6. DISCUSSION OF KEY FINDINGS
This section discusses the key findings
which can be drawn from this study, and makes recommendations
for management attention and research needs. These discussions
are organised according to the original objectives of this study,
which were to:
- provide a profile of mountain bike rider characteristics;
- describe their preferences for recreation settings and experiences; and
- determine their attitudes towards
key management issues.
The key findings (in bold italics)
are generalised conclusions from the research results, and are
presented with the expectation that they may be tested by future
research. They are presented in no particular order of importance,
and are accompanied by discussion of any implications for management
or research. The main recommendations for management and research
are presented in Section 7.
6.1 Profile of Rider Characteristics
- At present, off-road mountain
bike riders display age, gender, and occupation features which
are characteristic of `active' outdoor recreationists, in contrast
to the more `passive' types of recreationists they are most likely
to encounter in those settings where most riding takes place.
Riders in this study included a high
proportion of males, of ages between 20 and 40, and of `professional'
occupations. Other samples of mountain bike riders have displayed
similar characteristics (e.g., Ruff and Mellors 1991; Coughlan
1994; Horn 1994). In general, these types of features are more
characteristic of `active' outdoor recreationists (e.g., backcountry
trampers, climbers, hunters), than they are of the more `passive'
recreationists they are most likely to encounter (e.g., casual
walkers, sightseers). These different `types' of recreation groups
are usually well seperated as a result of the different settings
that they use. In many sites where mountain biking takes place,
riders may represent `active' users of predominantly `passive'
settings. This could underlie many of the conflict perceptions
which arise. Development of more `passive' styles of riding appearance
and behaviour may reduce such perceptions. Managers may find it
useful to consult with riders and other users to determine what
these `passive' features may be.
In a study of scenic urban cycleways
(Gobster 1993), the distinctive rider characteristics as found
in this study were less pronounced. This was also the case for
the beginner riders in this study. These types of less experienced
riders, and those using the more `developed' types of riding settings
(e.g., cycleways), were more similar in profile characteristics
and activity preferences to the types of walkers most likely to
be encountered. It is possible that in these situations, the greater
apparent similarities may reduce conflict perceptions. Walkers
may view a family group of cyclists differently from a group comprising
fit young riders.
Identification of how walkers form their
perceptions of mountain biking will be useful. This may only require
a targeted review of conflict research and participant consultation,
rather than further specific field research. With such information,
managers would be better able to advise and regulate riders to
minimise any key `impact' features, and would also be able to
better define those more `impact-susceptible' users. Better knowledge
in this area may be the key to decisions on whether mountain biking
at physically capable sites will also be socially acceptable or
- Women represented only 15
percent of the overall sample, but a high degree of womans' interest
in riding is indicated by them comprising 42% of beginner riders
in this study.
While representing only 7 percent of
expert riders, women did comprise 42 percent of beginner riders.
This difference may indicate that women riders generally drop
out of the activity more often, rather than continuing to higher
experience levels. Or, it could indicate that women are getting
involved in this recently available activity, but have been doing
so more gradually than the men. Whatever option is considered,
the high proportion of beginner women does suggest a high degree
of interest in riding.
Some support for the latter interpretation
is apparent from the experience characteristics of women (Appendix
2). A higher proportion of women had less than one year of riding
experience, suggesting more recent recruitment to the activity.
However, the overall pattern of experience, in years, was otherwise
similar to that of the men. If women were dropping out, the proportions
with many years experience could be expected to be much lower
than that of the men. This represents an obvious area for research.
Should the very low proportion of women riders grow, the increase
in overall numbers of riders would be great. This has implications
for managers when considering the current levels of mountain biking
use. Managers should assume that current mountain biking use-levels
will increase, and that a considerable part of any increase will
represent a gradual growth in the proportions of women participating.
This is likely to be most pronounced in areas currently more popular
with less experienced riders.
- Mountain biking is a very
recent addition to the range of outdoor recreation opportunities,
and it is unlikely that the rider characteristics and preferences
will remain in the patterns they currently display.
Only 10 percent of riders had been active
in off-road riding for more than 5 years. It is possible that
with time, the activity will `mature' and stabilise into different
patterns of use and user than are described in this study. For
example, the proportion of women may increase, current riders
may continue their involvement into older age-groups, more `passive'
styles of riding may develop, and more children and family involvement
may occur. The advent of mountain biking has presented an `socially
acceptable' (trendy) and more physically practical means by which
the high level of involvement by young people in cycling can be
continued. Research into the current use-patterns and aspirations
of women, and the developing patterns of current riders as they
age, would be useful in the long term.
The very recent advent of mountain biking
thus suggests the possibility that the participant characteristics,
attitudes and behaviour may be evolving as the activity becomes
more established. In a similar fashion, the attitudes and behaviour
of other users in relation to mountain biking may also be evolving.
