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



Most trampers express concern about the track damage that bikes are seen to cause, and about their own personal safety. Concern over environmental damage is related to the way people think about places. People negotiate a meaning for a place both through their own direct experiences there, or indirectly through interaction with people for whom the place has a meaning. Walkers, to whom the Port Hills are important, feel that bikers do not value them enough and that biking is not an appropriate form of recreation there, largely because of the environmental damage it is thought to cause. In the questionnaire data, the issue of personal safety appeared less important than that of the environmental damage, however, the interviews indicated that it was very important to walkers as it affects their sense of relaxation and therefore their overall enjoyment of walking. In comparison, some bikers acknowledge that biking causes different environmental impacts to those caused by walking, but many bikers feel that the bad image of mountain-biking, that has developed from the behaviour of a few irresponsible bikers, is the main reason for the conflict.

Both groups feel that their recreational activities are threatened and those who are most involved in their respective activities have the strongest feelings. This is reflected in the political activity centred around either gaining access for, or denying access to, mountain-bikers. It appears that the political activity, in a spiral effect, causes more conflict in the field setting which then increases the political activity.

Conflict is not a problem limited to bikers and trampers. During the course of this research, I found evidence of conflict between walkers and runners, as well as between bikers and motorised vehicles.


As a group, walkers dislike meeting mountain-bikes on tramping tracks. Figures 11, 12 and 13 show how mountain-bikers and walkers, who do not mountain-bike, feel about meeting others on tracks. Some bikers deny the existence of conflict. From the interview data, it appears that males and females differ in their stated opinions on this. The males I interviewed, who did a lot of mountain-biking, all said that "99 per cent" of walkers were "quite happy" and presented no problem. This may be because few walkers make negative comments when face to face with a biker.

Figure 11: How do you feel about meeting the following users on these tracks?

Figure 12: As above

Figure 13: As above

Adelman et al. (1982) noted a similar phenomenon when they found that motorised boat users were not aware of the antagonism that canoeists felt whenever the two groups met. Investigation showed that canoeists who felt strongly negative did not show this in their behaviour during face to face encounters with motorboaters. In fact, they often smiled, thus reinforcing the boaters' views that there was no conflict. This may be the result of a feeling of relative powerlessness in this situation, combined with a desire not to make the meeting any more stressful than it already is.

In spite of this, many bikers are aware of the negative feelings of walkers as evidenced by the strategies that they have for dealing with them when they meet.


Many mountain-bikers have strategies for defusing the conflict situation before it occurs. Jo, for example, said she had sometimes "struck trouble" but:

. . . I just stop and have a chat - I saw some people the other day when I fell off . . . so I just stopped and had a chat - I think it's the way you approach them.

Similarly, Paul, who felt there was little "real" conflict, said;

The walkers I've come across have always been fairly good towards us - we'll always stop and let them through - that's one of the mountain-bike codes . . . some of them will stop and want to know all about your bike and what the sport is all about.

Karen felt that it was a good idea to get the first word in to prevent the conversation starting on a negative;

we try to disarm any anger that they might have by greeting them with cheery smiles and immediately talking about what a great day and what a great time everybody is having.

Some bikers even try to divert attention from their bikes by suggesting that something else is more important;

. . . sometimes when I'm accosted over my bike I say, 'well actually, the bike's OK - it's the dog you should be objecting to!'

From the in-depth interviews, it seems that women are more often aware of the negative feelings of walkers when they meet bikes on tracks, however this may be because they were more inclined to admit the existence of a problem. Zelda mentioned that she found it uncomfortable to meet walkers on tracks;

I suppose I'm on the defensive when I run into people somewhere because I think I'm about to get a barrage of [verbal abuse].. - and if people don't [say anything], I think "oh phew" and tootle on my way.

Who Hates Whom?

Both sexes had similar strategies, which indicates that the men are aware of the negative feelings walkers have about bikers. According to data from both the questionnaires and the interviews, a range of user-groups are impacting on each other. For example runners have a negative impact on walkers as illustrated by the comments of the ranger at the Sign of the Kiwi on the Port Hills, near Christchurch;

The walkers used to complain about the runners but now the runners take a back seat, and the runners are taking the same view as the walkers [about bikers].

