Trail users often use the phrase “illegal trail” to describe a number of mountain bike trail situations, some more illegal than others. Some trails are located in designated wilderness or Federally managed areas and violations of trail rules can result in felony convictions. Other trails constructed without permission from land managers are often considered illegal as well, though some land managers may turn a blind eye to allow construction. Still other trails are simply on private or public land where mountain biking isn’t specifically allowed or prohibited. In any case, mountain bikers face important individual decisions about responsible riding that shape the perception of mountain bikers worldwide.
If you’ve been following this blog you know that it is indeed possible to be arrested and charged with a federal crime for riding your mountain bike in certain locations. Witness the Riding the Spine crew and their foolish trip into the Grand Canyon on their bikes. If a trailhead specifically says it’s closed to bikes or if you see a little symbol of a bike inside a red circle and a slash across it, that means you shouldn’t ride your bike there.
This is especially true for designated wilderness areas where only foot traffic is allowed. There was some discussion on this site last year about whether or not it was ok to carry a bike on a trail through a wilderness area but these days land managers are making things very explicit – no bikes allowed, ridden or carried. Don’t expect to get off on a technicality – just avoid these areas when you have your bike.
You may be saying to yourself, “Man that sucks, why can’t I ride in those areas? I have just as much right as everyone else to enjoy the trails.” Absolutely true, though there is a right way and a wrong way to get things changed (and I think you can guess where I’m going with this).
The wrong way: riding your bike on closed trails despite posted closures. The right way: petitioning your local government or land manager for designated mountain bike access.
The wrong way: building trails on land you don’t own or where you don’t have explicit permission from the land manager. The right way: taking care of the trails mountain bikers DO have access to so land managers will be more open to allowing bike trails on their land.
The very wrong way: tearing down/removing “no bikes” signs at your local trailhead. The right way: talking to your mountain bike friends and encouraging them to ride only legal trails.
This whole trail access debate is kinda like the helmet thing back in the late 1990s. Before then it wasn’t cool to wear helmets on the road OR the trail (guess it was a European thing). Then all of a sudden even the most fearless mountain bikers were telling friends they wouldn’t ride with them unless their friends strapped on a brain bucket. Let’s make riding illegal trails un-cool in 2007 and petitioning for legal access hip. More trails in ’07!
Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of posts about mountain bike trail access issues. Stay tuned!