Riders gaining more experience of riding and of encounters with
other users may change in their attitudes and behaviour toward
safer and more responsible riding (e.g., voluntary codes of behaviour).
This process may also apply to the other users, who, upon gaining
more experience and familiarity with encountering mountain bikes,
may also change their attitudes and behaviour towards them. Some
suggestion of this type of process was made in Banister et. al.
(1992), where the negative attitudes of other users towards cyclists
on canal towpaths did not appear to increase over time, despite
large increases in rider numbers. Greater familiarity may result
in reduced conflict perception.
Managers should recognise that these
types of changes are likely to occur, and that it may result in
future resource demands for riding, and patterns of conflict perception,
which differ from those evident in this study. Clearly these areas
represent important topics for longitudinal monitoring and research.
6.2 Recreation Setting and Experience
- Some features of settings
and experiences are consistently important to mountain bike riders
of all experience levels, and would thus appear to be essential
components of any mountain biking opportunities which may be provided
or allowed for.
The riding features considered equally
important by most ridrs included the opportunities for exploring
new areas; appreciation of scenery, views and nature; experiencing
some speed, excitement and risk; and socialising with others.
Specific setting preferences included native forest settings,
undulating routes, ride durations of between 2-3 hours, and good
scenery. These results indicate that these features represent
the basis of most satisfying riding experiences.
Should managers be considering a variety
of tracks for potential mountain biking opportunities, those including
most or all of these features should be given greater weight in
allocation decisions. However, other results indicate that the
relative importance of these, and other rider preferences does
vary with experience. Managers may also need to consider the types
of riders they wish to provide opportunities for in each case.
- As riders become more experienced,
the balance of their setting and experience preferences shifts
from an emphasis on more generalised passive types of riding experiences,
toward more active types of features, which are more specific
to the mountain biking activity.
Beginner riders tended to emphasise
more `passive' features of riding experiences, characteristic
of preference for easier riding conditions (e.g., socialising;
appreciating scenery, views and nature; easier and relaxed riding;
few obstructions on the track/track not too difficult; uphills
which were gradual/gentle/easy; track surface which was smooth/easy/open;
ride duration of between 1-2 hours; downhills which were slow/gentle/easy;
and riding on sealed roads).
By contrast, more experienced riders
emphasised preferences for more `active' features characteristic
of difficulty and challenge in riding (e.g., technical and physical
challenge; speed and excitement; racing; single-track which is
tight/narrow/winding; some technical difficulty/challenge; downhills
which are fast/technical/tight; uphills which are long/steep/smooth;
track surface which is dry/hard; track surface which is rough/technical/fast;
and rides which include a mixture of single-track and other route
These changes in rider setting and experience
preferences as experience levels develop suggest that the principles
of the Recreation Opportunity Spectrum (ROS) should be applied
to mountain biking opportunities. Managers using the ROS to aid
decision-making on allocations of recreation opportunities, can
assess each of the opportunity classes they are using to identify
what different opportunities may exist for mountain biking. For
example, riding optins in opportunity classes associated with
`wilderness' would be unlikely given the lack of tracks. However,
in `remote experience' classes, options for expert riders may
be possible on the rough tracks predominating in this opportunity
class. In more `developed' opportunity classes such as `backcountry
drive-in', riding routes accessible to less experienced riders
would become more available. This type of process would encourage
provision for a range of mountain biking preferences, and would
also provide a means for limiting the access of mountain bikes
to some areas. Any such process for provision of riding access
would remain subject to other management requirements such as
physical and social impact concerns, as well as any statutory
limitations that apply to mountain bikes.
- Rider preference for route types
shifts strongly toward riding on single-track with experience.
Beginner riders showed greater preference
for riding on more developed routes such as sealed and gravel
roads, and 4WD tracks. But preference for single-track riding
increased with experience to become the most preferred route type
(e.g., narrow walking-type tracks). This suggests that provision
of mountain biking opportunities would have to include access
to some walking-type tracks if mountain bike rider demand was
to be best satisfied. Provision of access to formed roads or retired
road tracks may only cater for the less experienced riders. These
riders may be unrepresentative of those rider types actually present
in most off-road track settings. Provision of opportunities for
single-track riding routes should be considered a priority where
Rider preference for single-track riding
raises the potential for conflict perceptions from other users
of such tracks, particularly walkers. While most riders consider
that these uses are compatible, other research indicates that
many walkers would disagree.
- With increasing experience,
riders have greater preference for tight and rough tracks, and
have greater preference and tolerance for various types of track
difficulties and obstructions.