Another comment that was made in one form or another by everyone I spoke to and by many questionnaire respondents;

At least mountain-biking is better than mountain motor biking.

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. Paul, when asked what he thought of four wheel drive tracks, said;

Well, they're OK, but they have the problem that they have four wheel drive [vehicles] on them. I had an interesting incident on the Bridle Path the other day with some sort of beach buggy going at high speed. He just came flying round the corner coming up from Lyttelton and I looked behind me and thought 'hmmmm, well there's no room for him and me, and he's bigger than me and he's not going to stop,' so I had to ride off the edge.

So, for many riders, four wheel drive tracks are not good places to ride because there are motor vehicles on them. Bikers' comments about four wheel drives and motor bikes sound very similar to the comments many walkers make about mountain-bikes. For example, mountain-bikers noted in their questionnaires:

I hate meeting motorised vehicles. They are noisy and users usually show little consideration for others, and flora and fauna;

sometimes four wheel drives can be a bit of a pain as I constantly have to move out of their way, and motorbikes tend to speed;

and trampers wrote of mountain-bikers:

They destroy the peaceful atmosphere and tear up the tracks;

. . . it does seem if you are walking you are expected to move for bikers and often have no choice.

Devall and Harry (1981) suggest a hierarchy of technology, where those using less advanced forms of technology dislike those on more advanced forms of technology. This is a useful model because it helps predict the likelihood of conflict arising, but it is somewhat simplistic and provides little causal explanation of why the conflict exists. Neither does it say why walkers dislike meeting runners who are not more technologically advanced than themselves, nor why bikers dislike meeting walkers or runners more than other bikers. Factors such as perceptions of difference and perceived threats may be just as important here.

Perceptions of Difference

Research on crowding has shown that groups that are perceived as different are likely to be considered more intrusive than groups who are perceived as similar to that of the respondent. Manning (1986) also cited perceptions of difference as a factor in recreational conflict. Intuitively, it is easy to be tolerant of people if one identifies with them in some way and this is illustrated by one of my tramper-only interviewees who said he liked meeting joggers (which few other walkers did) in spite of having to move out of their way. He added that;

because I'm a jogger myself, I get out of their road and I'm quite happy with joggers really.

Similarly a male I spoke to (who had a mountain-bike) commented that he had been annoyed by the sight of mountain-bikers on Godley Head until he realised that he could easily be mountain-biking there himself one day. Perceived differences in age, dress and demeanour will all contribute to the distance people put between themselves and others in a meeting situation. One respondent (a biker and tramper) spoke of the insect-like appearance of bikers when they are attired in helmet, glasses, lycra clothing and gloves. While few walkers talked of mountain-bikers' attire negatively, they often noted the differences between their own dress and that of the mountain-bikers they had met. The role of dress in perception of difference was also highlighted when one respondent spoke of the change in the participants in the Coast to Coast event over the last 10 years. His comment was that the original competitors had been dressed in rugby shorts and woolly singlets, while the present competitors were dressed, somewhat differently, in colourful lycra outfits. The change in dress added to the impression that the competitors had changed from being experienced in tramping to being specialised in multisport events and less experienced in the backcountry.

This idea was reinforced when other respondents commented that tramping was no longer the first outdoor activity that people tried. Nowadays people can take up a range of sports to begin their outdoor interests and it seems that activities such as mountain-biking, which make periurban areas more challenging, will be the most likely starting activities. Backcountry tramping requires more organising and access to transport so it is less accessible to younger recreationists.


It is also possible that there is an element of envy associated with these perceptions of difference. No walker interviewees spoke openly of being envious of runners and bikers who are physically fitter, however, a number compared themselves with runners in particular. One or two questionnaire respondents commented that they envy the fitness of bikers and runners, for example, a male in his 50's commented;

While I envy the fitness of runners in remote areas, it seems to me that they are taking unnecessary risks and seem to be "rushing through' an area without really enjoying it.

Walkers who know that they are capable of running or biking in an area are less likely to feel inferior in any way when they meet a runner or biker. For some walkers, therefore, it seems possible that the sight of users who appear physically fitter may impact on their leisure experience.

