1.1 The Department of Conservation
and Mountain Biking
The Department of Conservation manages
conservation lands which comprise approximately 30% of New Zealand's
land area. Included in these areas are over 7500km of walking
tracks. Most of these tracks are in remote areas, are managed
at a low state of development, and are largely accessible only
to fit and experienced back-country walkers. They are generally
used for multi-day trips by visitors who are most often male,
professional and from younger age-groups.
However, many tracks have been subject
to greater levels of development due to their suitability and
past popularity for day-use and overnight trips. The day walks
in particular tend to be located closer to main roads, tourism
attractions and population centres. These tracks have been constructed
along well-graded routes, have relatively smooth and un-obstructed
track surfaces, and pass through high-quality natural environments.
These types of tracks attract a wider variety of walkers than
the back-country tracks, including families, older people, children,
overseas visitors, and people involved in more pasive types of
Such track characteristics are also
attractive to the growing numbers of people riding mountain bikes
off-road. Since the arrival of mountain-biking in New Zealand
during the late 1980s, numbers participating in this activity
have grown rapidly. According to cycle retail and enthusiast sources,
up to 80% of all bicycle sales in New Zealand are now mountain
bikes. The advent of such developments provides managers with
an added challenge in their decision-making processes. The main
questions they face relate to how any new activity interacts with
existing use types and patterns, and how the new activity can
In general, the initial management response
to recognition of mountain biking as a potential use of conservation
lands has been based upon an interpretation of bicycles as `vehicles'
under the legislation governing the management of these lands.
This approach has been used both in New Zealand and overseas,
and has generally resulted in limiting mountain bikes to legal
roads only. The guidelines for mountain biking management developed
by the Department of Conservation do allow some flexibility to
provide access to some tracks (Department of Conservation 1994).
This is possible where the activity could occur without compromising
the conservation of natural and historic resources, and the experiences
of other recreation visitors.
1.2 Management issues and information
Managers are faced with three main issues
in identifying `suitable' tracks:
- what are the physical impacts of mountain-biking
upon tracks, facilities and the environment?
- what are the social impacts of mountain-biking
upon other users of tracks and facilities? and
- what recreation settings and experiences
do mountain bikers want?
Compared to other outdoor activities,
there is little research available on mountain biking. Even in
America, where the issues have been prominent since the early
1980s, the limited research which has been undertaken has not
usually been published. In association with this study, a review
of the available research has been undertaken. This is published
separately to this study (Cessford 1995), and includes some of
its findings. The following three sections briefly summarise the
main points identified in this review.
1.2.1 Physical Impacts of Mountain
Like the physical impacts of foot traffic,
those of mountain biking are concentrated on tracks. The four
main impact damage problems arising from recreation use of tracks
- excessive erosion from enhanced water
flows and disturbed soil surfaces on sloping sections of track,
and at natural or managed drainage points across them.
- muddy stretches in water-saturated
sections of tracks, often including major disruption of soil
structure, and lateral spread of tracks.
- development of lateral spread and
multiple parallel tracks, where the track surface is harder to
travel on than the adjacent surfaces (e.g., too rocky, muddy,
deeply incised, slippery).
- development of informal tracks, including
shortcuts on corners and switchbacks, and around focal points
such as huts, campsites, attractions, and viewpoints.
Although comparative research is not
extensive, it appears that the `foot-action' effects of walkers
may in some cases more disruptive to track surfaces (particularly
on downhill sections), than are the `wheel-action' effects of
mountain bikes. The distinctly unique impact effect of mountain
bikes is the linear tyre-track produced, particularly in soft
or wet surfaces. When this effect is accompanied by downhill skidding
through over-braking, it can contribute to development of `ruts',
which over time may form erosive channels for water on sloping
sections of track.
However, despite the different types
of effects from mountain bikes and walkers, research provides
no conclusive evidence that one is any `worse' than the other
in the overall degree of impact created. General impact research
indicates that the location and condition of the track (particularly
with regard to drainage); the number of users overall; and the
individual behaviour of these users, are more important for the
development of track impacts than are differences in the type
of recreation activity (e.g., walking and mountain biking).