Associated with their preference for
single-track riding, the more experienced riders also had greater
preference for riding challenges in general, and greater tolerance
for track difficulties and obstructions (e.g., roots; rocks; steps;
culverts; overhanging branches and foliage; wet muddy areas; and
river crossings). The main exception to this was the strong aversion
by all riders to unconsolidated surfaces such as sand and loose
Some tolerance for track difficulty
by all riders was apparent from the proportion prepared to push
or carry their bikes over rough sections. This indicated that
many riders were prepared to ride up to, and occasionally over,
the limits of their riding abilities. Just where this carrying
or pushing would occur would vary for different riders, depending
on their relative experience. A track where a beginner may push
or carry may be easily ridden by an expert. Whatever the level
of skill, few riders indicated they were prepared to carry of
push their bikes for over 25% of a ride. This does indicate that
where more than this percentage of a track is unrideable by most
riders, almost none will be present.
Deliberate retention of rough track
surfaces and/or location of maintenance features to maintain more
difficult riding conditions could provide a `filter' mechanism.
Using such specific `managed difficulty' would provide managers
with some control of the numbers and types of riders present on
different tracks, without the need to otherwise limit or ban mountain
bikes altogether. Less experienced riders will be deterred by
the more difficult riding tracks and conditions.
- The difficulty and amount of
uphill riding required on tracks will provide an additional factor
acting to limit riding use.
Preference and tolerance for riding
long and difficult uphill sections increased with experience.
This indicates that less experienced riders may be deterred by
the degree of uphill difficulty. Experienced riders were more
tolerant of difficult uphills, and if forced to push or carry,
would be doing so in much rougher conditions than would be the
case for less experienced riders.
Management of uphill gradients represents
an additional means to reduce rider numbers and filter out the
less experienced. If tracks do not require low gradients to meet
the specific needs of different types of walkers (e.g., older
walkers, families, disabled etc), then steep climbs and associated
difficulty may be retained. Such an approach would be important
in backcountry situations, as it would result in only the more
experienced riders being present in settings. However, in more
accessible areas with smoother and easier tracks, gradients are
unlikely to be sufficient to provide any deterrent. They may still
be important for management, as they present a different array
of management issues when considered as downhills.
- Experiencing speed and excitement
in riding is important to most riders apart from beginners, and
increases in importance with experience, although the setting
of these experiences changes.
Most riders indicated a preference for
experiencing fast downhills, and most indicated these types of
experiences were essential to their riding enjoyment. The proportion
desiring this was lowest amongst beginners, and those that did
desire this preferred to do so on more smooth and open tracks.
With experience, the preference for speed and excitement increased,
and the settings preferred for this emphasised rougher and more
challenging tracks. Rider preference to mix speed with challenge
was most pronounced amongst the experts, some of whom indicated
preference for slow technical downhills. This suggested they were
prepared to sacrifice the maximising of speed on downhills for
a greater technical challenge.
These results indicate that in many
situations, although not necessarily all cases, riders like to
go fast at times during their rides. This should be recognised
by managers in providing any riding opportunities. If speed-related
experiences are inappropriate for sites being considered because
of hazard potential (e.g., popular day walking tracks), management
actions may be required. Such actions could include both rider
education and track maintenance strategies (e.g. strategic location
of waterbars, steps and other obstructions to limit speeds on
blind corners, `managed' degree of riding difficulty to limit
rider numbers). Also, specific efforts to make known the availability
of alternative settings for speed-related experiences would help
increase rider acceptance of limits to the riding use of some
- Racing is not an important motivating
factor for most mountain bike riders, including most of those
who have at some time actually entered a race.
Despite this sample of riders having
been drawn from race-entry lists, only 19 percent included racing
and race training in their top three preferred riding features.
It was the first priority choice for only 9 percent of the riders.
An increased preference was apparent with higher experience levels,
although this was anticipated due to the greater racing commitment
which would be expected of race-entrants at the higher levels.
It was apparent that a distinction between `racer' and `non-racer'
expert riders was present (refer Appendix 2 for details). This
distinction suggested that racing was the means by which `racers'
focus the development of their advanced skills and experience,
whereas for `non-racers', that focus comes more from applying
and challenging their technical abilities. It is likely that managers
will be dealing much more with recreational riders rather than
those with strong focus on racing, particularly in settings removed
from urban areas which would be less amenable to regular training
rides. Actual racing on lands managed for conservation would not
be permitted without agency consents.
- Many experienced riders have
some experience of overnight riding trips, suggesting that this
aspect of riding behaviour will become more important in some
settings and areas.
Riders indicated a strong interest in
multi-day riding opportunities, though these comprised only a
small part of their riding effort. Although most previous multi-day
rides had been road-based, their interest in future trips appeared
to be for off-road riding.