While there are many walkers who do not mountain-bike, most mountain-bikers did have some experience of walking or tramping. Many bikers are also currently involved in tramping. Some tramper-only respondents mentioned that if they were to try mountain-biking they would probably enjoy it. In fact, during the course of my research, one middle-aged interview respondent who was against mountain-biking tried it. He has since become an enthusiastic mountain-biker himself. In a few cases, mountain-bikers I spoke to said they disliked meeting bikes on tracks while they were walking, but they also felt that they might one day find themselves mountain-biking in those places. Thus many people participate in both activities regularly, and it seems likely that this overlap group will grow.


Both mountain-bikers and walkers feel threatened. Mountain-bikers feel that their recreation will become so restricted that it will be hard to find somewhere to ride legally. In comparison, walkers feel that mountain-bikers are going to take over the outdoors so there will be nowhere for them to go to 'get away from it all'. In general, those individuals in both groups who are heavily involved in their activity feel the most threatened.


Walking has long been a traditional use for outdoor areas and mountain-biking is a mechanical newcomer. A female interviewee mentioned that because bikers are newcomers, they have to prove themselves and make every effort to be more courteous and careful than most trampers.

Because mountain-bikers are moving into areas that have traditionally been trampers' areas, I feel we have to make a real effort to go overboard and be friendly, stop and talk to them . . . It's a little bit like the way I feel even being a female in business or a female in sport - you have to prove yourself so much harder to be accepted on the same level.


Many bikers feel that trampers have 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. This can also make meeting walkers uncomfortable, as one respondent noted in his questionnaire:

In referring to walking tracks I dislike meeting walkers because I'm embarrassed to be viewed as a 'hoon'.

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. Most experienced riders train in periurban areas such as the Port hills around Christchurch, but they train after work in the late evening or in the early mornings when there are few people around. Their recreational rides are usually much further afield. Therefore the less experienced riders who ride at busy times, and are least aware of their impact on walkers are also the ones most frequently contacted by walkers. Much of this kind of riding is attributed to adolescent boys and they may be a significant part of the conflict problem, if only because they do not have the resources to go further afield. Inexperienced riders as a whole have trouble getting information telling them where they can and cannot go and until they make some contact with others in the sport they are most likely to know only about the well known walking tracks. Education and information are therefore important factors in trying to manage the conflict. While education through schools maybe possible, there are many slightly older riders who neither belong to a club, nor participate in races and so are difficult to reach.

Some bikers are aware that they must encourage other bikers to be courteous to walkers they meet on tracks, and, for some older riders, their concerns are reflected in the way they deal with mountain-bikers who they feel are not riding responsibly.

K . . . if I see . . . as I often come across young bikers who are hooning past - I'm quite vehement with them and on occasions I grab their bikes and stop them to talk to them, and told them that I'm a mountain-biker too, and if they behave like that, more and more places will be closed to us - so I'm really quite stern about it!

In spite of the large number of walkers who dislike meeting bikers, many actually appear to be tolerant of the idea that mountain-biking is a legitimate and healthy sport that should be provided for. At the same time, trampers are concerned at what bikes do to the environment and the experience of walking. As a male in his forties put it;

I would not like to exclude anybody from New Zealand's remote areas, but I cannot help feeling slightly negative to the growing use of mountain-bikes, motor bikes or 4 wheel drive vehicles to these areas. I appreciate it takes real physical effort to pedal mountain-bikes to these regions but in country where even foot traffic can have bad effects (in some parts) it seems to me that wheels will be worse. . . . the feeling of wilderness can be totally destroyed by the presence of technology in many areas.

This comment illustrates concern with environmental and experiential impacts. Figure 14 shows the results from a question asking walkers to rank the two biggest problems with mountain-biking.

Figure 14: Which two, in order of importance (1 = most important) do you feel are a problem when mountain-bikers use walking tracks?

Environmental Damage

Past research has found a difference in environmental attitudes between groups like snowmobilers and cross-country skiers (Jackson, 1989:111-112). More Snowmobilers were considered "technocentrist" in their attitudes, while skiers were five times more likely than snowmobilers to have attitudes "consistent with [a] pro-environmental position."

