CONFLICT IN RECREATION | Executive Summary | Mountain-biking | Mountain-bikers | Conflict
Politics | NZ Mtb Web


1. Bicycling off-road is not a new activity, however, the recent surge in its popularity owes much to the development of bikes designed specifically for the off-road environment. They arrived in New Zealand in the early eighties but only in the last six to eight years have they become popular in this country. According to our sources, mountain-bike sales are currently levelling out at around 50 per cent of the cycle market.

2. Mountain-biking allows easy access to the outdoors, and provides a concentrated physical and mental experience in a short space of time. Thus, as well as being economically attractive, mountain-biking is an ideal activity for people with little spare time, who want strenuous physical and mental exercise in an outdoor setting, perhaps as a substitute for more time consuming activities such as tramping or climbing.

3. This study used three different research methods; participant observation, in-depth interviews and mail-out questionnaires. There were two mail out questionnaires - one for trampers (253 returned) and one for bikers (173 returned). The tramper questionnaires contained some "biker" questions and thus the two questionnaires had a few common questions. Sixty five "tramper" questionnaire respondents said they owned a mountain bike while 44 said that they had been mountain-biking. This means that some questions asked of "bikers" have a sample size of around 173 and some a sample size of around 217 depending on whether both questionnaires contained the relevant question. Throughout the text and the graphs in this document, the term "trampers" is used to mean anyone who responded to a tramper questionnaire, and "non-bikers" is used to meant trampers who answered the questionnaire but who have not ever been mountain-biking or who do not own a mountain-bike. More methodological information and a copy of the questionnaires is provided in the appendices.

4. Mountain-biking intensifies the exercise that the rider gets, so that less steep terrain can be used to challenge a person's physical fitness. Prior to the advent of mountain-biking backcountry trampers were running, which also allowed more strenuous use of easier walking country. The success of the "Coast to Coast" was probably also a reflection of the desire of some trampers to physically challenge themselves. It seems that because of bikers preference for physically and mentally challenging activity, most bikers felt they would not walk in the same places that they used for biking, many said they would like to bike in some of the places they had walked.

5. The advantage that mountain-biking has over running is the level of technical skill demanded of the rider and what some respondents referred to as the "fun factor". The mixture of thrills and spills, and the range of technical skills that riders are challenged to achieve, all add to the popularity of the activity of cycling off-road. This mixture also adds interest and challenge to places that would otherwise be considered "boring". Mountain-bikes may be seen as a means to get through a boring area into a nice environment, for example, they may be used to travel over a 4 wheel drive track to get to the beginning of a walking track. Mountain-biking, then, fills a range of recreational niches and can be adapted according to the needs and inclinations of the individual at any stage in their life.

6. Estimating the percentage of mountain-bike owners who ride off-road is difficult. The results from this study indicate that around 80 per cent of the sample had been off-road during the last year, however, the sampling tended to select for people who had been off-road. This figure is therefore likely to be higher than would be expected in the general population. The accuracy of the figure is also decreased by the different definitions individuals have for "mountain-bikes" and "off-road".

7. Mountain-biking (off-road), includes racing, training and recreational riding. For some mountain-bikers, racing is very important and is their main reason for developing technical skills and fitness. Some bikers see racing as a means of visiting new areas and biking in places that are not normally open to the public. Training for races increases use, particularly of periurban areas during the week, however the impact on other users of these areas is minimal because most training is done in the early morning or late evening.

8. Recreational riders have the most impact on walkers, as it is mostly these riders that walkers meet in the field situation. Most of the conflict occurs in periurban areas where most off-road riding and walking occur. Further away from major centres, mountain-bike use drops off dramatically. Few bikers use remote areas and the use of those places is much less frequent because it requires more time, organisation and access to suitable transport and information.

9. Mountain-bikers vary in age, interests, previous experience and preferences. The group is dominated by younger males. As with other outdoor recreationists, bikers are more likely to have tertiary qualifications than the rest of the New Zealand population in similar age groups.

10. Mountain-bikers usually have some previous experience of tramping or walking and are more likely than non-mountain-bikers to have tried a wide range of outdoor activities. There are a small group of bikers who have not previously participated in other outdoor activities. While many bikers have tramping/ climbing/ caving in their background, there are others who have done a lot of road cycling; either racing or touring, who see mountain-biking as a way to get away from the dangers of motorised traffic. Many mentioned a lack of ability to control the danger to themselves when they are using roads. One or two respondents also suggested that mountain-biking was a form of "adult BMX", and supported that by adding that they knew a number of mountain-bikers had been BMX racers as children.

11. Many mountain-bikers felt that anyone who has a go at mountain-biking loves it, and the experience of two interview respondents supports this. If this is so, it is reasonable to expect that the older age groups will increase their participation in mountain-biking and that today's mountain-bikers will continue their participation in the sport as they get older.

12. Conflict occurs between walkers and runners, as well as between bikers and motorised vehicles. Walkers appear to have little impact on other users, runners have more impact on walkers, and bikers are disliked or strongly disliked by 65 per cent of tramper-only respondents. In a similar way, mountain-bikers dislike riding amongst fast moving cars or motor bikes.

13 Track damage is the issue concerning most tramper-questionnaire. They feel that bikers are damaging both the tracks and the flora and fauna in their vicinity and that the areas in question are "too fragile," and/ or "too valuable" to be used by mountain-bikers in what they feel is an uncaring fashion. Trampers also expressed the concern that anyone using the outdoors should show respect for, or "appreciate", the places they use. This reflects their depth of feeling for, and their long traditional association with, these places.

