Off-Road Mountain Biking: A profile of participants, setting and preferences, by Gordan Cessford, 1995
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7. RECOMMENDATIONS

Based upon the results of this study, a number of recommendations can be made for management and research consideration. These highlight some of the main findings of this study, and some of the new questions raised. They are not presented in any order of priority.

7.1 Management Recommendations

These management recommendations relate to the type of recreation experiences being sought by mountain bike riders, and the implications for managers for making some provision for mountain biking opportunities. The types of features preferred by riders are well summarised in the executive summary. Specific reference is also made to the Recreation Opportunity Spectrum (ROS).

- When considering options for mountain biking opportunities, managers should ensure that the tracks include some or all of the following `core' features: opportunities for exploring new areas; opportunities for appreciating views, scenery and nature; experiencing some speed, excitment and risk; native forest settings; undulating routes with variety; socialising with others; and rides of between 2-3 hours duration. These were identified as features of high importance to almost all riders.

- Managers also need to apply Recreation Opportunity Spectrum (ROS) concepts as rider preferences vary with experience, and the preferences of the more experienced riders broaden the range of areas in which mountain biking interest occurs. As riders gain experience, they prefer more challenge and difficulty in their riding, and more access to single-track types of routes. The more common road and 4WD options (e.g., `back-country drive-in' zones) are not the preferred options of experienced riders, whose preferences may need to be considered in areas where only foot access occurs (e.g., `remote experience' zones).

- Management focus on mountain biking opportunities and issues should focus upon front-country rather than back-country areas. Most riding will be on day-trips under five hours, and managers can consider the proximity of tracks to residential areas, holiday locations, and easy road access to better determine the likely levels of riding use and conflict which may occur. While most riders would only be riding on these, others may be using them to access more remote riding areas. Such distinctions in use patterns may influence how managers plan the use of these tracks by mountain bikes. Provision of access `corridors' may be an option.

- Regulation and prohibition of rider access to more remote and difficult tracks may be unecessary, due to the low numbers of riders likely to use them. Small numbers may be tolerable in these circumstances. Managers could expect that any riders on more remote, long and difficult tracks (e.g., rough and/or steep) would be of higher experience and commitment to riding, but that their numbers would be low (particularly if overnight stays on the tracks were required).

- Managers should consider the national and regional role of backcountry multi-day routes when addressing the Recreation Opportunity Spectrum features of the areas under their management. Considerable interest in multi-day riding opportunities is apparent from rider responses. Interest in these routes is likely to increase as rider knowledge and skill levels increase, and more variety in experiences is sought. This does not mean all tracks should be considered, as many are too difficult, or may be subject to general overuse already.

- Track maintenance features such as waterbars, steps, culverts, and ditches could be deliberately located in a way to minimise rider speeds at potentially hazardous points along the track. If required, this type of `managed difficulty' could also be taken further to create sufficient track obstructions to deter less committed riders. In the same way, many natural obstructions such as roots, rocks, logs, stream-crossings and vegetation could be left in-situ to maintain high riding difficulty. Actions which smooth track surfaces may encourage more inexperienced riders, and allow greater riding speeds. While this approach may represent additional maintenance costs, the process could be incorporated over time into the overall schedule of track maintenance, and concentrated first upon the most relevant tracks (e.g., high use tracks with greater hazard and conflict potential). This approach may be unacceptable where it compromises easy foot access on tracks provided for less able walkers.

- It can be accepted from rider preferences that there will always be a proportion of riders in any setting who will be riding at excessive speeds. This proportion may be only small, but does represent a potential hazard. Application of a `managed difficulty' approach and/or rider education to self-regulate behaviour would be appropriate courses to consider before major riding limits or prohibitions are imposed. If regulations are imposed, they should be specific to problem sites, and backed up by rigourous enforcement if ignored. Rider responses suggest they would accept such controls where justified.

- Consultation with any concerned groups (mountain biking and other user groups) should be undertaken at an early stage when managers are considering issues of riding access on potentially controversial tracks. Many conflict situations may be prevented or reduced in this way. Where problems are occurring or anticipated, the option for allowing rider self-regulation should be considered first. Most riders in the study accepted the need for some controls, but felt that self-regulation was the best means to deal with potential problems. If limitations or prohibitions are being considered, reasons will need to be clearly specified to ensure rider acceptance. Riders perceive that impacts from riding are exaggerated, and are unlikely to support those they may perceive as not clearly justified.

7.2 Research Recommendations

A number of general research topics are suggested here. These will provide complementary results to those presented in this study, and address some of the additional questions it raises.

- Research on other samples of mountain bike riders asking similar questions to those used here should be undertaken. This would provide complementary data to that gathered in this study, and would assist definition of a spectrum of different riders and their preferences. Although the analysis of rider responses according to their experience level has proved useful in this study, more work is required to identify criteria that may better define different types of riders. Further analysis of data from this study may be undertaken to address this need.

- More research on how walkers perceive mountain biking is important, particularly on how these perceptions vary according to different rider types, different encounter settings, and according to the different types of walkers. The walker types most susceptible to impacts from mountain biking may be better identified. This information would allow managers to minimise conflict potentials, by designating greater limits to rider access on those tracks with high proportions of `bike-sensitive' users.

- Research investigating how attitudes towards mountain biking may change over time as walkers become more familiar with bike encounters is important. If perceived impacts from mountain biking are largely due to the `new and different' status of the activity in off-road settings, these negative attitudes may moderate over time as the activity becomes more familiar. This would require a longitudinal project using a consistent methodology.

- Research is required to determine whether the behaviour of more experienced and committed riders is safer and more responsible than that of novice riders. This is necessary as the assumption of such a process is the basis of any successful self-regulation of riding behaviour. In addition, identification of any particular `problem' types of riders may aid management targeting of education initiatives, or focus rider efforts to self-regulate. With this information, managers may also consider the proportion of riders in the settings who may be `problem' riders, and manage the riding use of the sites accordingly. Where any such proportions are low, major management action may not be required.

- Given the `new' status of the activity, research on the evolution of riding behaviours, preferences and participation patterns will aid prediction of future demands for riding opportunities. Since women are very under-represented in off-road mountain biking, research on their riding involvement, aspirations and barriers will be important. Evolution of greater off-road riding interest amongst women, and reduction of any barriers, could result in major increases in mountain bike numbers.

- Further research to identify the off-road tracks and routes most highly preferred for multi-day riding trips would be useful to assist managers deciding on the implications of riding access relative to the national value of the tracks. Research here should also provide some indication of use-level implications of riding access to such tracks.

- Research dealing with the behavoural response of riders to `managed difficulty' strategies will clarify if this is a feasible mainstream strategy, or simply another tool for managers in localised situations. How rider behaviour on downhill sections changes as a result of obstacle location is an example of the sort of work which may be done. How much difficulty riders may tolerate before they give up on certain tracks is another. There is much scope for small scale trial and observation research in this area.

- Specific physical impact research addressing how the real impacts of mountain bikes compare with those of other users (e.g., walkers) will help resolve some perceived conflicts between user groups, and between managers and user groups.

- Perception of hazard from mountain bikes appeared to be a major source of social impacts perceived by other track users. Research to identify what the actual hazard potential may be, and how this may vary in different setting circumstances is an important topic. While mountain bike riders may accept considerable risk to themselves from their activity, other track users may not accept the risks they perceive this represents to them. Resolving the differences theat exist between actual and perceived risks may allow managers to take action to minimise the social impact conflicts related to perceived hazard.


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