In the case of mountain-bikers and trampers, this difference is not obvious. Watson, Williams and Daigle (1991) found no significant difference between hikers and bikers in their membership of conservation organisations. My questionnaire data show that more trampers belong to conservation organisations (45 per cent of walker only respondents belong to organisations such as Forest and Bird, the Summit Road Society, Maruia Society or Greenpeace, whereas 36 per cent of bikers belong to similar organisations). This is only significantly different to a level of 95 per cent confidence (Chi Square = 0.0432). The result is also less significant in the context of the age difference between the two groups and the changing age structure of clubs that I discussed earlier in this paper. A few teenaged mountain-bike respondents noted, for example, that their parents belong to these organisations (however they did not belong to them, themselves and were not recorded as doing so). My interview data also indicate that bikers and trampers are not very different in their attitudes towards the environment. Many bikers for example felt that mountain-biking required less use of a motor vehicle, and was therefore a more environmentally friendly activity than driving up onto the Port Hills to go for a walk. Seventy nine per cent of biker questionnaire respondents use their bikes for commuting and many bikers spontaneously mentioned their concern for the environment and frequent reference was made to cycling as the "most efficient form of movement on the planet."

Most tramper-only respondents were very concerned with the damage to tracks and the surrounding areas. There are many arguments about the impacts bikes have on walking tracks. In certain conditions, it seems that bikes can leave very distinctive tracks and ruts which deepen as water erodes them further. Bikes ridden in wet conditions, where bare soil is the basis of the track, cause extensive damage. This damage could probably be prevented by constructing tracks with good surfaces and frequent water bars. Presently, however, walkers are both upset, particularly by the ruts that are forming on many tracks in the Port Hills. They also feel that bikers are damaging flora and fauna in the vicinity of the track. They feel that the areas in question are "too fragile," and too valuable to be used by mountain-bikers in what they feel is an uncaring fashion. This perception detracts from the experience and is linked to the way people develop feelings about, and attachments to, a place.


Places are given a value or meaning by all who use them as illustrated by one man in his forties:

I don't mind [mountain-bikes] out in the open where you can rush across tracks and all the rest of it but to me, to see mountain-bikes hooning through bush is almost sacrilege. I think if they want to go into the bush, they should walk through the bush so that they can enjoy the complexity and delicacy of it rather than just ride rough-shod over it.

Problems arise when different people give a different value to the same place; i.e. they associate different feelings and experiences with that place and therefore differ in their perceptions of what is appropriate there.


Bryan (1977) suggested that recreational conflict may be the result of differences in experience with, and commitment to, a recreational activity. The more specialised an individual, the more specific are their requirements for a high quality recreational experience. Thus a highly specialised fly fisher will be looking for more specific environmental conditions than a more "generalised" fisher. Bryan (1979) suggests that specialisation can be seen in many different activities from bird watching and fishing through to tramping. Bryan's (1979:66) suggested progression from novice through to specialist for tramping is given below.

Low specialisation
Day hikers, overnighters, weekenders
Off trail hikers, backpackers
On-trail distance hikers, backpackers
High specialisation

Thus Bryan considers that specialised trampers tend to go on longer trips, like to explore wild areas off the beaten track and seek solitude. In fact, Barker (1989) found that the expected progression of an individual first going on easy trips through to hard tramping trips is not so clear. Instead trampers take on a greater range of easy and hard trips - depending on the people they are tramping with, available access and available time. Barker also identified three factors that could be used to measure an individual's level of specialisation. These were commitment (in terms of money, effort and competence), source of information and experience.

My findings indicate that the specialisation model is a useful one for understanding conflict between mountain-bikers and trampers. However, it requires some modification. Many people who mountain-bike on the Port Hills could be considered specialised trampers. This is not surprising in the light of Barker's (1989:105) findings that specialised trampers tend to participate in a cluster of outdoor recreational activities such as canoeing, climbing, skiing and mountain-biking. Paul, a keen mountain-biker, who would be considered to be a specialist tramper by Barker or Bryan said;

. . . I don't consider myself a serious climber - I'm definitely more of a tramper than a climber, but my tramping tends to be not using tracks . . . quite a lot of cruising on the tops and high passes.