14. As a group, walkers dislike meeting mountain-bikes on tramping tracks. Meeting bikes on tramping tracks impinges on the sense of enjoyment and relaxation that walkers seek from their activity. The meeting is unpleasant for several reasons including personal safety, and the intrusion of bikes into the feeling of freedom or wilderness that many get from walking through quiet areas. Walkers feel that their "getting-away-from-it-all" experiences are threatened by the invasion of this new group or that their recreational resource is shrinking or is being taken over by bikers, who appears to be moving into new areas. Many walkers I spoke to mentioned that they had been frightened or shocked when a bike appeared suddenly on a blind corner.

15. Some walkers fear that the walking access that they have negotiated with landowners is threatened by mountain-bikers. Farmers, who are annoyed that mountain-bikes are riding over their land without permission, may decide to deny access to all, including walkers who had negotiated the access route in the first place. Similarly, walkers who have put a lot of their own time into building tracks, feel frustrated and annoyed that bikers ride over and damage these tracks but do not help in their maintenance.

16. On the other side, many bikers feel that trampers have (unfairly) labelled them as "hoons" (people who ride at high speed with little regard for other users or for the environment) because of the behaviour of a few irresponsible bikers. Much of this kind of riding is attributed to adolescent boys and to less experienced riders. Less riders often have difficulty finding out which routes they are allowed to use. They also ride at busier times, are less aware of their impact on walkers and are also the bikers that walkers most commonly meet. Thirty one per cent of mountain-bikers felt that mountain-biking's bad image was the biggest problem in the conflict between mountain-bikers and trampers. In all cases, biker respondents maintained that it is not the "serious" bikers that are causing the problems on walking tracks.

17. Some bikers acknowledge that biking causes different environmental impacts to those caused by walking, and many bikers show an awareness of walkers' feelings through the strategies that they use when they meet walkers. Women appeared more aware of the negative feelings of walkers towards bikes on tracks, however this may be because they were more inclined to admit the problem. In comparison, many male bikers argued that ninety per cent of walkers did not show any sign of disliking their presence.

18. The specialisation model is useful for understanding the conflict between mountain-bikers and trampers. People can become specialised in the use of certain specific places or certain general types of place. Experienced trampers, for example, become specialised in the use of the backcountry, while many tramper-only respondents (who may be seen as less experienced) could be seen as specialised frontcountry users. This is reflected in the relationships with, and feelings about, frontcountry areas.

Many backcountry specialists use frontcountry areas as an "exercise area" when they cannot get to their favourite places and thus see the frontcountry quite differently to frontcountry specialists. The frontcountry specialists in this study were much more concerned about environmental conditions in frontcountry areas than were the backcountry specialists. Bikers and trampers tend not to have different attitudes towards the environment in general, however their attitudes towards particular places are different and this contributes to the conflict.

19. Bikers focus on the idea that if a track can withstand bike use, then it is alright to bike on it. This is largely because many of the arguments about mountain-biking have centred on track damage. In reality, even if there were no track damage, there would still be conflict. Older trampers may be less fit, less able or less inclined to walk on rough tracks and less able to hear approaching bikes or to move quickly out of their way than their younger counterparts. Well graded tracks, that cater for these walkers, are a relatively scarce resource, so when cyclists begin to use them, walkers feel very threatened. To make matters worse, it seems that the cyclists that use these tracks at similar times to walkers, are unlikely to be aware of the impact they are having.

20. As a result of the threat to their recreational activities, walkers have lobbied to exclude bikes from many walking tracks. In the outdoors, bikers have more control over their own recreational experience than the walkers they meet. Walkers' experiences can be diminished by the mere threat of meeting mountain-bikers, whereas bikers notice conflict only when they meet walkers who show an open dislike of them or when they find they are banned from using tracks.

21. Bikers are more likely to be a younger, more transient group with little interest or experience in political lobbying. In comparison, those who walk (but do not bike) are generally older, with a better understanding of how to influence the decision-making processes. This seems to be the case in the Canterbury area where a small number of older bikers (who do understand the political scene) seem to be up against large numbers of active trampers, many of whom are retired people with the time, inclination and knowledge required to lobby administering organisations.

22. The increase in popularity that mountain-biking has had over recent years has left administering bodies trying to "control the invasion." Unfortunately many authorities have just closed tracks off to bikes. However banning bikes from tracks does not really solve the problem. Administering bodies with limited resources need the voluntary compliance of bikers to maintain these restrictions. While walkers who drive to the end of a track find it relatively easy to move to another track if that one is temporarily closed. For bikers who ride, it is not so easy to move to another track. Bikers who lack resources, like knowledge and transport, may use tracks illegally because they feel there is nowhere else to go.

23. In spite of the large number of walkers who dislike meeting bikers, many are tolerant of the idea that mountain-biking is a legitimate, healthy sport that should be provided for. They consider that mountain-biking is better than activities like trail-biking or hanging around at home or in the streets. Some form of provision, therefore, is both necessary and desirable. This is complicated by some groups of bikers who are not able to travel far to find places for riding. An additional distance of 10 to 15 kilometres from home, for example represents 20 to 30 kilometres that must be biked before the "real" ride begins. Not all riders are that keen or that able! At the same time, bikers, like walkers, prefer variety in their rides.

24. Designating some tracks as dual use, putting temporal restrictions on some tracks, finding ways to encourage mountain-bikers to participate in track maintenance, and educating both groups about the other, are some of the ways that respondents think would help ease the conflict.

CONFLICT IN RECREATION | Executive Summary | Mountain-biking | Mountain-bikers | Conflict
Politics | NZ Mtb Web