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
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
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
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.