This same respondent also mentioned that he enjoyed going into areas to explore new routes over a period of several days.


Surprisingly, more specialised trampers were least aware of environmental impacts on the Port Hills which is contrary to what might be expected given Bryan's (1977) assertion that specialised recreationists have more specific environmental requirements. This anomaly can be understood by linking specialisation theory with ideas of "sense of place."

Overall people need to spend time interacting with a place in order to develop strong feelings about it. As one respondent in his thirties noted when exploring the attraction of the Port Hills:

well it's got personal associations, so there's a history there in a sense . . . my own history.

Without exception, the people that conveyed the strongest feelings about the Port Hills were those who had the longest associations with them. Charles a male in his 70s said of the Port Hills:

. . . to me it's sacred land you see. In my life time I lived in Lyttelton, I was brought up there [and] I can remember the Port Hills when the Summit Road wasn't there. It was just a walking track . . . and the road went in during the Depression . . . the patches of bush are beautiful . . . . In the bluffs under Mount Pleasant, we used to play as kids. There's caves and tremendous fern life up there.

As with this person, those in the older age group have had a longer time to learn about the history, flora and fauna of the area in a very personal way. This, combined with the development of a personal history in the place, add up to a strong relationship with that place. My own appreciation of the Port Hills grew substantially through exploring what they meant to my interviewees. In comparison, those with little or no experience in the area felt no such appreciation, regardless of age. One very experienced male outdoors enthusiast in his forties, who did not live in Christchurch (and so had spent little time on the Port Hills), said of the Port Hills:

. . . to me they're a barren sort of lump.

This is not to say that surroundings are not important to younger or less experienced people. Rather it seems that places are seen more in terms of utility - a good place to go, a good challenging track - whereas with time and experience a place may become an entity in itself. As one retired male put it:

I always feel that a place has got a spirit . . . I always think the spirit seems to be a living thing, but you can . . . wipe it out just like that.


People can become specialised in the use of certain specific places or certain general types of place. Barker and Bryan's experienced trampers, for example become specialised in the use of wild places in the backcountry, while many of my respondents could be seen as specialised frontcountry users.

The frontcountry specialists that I contacted were much more concerned about environmental conditions in those areas than were those who could be considered backcountry specialists. Many of the former spend much time on the Port Hills doing track maintenance and working to improve access for other walkers. They are directly involved with setting aside land for conservation purposes. A tremendous amount of voluntary time goes into projects such as tree planting, or negotiating to buy land through the Summit Road Society. Additionally, these same people are frequently up on the hills walking and exploring the area. In short the commitment, knowledge and experience of these people makes them highly specialised in their own right. This high degree of specialisation is also reflected in the value attributed to the place called the Port Hills.

For many backcountry specialists, frontcountry areas are used mainly as a substitute or "exercise area" for those times when they cannot get into their favourite places. To a backcountry specialist (tramping specialists as Bryan (1979) defines them), the frontcountry is less pristine, more crowded, and less challenging than, for example, a wilderness area in the back blocks of a national park. It is, therefore, an appropriate place for mountain-biking or jogging - activities that focus less on the small things in an area. In comparison those who are specialist frontcountry users feel that mountain-biking is highly inappropriate in these places. This sense of inappropriateness is reflected in many of the quotes throughout this paper.

Trampers are concerned that anyone using the outdoors should appreciate the places they use. Of course many younger walkers tend to be focusing on covering country or walking faster or running downhills, thus their focus is more similar to that of mountain-bikers.


Sam, a male in his thirties described his past;

I used to do silly things like I'd run down hill sides and stuff, but I find I can't do it now and I don't think I would because it is a bit risky . . . . you're on the limit - your senses are alert to everything . . . it's a full body experience . . . you've got to look at where you place your feet at least 3 or 4 steps ahead . . . you're really in the moment.

I'm in my 30s now and I'm not as fit as I was in my teens or twenties. I have different goals - before I used to cover country - now I look more, I see the details more . . .

