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. www.imba.com

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.

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