1.2.2 Social Impacts of Mountain
The social impacts of mountain biking
on the recreation experiences of other users, are interpreted
best through the recreation conflict concept. This occurs when
the presence and/or behaviour of some users interferes with the
achievement of the desired recreation experience `goals' of other
users. Extensive research exists on this topic, although virtually
none deals specifically with mountain bikes. The general research
concludes that conflict is more complex than simply `one activity
versus another'. In general however, the clearest examples of
conflict are demonstrated in the inter-activity conflicts of `motorised'
and `non-motorised' groups. From the limited research, article
and commentary sources available, three main types of impact perceptions
are clearly associated with mountain biking by other users (e.g.,
- perceptions that mountain biking has
too much environmental impact;
- perceptions that mountain biking represents
a safety hazard to others; and
- perceptions that mountain biking is
an `inappropriate' activity in settings where walking takes place.
The perceptions of environmental impact
appear exaggerated on the basis of the research undertaken on
such impacts (both for mountain bikes and for recreation use in
general). Perceptions of safety hazard from mountain biking appear
to reflect concern about the presence of mountain bikes and the
possible hazards. In areas of high interaction between walkers
and mountain bikes, actual accidents appeared very rare. However,
the potential for hazard from the irresponsible behaviour of some
riders was widely acknowledged. Generally, both these types of
perceptions appeared to be associated with general feelings of
disapproval toward mountain biking by walkers, and that it is
an `inappropriate' activity on tracks used for walking.
The situations where walkers perceived
that mountain biking was `inappropriate' appear to represent a
tendency to perceptually associate mountain biking with `motorised'
activity groups. In the extensive research documenting perceived
conflict between `motorised' and `non-motorised' groups, the differences
in activity type represented fundamental differences in user characteristics,
behaviour, motivations, preferences, and environmental attitudes.
However, despite strong walker perceptions to the contrary, the
differences arising between walkers and mountain bike riders were
much more subtle. Associating mountain bike riders with the types
of characteristics commonly associated with `motorised' users
Another finding from this conflict research
was that the recreation experiences of `non-motorised' types of
users were more susceptible to disturbance than were those of
`motorised' types of users. This reflected their different activity
motivations and expectations. It appears that this situation exists
for walkers, when considering how they feel about real or potential
encounters with mountain bikes. There is also some suggestion
that over time, as more actual experience of mountain bikes is
achieved, some decrease of conflict perceptions does occur. However,
research to date is insufficient to draw conclusions.
1.2.3 Demand for Recreation Settings
Different activity motivations, and
perceptions of the different motivations of other users, were
considered to be very important in the development of recreation
conflicts. However, almost no research on the characteristics,
motivations and preferences of mountain bike riders has been done.
When considering how to deal with mountain bike issues, and possible
provision of opportunities for mountain biking, managers have
had only anecdotal comments and observations to guide their judgements.
From the limited material available,
it was apparent that mountain bike riders desired a variety of
riding conditions. Important components often included riding
in natural forested settings, experiencing scenery, and being
challenged. There also appeared to be some variation in these
preferences between riders with different levels of off-road riding
Given the importance attributed to the
role of activity preferences in the development of recreation
conflict, and the need for managers to have information on mountain
biking demand, this study was directed at providing a comprehensive
view of rider preferences for recreation settings and experiences.
Assessment of social impacts was not the focus of this study as
other work is currently underway for the Department (Horn, 1994),
and this type of information is more readily available from other
sources. Assessment of physical impacts was not addressed as it
represents a different research field, and is likely to be included
in general impact assessment work being considered by the Department.
1.3 Objectives of this study
The objectives of this study were to:
- provide a profile of mountain bike
- describe their preferences for recreation
settings and experiences;
- determine their attitudes toward key
management issues; and
- make recommendations for management
options and future research needs.
The results from addressing these questions
are presented in Sections 3-5, with subsequent discussion and
recommendations in Sections 6 and 7. Additional analyses are presented
in the Appendices. It is anticipated that those with greater interest
in any of these more detailed areas will refer to the appropriate