The description of running downhill was very similar to the way many bikers describe mountain-biking. Given the change in focus of this person (and of many others I talked to) it seems that both mountain-biking and jogging could provide a starting-off point for the development of the appreciation shown by the more specialised front country users. It is difficult to say, however whether this appreciation will be reflected by future use of these places for walking rather than riding, although I suspect that the family life cycle and the general decrease in fitness that most notice in later life will influence bikers to spend some time on their feet in the future.

The role of experience in the development of a sense of place is important because so many mountain-bikers are young people who, by definition, do not have a lot of personal history in any place. This development of sense of place will only occur through interaction with that place, and, for many, the only interaction they get will be through mountain-biking. Paradoxically, if people do not use a place, they will not develop a strong personal identification with that place and other similar places. From a conservation perspective, it is these feelings that lend protection to the spirit of a place. The difficulty lies in finding the balance between the use needed to develop this sense of place, and the use level that will eventually destroy the spirit of that place.


Overall walkers felt that meeting mountain-bikes on tracks detracted from their enjoyment of walking. The meeting is unpleasant for several reasons including personal safety (which was rated the second most common problem with mountain-biking after environmental damage), and the intrusion of bikes into the feeling of freedom or even wilderness that many get from walking through quiet areas. A woman in her fifties describing how it felt to meet bikers on a walking track said;

I felt that somehow the sanctuary had been invaded, that here we were walking along, and more intrusive people came - people that needed to be accommodated.

Both bikers and runners require accommodating - walkers feel they have to move out of the way for the faster moving users and the psychological costs of not doing so are usually too high to allow most walkers to hold their ground. Some others mentioned that the feeling of wilderness disappears when they come face to face with a bicycle which "should be on the road." As one male tramper in his 40's commented in his questionnaire;

Mountain-biking problems: the intrusion of technology, i.e. meeting four wheel drives or mountain-bikes removes the "wilderness" feel of areas visited.

Many walkers I spoke to mentioned that they had been frightened or shocked by the sudden appearance of a mountain-bike coming round a blind corner. As one woman put it;

I was wandering along in my own little world and WHACK! along came a mountain-bike.

The obvious intrusion of the bike is well illustrated here - her body language and intonation indicated the meeting had felt like a physical jolt. One would expect that mountain-bikers would also have had frights which detract from their enjoyment. However, no mountain-biker respondents mentioned that they had had a fright in a similar situation, and none thought of it as being an experience that would ruin the ride. This feeling that the meeting is more traumatic for the walker than the biker (on the whole) was confirmed in the following discussion between two recreationists who regularly participated in both walking and biking.

It would spoil my stroll if someone came hooning past on a mountain-bike a lot more than for the mountain-biker meeting a person on the track . . . in fact you don't walk to dodge the mountain-bikers.

No you don't, but you can go mountain-biking to dodge the people - in some respect they're another obstacle.


Mountain-biking and tramping have very different experience styles. Another male respondent in his 20s with a large repertoire of outdoor activities reflected on what the different activities felt like and said;

I do kayaking for a reactive sport - it's a reactive thing like rock climbing whereas tramping is much more of a slow, it's happening sort of thing . . . Mountain-biking is another reaction sport

Mountain-biking requires that riders concentrate on what lies ahead so that they can react quickly to each obstacle and negotiate it safely. When seen in this light, a tramper or another biker may fit into the riding experience as just another obstacle to react to. In some respects, for a good rider, a walker may even provide more of a challenge! This is not to say that all bikers are busy trying to "pick off" trampers. However it does mean that sudden unexpected meetings are much more easily incorporated into the biking experience than into the walking experience. Walking is a low intensity experience where the enjoyment is in being able to relax and enjoy the scenery or even one's own day dreams without having to concentrate too hard. As one young male put it;

. . . your brain when you're doing low intensity things like even cycling on the road, swimming, running and tramping.. your brain can switch off and think about other things and somebody could be dreaming away quite happily thinking about whatever you're into thinking about and suddenly there's this mountain-biker coming down on you at 30 miles and hour "wham!" and that could annoy you a bit I suppose.

To be forced to suddenly dive out of the way of a fast moving bike is a real intrusion into that feeling of relaxation. Another person compared this feeling to cycling on the road;

I'd say a mountain-biker coming towards you on a track is exactly the same as a truck going past you while you're on a bicycle on the road in that you're not in control I guess - it's the truck driver that can hit or miss you - it's not you that's in control.


