for Mountain Bikers

by Mike Van Abel

Mike Van Abel is the executive director of the International Mountain Bicycling Association, which since 1988 has worked to create, enhance, and preserve the mountain biking experience.

Mountain biking does not require literal mountains – my home state of Wisconsin hosts some of my favorite rides – but it does depend on access to inspiring, well-preserved public lands. Like other outdoor enthusiasts, fans of knobby-tire bicycling crave opportunities to explore trails and lose themselves in the woods. Mountain bikers want to see the areas where we ride protected, with clean air and clean water, so we welcome opportunities to join with others and help protect America’s shared public lands and help ensure current and future generations can enjoy high-quality outdoor experiences away from development, noise, and pollution.

Most mountain bikers support land conservation measures to protect natural resources and the backcountry experience. But there’s considerable concern in the mountain biking community when that protection comes with closures to otherwise sustainable and highly prized trails.

That’s why wilderness is such a difficult issue for us. Existing wilderness protections near some of our favorite trails contribute to the peace, quiet, and solitude that make them special.

… more …

What do you think? Are bikes cool in the wilderness?

small excerpt of a poll page

Vote and Be Counted.


Email this article to a friend.

Write to the editor about this article.

Subscribe Today
cover thumbnail EIJ cover thumbnail EIJ cover thumbnail EIJ cover thumbnail EIJFour issues of the award-winning
Earth Island Journal for only $15



While I agree that some Wilderness should be left pristine (ban horses too), most of the recent inclusions and future expansions seem to be aimed at closing all NF lands to anyone but the sierra clubbers. I can’t support this and I think there are many current DWA that should be open to bikes as well.

The recent White Pine County Wilderness bill for instance closed 500,000 acres and now almost no one goes up there and what few trails there were are disappearing from lack of use and the FS does not have the means or manpower to maintain them.

By Kent Robertson on Tue, December 16, 2014 at 9:04 am

Anti bike argument is based on the fact that his personal experience is not being in tune with the environment when riding.  May I suggest riding lessons?

When I ride, I see more and quietly experiencing more than when I backpack.  I am in and out faster for less impact. 

Arguments against bicycles in wilderness are contrary to the original intent of the Wilderness act - providing a place to VISIT unspoiled nature, without leaving permanent trace.  Mountain biking fits to a T.

By Daniel on Mon, December 15, 2014 at 5:41 pm

Leave a comment

Comments Policy

Please enter the word you see in the image below:


Four issues for just
$15 a year.

cover thumbnail EIJ

Join Now!