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Archives: Are Mountain Bikes Ecological

  Newsgroups: rec.backcountry
  From: Alan Goldman
  Subject: Are mountain bikes ecological correct
  Date: Wed, 5 Jan 1994 23:29:21 GMT

  Eric Durbrow writes:
  >What do people think about mountain bikes and trail use? Do bikes
  >really accelerate trail erosion? Are bikes incompatible
  >with the low-impact approach?

  Mountain bicycles have little, if any, more effect on the environment
  and trails than hikers, and much less effect than horses do. There is
  little scientific information available, but what does exist supports
  this claim.

  1: The Kepner-Trego Analysis (U.S. Forest Service Santa Barbara, 1987,
  updated 1989):
  "During the past 2-3 years of bicycle use, trails have not shown an
  increase in the erosion rate."

  2: The Seney Study ( Joe Seney, Montana State University, Dept of Earth
  Science, Bozeman)
  (Presented at Assn. of American Geographers, 1990 Toronto, Canada):
  "Results did not show trail damage by bikes to be significant"

  This study used trails of different soil types and slopes, wet and dry.
  Horses, bicyclists, hikers, and motorcycles made passes over the trails.
  Runoff, sedimentation, compaction, and micro relief were measured.
  Bicycles had no more effect than hikers. Horses, in many cases, were
  worse than motorcycles. (Rototiller like digging up of the trail, and
  creating potholes that fill with water, softening the surrounding

  3: A negative declaration of environmental impact done by the Santa
  Clara (California) Dept. of Parks and Recreation (1989) found the
  environmental impacts of bicycling on trails to be generally
  insignificant, and easily mitigated.

  4: The Use of Mountain Bikes in the Wilderness Areas of the Point Reyes
  National Seashore (National Park Service, Point Reyes, California 1984):
  Flora and Fauna Disturbance: "A few people assert that bicyclists are
  very disturbing to the wildlife and will trample endangered plant
  COUNTRY." (Emphasis is mine)

  So, it appears from this study that the excuse of "protecting the plants
  and animals" is not viable. Cycists stay on trails. Hikers wander
  around and stomp things.

  5: Finally, there's me. For many years I have built, maintained, and
  repaired trails, both as a volunteer and as a paid professional. I have
  worked for State Parks, Open Space Districts, Water Districts, etc. I
  have run trail crews, and inspected the work of contract crews. I have
  hiked for over 30 years, was a ski mountaineering guide, and am a long
  time cyclist. I have a Forest Technology degree, and have studied soils
  and geology.

  It is my personal and professional opinion that bicycles do little, if
  any, more damage to a trail than hikers. They certainly do much less
  damage than the horses we permit on most of our trail systems here in
  California. Any damage they might do is easily mitigated by simple,
  proper maintenance and construction techniques. The same goes for the
  impact hikers have. The main things that cause trail damage are improper
  construction, location, and maintenance.

  To conclude: This is a very controversial topic. Others will disagree, I
  am sure, with my statements. Review carefully all the things alleged,
  and be sure to insist on documentation and evidence. If the
  mountain bicycle vs. hiker issue is to ever be settled, it must be done
  on the basis of fact, logic, and reason, not exageration, emotion, and
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