Perceived control is the common element in all these comments. Csikzentmihalyi (1989) considered that perceived control is a vital element in a good leisure experience. Without it, one is left with an uncomfortable feeling that something nasty could happen at any time. It is therefore unnecessary for a walker to actually meet, or collide with a fast moving mountain-bike for them to feel unsettled. All that is required is the threat of a collision which is beyond their control. This can prevent them from relaxing and being able to direct their attention completely to that which interests them.

There are many factors that can influence the degree of control that people feel. A wide track with good visibility for example allows walkers to anticipate a meeting - this in itself gives the tramper control over the situation. Meetings on narrow tracks are thus the most unnerving for trampers because there is little warning of approaching bikers. In a sense, it is this very same lack of warning that many mountain-bike riders find attractive about narrow tracks. Because they cannot see too far ahead and therefore must concentrate fully to react appropriately to upcoming obstacles, narrow tracks provide the most challenging riding.

Older trampers often have slower reaction times, less balance and less acute hearing and all these factors contribute to the control that they feel they have in a meeting situation. These are things that many younger bikers could not understand or had not thought of.

In some ways, trampers' preoccupations with track damage have focused the argument away from these issues. Bikers, for example, tend to focus very much on the idea that if a track can withstand bike use, then it must be alright to bike on it. In reality, this is not the point at all. Older trampers may be less fit, less able to walk on rough tracks, or looking for tracks on which they can walk without having to concentrate on placing their feet carefully. They may want to focus on other aspects of the walk such as the scenery or their companions. These particular walkers will therefore favour smooth, well built, well graded tracks; the same tracks which bikers feel are alright to use because they will withstand the rigours of bike use. Not only are bikers more likely to use these well made tracks, but the walkers that favour the use of those tracks are the ones that are most affected by meeting bikes.

The whole situation is all the more threatening when you consider that the users that are most affected cannot move to areas that are less pressured. Well graded tracks are not common and these users do not like using the rougher tracks that are less popular with bikers. Bikers are in a parallel situation when using roads and are trying to escape that same lack of control by leaving the roads. In trying to escape the danger of the roads, they have made walkers feel similarly vulnerable. While mountain-bikers appear to have the most control over the field situation, it appears that trampers as a group have the most control in the political arena.


The political activity surrounding mountain-biking, particularly in the Christchurch area has tended to make many mountain-bikers feel negatively about walkers. This is similar to the situation described by Jackson and Wong (1982); snowmobilers (who were not politically active) who originally felt no animosity towards cross-country-skiers (who were highly politically active) came to see them as a threat to their recreation, so the conflict between the two groups became symmetrical. The original asymmetrical nature of this conflict can also be explained by the idea of perceived control in the field that has helped understanding in the mountain-biker - tramper case. Similarly perceived control is the underlying factor in the animosity that political activity fosters.

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. This is a common occurrence as evidenced in many of the popular articles on mountain-biking. One article (Baker, 1990) mentions that mountain-bikers are generally a younger and more transient group of people who are not inclined to lobby in the same way as the trampers in the older age group. This lack of political will has been cited as a disadvantage in overseas situations and many areas in the States are now off-limits to bikers because of it.

This seems to be the case in the Canterbury area where a small group of older bikers seem to be up against large numbers of active trampers, many of whom are retired people with the time and inclination to lobby the administering organisations. In comparison many mountain-bikers are younger people with little idea of how these things work and little inclination to write letters or make phone calls. It is the teenaged bikers that would be most disadvantaged by closing tracks to bikers as they have little access to transport to other areas. As one teenage respondent said to me, "how could I take up kayaking when I have no car and no way of getting to appropriate sites?" Teenagers, however are also the least inclined, or able, to take part in political arguments.


Bikers are even more disadvantaged because of their lack of organisation. As I mentioned earlier, mountain-bike clubs have small memberships relative to the number of mountain-bike owners in New Zealand and the ones that I came in contact with during my research were not very interested in politics. Tramping clubs seem to be very large and very politically active, although much of the activity can be traced to a few highly active leaders who encourage participation from others in the club.

