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.
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.
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 has 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 mountain bike is a pleasant way to unwind, get some exercise, and enjoy pedaling without the fear of being hit by a car. The trails are located in previously logged forests on the edge of town. These lands do not qualify for wilderness or other special protection, and thus are an appropriate location for mountain biking.
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 can climb steep hillsides and traverse meadows, doesn’t mean I think it’s appropriate to use wherever I might feel like it.
We are standing at a pivotal moment in history, one in which education and advocacy around the climate emergency, public health, racial injustice, and economic inequity is imperative. At Earth Island Journal, we have doubled down on our commitment to uplifting stories that often go unheard, to centering the voices of frontline communities, and to always speak truth to power. We are nonprofit publication. We don’t have a paywall because our mission is to inform, educate and inspire action. Which is why we rely on readers like you for support. If you believe in the work we do, please consider making a tax-deductible year-end donation to our Green Journalism Fund.Donate
For $20 you can get four issues of the magazine, a 50 percent savings off the newsstand rate.