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We just wrapped up our biggest survey ever (by number of responses) on Singletracks.com. 4,334 mountain bikers chimed in to tell us about what bikes they own and ride, and we threw in a couple of other questions too–specifically, about wilderness.

Urban legends have flown around the internet about how, supposedly, many, many mountain bikers don’t support the idea of opening even some Wilderness areas to mountain bikes. However, those rumors have been impossible to substantiate aside from the social media hearsay. So we wanted concrete answers: how many mountain bikers think bikes belong in wilderness?

Our sample size was substantial: 4,334 people responded to our survey. In analyzing the wilderness responses, we took the results and limited them to just respondents from the United States and Canada, which left us with 3,686 respondents. Within these two countries, our sample was distributed well across the nation, with about 42% in the east, 36% in the west, and about 22% in central US and Canada. Our age and gender demographics were consistent with standard mountain biking demographics and demographics that we’ve found in previous surveys, with good distribution overall.

However, the type of riders that responded to our survey was skewed a little bit by the Singletracks audience. Namely, of those who responded, 2,262 self-identified as trail riders, 1,124 identified as XC riders, 726 identified as enduro riders, and just 62 identified as gravity riders. While the gravity population is drastically under-represented, this actually is quite useful for our Wilderness analysis: trail and cross country riding is the type of mountain biking that could take place in Wilderness if the blanket ban is ever reversed. Gravity riding is unlikely to ever exist in Wilderness areas due to the prohibition on erecting permanent manmade structures, among other stipulations. So, in essence, we’ve surveyed the type of riders who would be most compatible with the trails and the type of riding that Wilderness could offer–an unexpected but greatly-appreciated boon.

96.2% of mountain bikers think at least some Wilderness trails and areas should be opened to bikes.

Simply put, the answers were astounding. Based on our survey results, 96.2% of mountain bikers think at least some Wilderness trails and areas should be opened to bikes. Only an extremely small percentage, 3.8%, were opposed to the idea of bikes in wilderness.

Of the 96.2%, 38.9% of those respondents (37.4% of US riders) take the hard line and believe that all wilderness areas should be opened to bicycles. However, the majority of riders, 58.8%, take a more moderate approach and believe that only some Wilderness areas should be opened to bikes.

Above and beyond asking whether riders think they should have access to Wilderness, we were curious to know: do riders think that the sport of mountain biking is compatible with Wilderness ethics and land preservation? The answer was yes: 94.8% of all riders surveyed believe that mountain biking is compatible with everything that Wilderness stands for.

But perhaps even more important than merely thinking that Wilderness should be open to bikes, the vast majority of mountain bikers believe that we should be actively pushing and advocating for bicycle access to Wilderness trails: 90.5%, in fact.

90.5% of mountain bikers think that mountain bike advocates should we should actively push for mountain bike access in Wilderness.

Whatever the social media hearsay is regarding the number of riders opposed to mountain biking in Wilderness, consider that urban legend debunked.

However, perhaps the most interesting takeaway is that the vast majority of riders want mountain bike advocates to push for bike access in Wilderness. They want to take action, and aren’t content to sit idly by, just hoping that something will change in the future, without taking any steps to effect that change.

In case you are unaware, there are two major mountain bike advocacy organizations currently operating on the national level: the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) and the Sustainable Trails Coalition (STC). IMBA does not currently seek to get bicycles accepted in existing Wilderness, as per their Wilderness FAQ. The Sustainable Trails Coalition’s sole goal is to open the door to mountain bikes in some Wilderness areas.

As we discussed above, the demographics for our respondents were well-distributed geographically, in gender, and in age. Overall, the responses and averages were consistent across those demographics. However, we did notice one interesting trend worth commenting on: on average, older riders are more against the idea of bikes in wilderness, whereas younger riders are, overall, more in favor of the concept. Looking solely at the question “Do you think mountain bikes should be allowed in Wilderness areas?” 90.4% of riders age 55+ said that at least some should be open. That percentage increases to 94.9% for riders age 45-54, to 96.7% for riders age 35-44, 97.7% for riders age 25-34, and 98.9% for riders age 18-24.

This trend stayed the same for our advocacy question, although with an even bigger jump from 55+ to 45-54: an increase of 8.7% in favor. It’s possible that the older generations don’t feel the urge to work for access because the road ahead may not yield appreciable changes in their lifetimes, because they’ve had 32 years to become comfortable with the status quo since the prohibition on mountain biking in Wilderness was passed in 1984. However, even in the most un-favorable demographic that we surveyed, 81.8% of riders age 55+ are in favor of pushing for mountain bike access in Wilderness areas–still a massive majority.