A recurring theme that came from walkers (all in the retired bracket) was that bikers are destroying the tracks that walkers have put in for walkers. Members of the Summit Road society put in many hours each week working on the tracks of the Port Hills and they are understandably upset when they see their tracks deteriorating because of bicycle traffic. Often walkers suggested that bikers could redeem themselves by putting in some of their own time to help repair the damage they do. Many suggested that bikers should put in their own tracks. Many bikers that I spoke to indicated that they would be happy to go and help do this, however, the group as a whole is in need of organisation. I would suspect that this verbal support may not be reflected in high turnouts to track working parties for bikers. Overall, because bikers are a younger age group they may not have the time or inclination to go and work in this way. Much of the Summit Road Society's work is done during the week in working hours. This kind of timing would preclude many bikers from participating as they are either in school or at work at these times.


Banning bikes from tracks does little to solve the problem. Bikers feel that their sport is a valid activity and that if tracks are shut off, they will just have to ride on them illegally. One female biker in her 30s commented:

I'm aware that DoC's going to close up even more (tracks) and bikers won't be allowed onto them so I'm riding them while they're still there.

While this person implies that she will stop riding them when they are closed, many bikers express no such sentiments. Many, in fact, asked how bike bans could be enforced - a good question given the present system. Administering bodies need the voluntary compliance of bikers to restrictions that are put in place. While it is unlikely that all bikers will comply all the time, if bikers feel that they do have legal options within easy reach, they are much more likely to respect the restrictions that are in place. Finding ways of getting the compliance of bikers is important if walkers' enjoyment is to be protected in more developed frontcountry areas. To a large extent, it appears that biker education may help here too. Many bikers expressed surprise at the thought that many people who use hardened tracks may not find it so easy to move away and use rougher, less bikeable tracks. Similarly many have not given thought to the fact that older people are less likely to able to react quickly or to hear early warning of approaching bikes.

Access Issues

One Summit Road Society member expressed fear that much of the walking access that they had painstakingly negotiated with private landowners over many years, was threatened by the antics of some mountain-bikers. Landowners are annoyed by the presence of mountain-bikers on their land and this annoyance increases when bikers leave the track and disturb stock. Incidents like these threaten everybody's access to these areas and this worries walkers who have put time into gaining the access or who appreciate how easily it could be taken away.

The release of "Classic Mountain-bike Rides in New Zealand" has irritated farmers on the Port Hills who own land over which lie some of the routes. Unfortunately, the book was published a little too quickly and, in some cases, it has omitted to state that bikers should ask permission before using the routes [see below]. More politically astute bikers such as Rodney felt that these kinds of things presented a lot of problems for people like himself who are working on getting better access for bikers. In the absence of anything else, many bikers use the book to find new rides that they can try. Many are not aware of these problems and, even if signs are put up at the beginning of a track, that may not be enough to stop them using the track. For anyone who has biked a long way to get to the end of a track, it is very hard to turn around and abort the trip. This is the problem with banning bikes from tracks on the Port Hills. While walkers might drive to the end of a track and would find it relatively easy to move onto another track if that one is temporarily closed, bikers usually ride. If there are no alternative tracks close by that bikers can use, the effort and time required to ride on to a legal track may be judged too much. If this is so, they will continue on illegally as long as they can get away with it.

[Note: Classic New Zealand Mountain Bike Rides is published by The Kennett Brothers who also maintain this web site ( The 1991 edition has since been superceded by the 2nd edition 1993 and now the 3rd edition 1996.

The Kaituna Pass ride referred to, includes this:

Ask the farmer for access permission. The track is closed during August and September for lambing.
Elsewhere in the Port Hills section is this note:
The issue of access for mountain bikes on tracks 17.3 to 17.6 is currently under debate. Ask the Christchurch City Council about these, and new tracks they are designating for mountain bikers.
Hence; we believe we have been incorrectly blamed for the Port Hills conflict. The 2nd and 3rd editions do not include the Kaituna Pass trip. It is our hope that by publishing a guidebook of 400 legal rides we are positively influencing the majority of mountain bikers to avoid conflict areas.]

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