Riders specified a variety of areas
they would like to do off-road multi-day trips. Given that mountain
biking has only recently developed in New Zealand, it is likely
that one of the major factors limiting rider interest in off-road
trips has been lack of knowledge. As more riders become experienced,
and information exchange increases, it is likely that more sites
will be visited, and that some will become distinctly more prominent
as preferred locations. This already appears the case with the
Heaphy and Queen Charlotte tracks (due to high natural attractiveness,
transport connections, rideable with weight and baggage). However,
these are remote from the home locations of most riders, and it
is unlikely that rider numbers doing such trips will be high.
Managers should recognise that these types of riding opportunities
in certain key sites will be important to riders on a national
basis. This may be an important consideration in decisions on
access allocations, particularly if Recreation Opportunity Spectrum
(ROS) concepts are applied.
6.3 Rider Attitudes Towards Management
The overall findings summarised in Table
5.1 present a view from riders that the potential social and physical
impacts on the environment and other users by mountain biking
are not as bad as some may believe. They seem to be suggesting
that if riders are responsible, and other users are better informed
about the activity through information and increased familiarity,
impact perceptions would be reduced and the banning of bikes would
be unnecessary. However, they did recognise that in some cases,
there would be the need for limitations to their access.
- Riders believe that riding should
be possible on most walking tracks, but do acknowledge that there
will be some exceptions because of possible track damage and conflict
This acknowledgement by riders is useful
for managers, as it represents a recognition that use of some
tracks would not be appropriate in all situations. However, there
was an expectation by riders that these limitations would be the
exceptions rather than the rule.
- Riders believe that perceptions
of damage and safety hazard from mountain biking are over-estimated,
and that a combination of some irresponsible riding behaviour,
and a lack of knowledge by walkers, contributes to these perceptions.
While acknowledging that mountain biking
may be inappropriate in some situations, mountain bike riders
generally considered that the activity was compatible with other
use of walking tracks. The implication for managers is that any
limitations placed on mountain bikes resulting only from manager
response to the perceptions of other users, are likely to be considered
by riders to be an over-reaction. Conflict may develop between
managers and riders where riders believe limits are being unfairly
applied. Given the acknowledgement by riders that some situations
will require limitations, it would appear that they would generally
accept any reasonable limitations, especially when consultation
was undertaken on general access opportunities, and the justifications
for the specific management actions were outlined. The same consultation
process could also be used for discussions with other users, where
management decisions make provision for some riding access.
- Self-regulation of riding behaviour
and attitude was seen by riders as being an important part of
management to reduce any use-conflicts.
Voluntary codes of behaviour such as
`low-impact' riding and self-regulation of behaviour were considered
more useful management options than were separate times or zones
for mountain biking. However, given the high proportion of riders
involved in clubs, and the number who have done races, it would
appear that convenient mechanisms to promote voluntary self-regulation
are available. Any management strategy dealing with mountain bike
issues should ideally address this option through consultation
with riders and others before any regulatory site management actions
are applied. This approach may represent a more long-term process
than an immediate management action, and it will depend on the
degree to which rider behaviour conforms to the desired states.
Some short-term regulatory approaches may be necessary in some
situations, although the option for reviewing these should be
available if initial conflict and impact problems subside.
Riders were evenly divided on whether
most riders would stick to specifically designated mountain biking
tracks. This suggests that many riders believe that any tracks
designated for riding use will generally not reflect their setting
and experience needs, or not be readily accessible.
- Riders identified views, scenery
and nature experiences as important components in their recreation
In most of the data collected on setting
and experience preferences, and from specific questions, a strong
expression of rider interest in undertaking rides in attractive
natural settings was apparent. Settings in farmland or pine forest
environments were accepted as being tolerable, but strongest preference
was exhibited for natural forested areas. In a similar way, farm
tracks and 4WD tracks were acceptable, but very much secondary
in preference to single-tracks in natural forest settings.
This has implications for managers when
considering potential tracks which could be used to provide for
mountain biking. Tracks with attractive natural settings would
appear to be as important to mountain bike riders as they are
to other track users. If the Recreation Opportunity Spectrum (ROS)
system is applied, ridng opportunities with these features should
be provided for.
- Speed and excitement are important
components of mountain bike riders' recreational opportunities.
In data collected on rider experience
preferences, and from a specific question, a strong expression
of rider interest in experiencing some speed, risk and excitement
in their riding was apparent. This has implications for management
when considering potential tracks which could be used to provide
for mountain biking. This rider preference does represent a key
area of potential user conflict and hazard if uncontrolled. In
many cases, and particularly amongst more experienced riders,
pure speed is not the objective. Rather, it is associated with
the technical challenge of travelling quickly but in control over
rough surfaces and terrain. In these situations, the actual speeds
reached may not be high.
Rider education to ride safely, and track design to limit speed where potential hazard does exist are two possible options. Riders do indicate a strong interest in self-regulation, and management actions such as strategically located obstructions (e.g., culverts, steps) have been proposed.