This indicates that times, they really are a changin’. As the younger generations continue to mature and come into their own, and continues to get more and more involved in mountain bike advocacy, it seems that this already-overwhelming belief that mountain bikes belong in Wilderness–and the desire to do something about it–will only continue to increase.

Pacific Crest Trail, Pasayten Wilderness. Photo: andy porter, via Flickr Creative Commons.

Pacific Crest Trail, Pasayten Wilderness. Photo: andy porter, via Flickr Creative Commons.

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# Comments

  • Jeff Barber

    When we considered adding this question to the survey, I figured at best maybe 70-80% of mountain bikers would be in favor of wilderness access. But seeing 90%+ on both questions is really surprising.

    Now that we’re all in agreement, let’s figure out how to make this happen!

  • Shinobi

    Sinjin. I agree with some of your points. However you classify wilderness as high altitude areas. There is plenty of wilderness that isn’t nearly that high that can ridden where horses are aloud to go that we are not. It is worth fighting for IMHO. And your argument about this being a red herring is invalid. Just because mtb gets opened up (hopefully) it wouldn’t mean a flood of oil companies and such would as well. My 2 cents.

  • hproctor

    I am a life long professional horseman and only started mountain biking a little over 2 years ago. In my time on trails, I can clearly see that bikes cause less trail damage than horses. Not even close. But we might be our own worst enemy. The horse back community doesn’t post videos of them racing down the trails hell bent for leather. Nope, it is generally clean cut cowboys or cowgirls in nice jeans, vests, bandanas peacefully riding through meadows and river beds or camping by the fire side. Meanwhile most MTB videos are dirt slinging, trail shredding, rock jumping romps through the woods. Not really representative of most of the riders I have seen. I understand they are fun to watch, I like them, but not what I would want to run across if I was hiking or riding a horse in the area. They are also what the anti MTB groups will be presenting to government representatives. The MTB community needs a way to present the “scenic” mountain biker to the public and legislators.

  • mongwolf

    Great work Greg. 90% or more in favor on all questions. Wow, that’s substantial. I would like to see what the response rates would be from other mountain biker “audiences”, such as mtbr, IMBA members, mtbproject, etc. I bet the results would be quite similar. Do you know if IMBA has ever surveyed its membership? I wonder if they are afraid to do so. I know I am not a member of IMBA because of some of their positions, including theirs on WAs.

    • Jeff Barber

      Good point, we didn’t provide a definition. Here is how the three questions were asked:

      Do you think mountain bikes should be allowed in Wilderness areas?
      Do you think mountain biking is compatible with Wilderness ethics?
      Do you think mountain bike advocates should push to allow bikes in Wilderness?

  • whatup

    As a wilderness user as well as an avid bike packer and mountain biker, I am defiantly in the minority in being anti bikes in wilderness, or so it seems… Weird that a yearish ago the surveys by IMBA? Singletracks? were at 50/50 pro/con… anyway, I think it’s important to maintain the wilderness act as is. Just putting it out there since this voice seems silent these days in these forums. In fact, in talking to folks at work about it, most mountain bikers who are also wilderness users weren’t for bikes in wilderness at all. I guess maybe I’m lucky, I’ve never really felt the need to go in the wilderness on my bike. There is SO much public and that is not wilderness, and I like getting away from it all as well, including mechanized vehicles, in the wilderness. As the CO Trail has become more popular with bike packers, backpackers are wicked bummed. They simply can’t get away from it all in this setting. Do they have other options, yes. For now, and I think it’s important to keep it that way. Go in the wilderness! Without the bike! It’s AMAZING!!

  • nsimms

    This “survey” is a joke (90+ percent? Of YOUR readers.. who responded…etc.) IMBA finally got something right in suggesting restraint and trying to keep this land protection tool intact. When you have to pay Orrin Hatch (who voted to reduce Bears Ears and voted to drill in ANWR) to sponsor your bill, you know you don’t have scruples. I should be able to bike wherever I want! You know who else think like that? Donald Trump….and a spoiled six year old.
    https://www.blueridgeoutdoors.com/april-2018/flashpoint-wheels-over-wilderness/

    • sleahcim

      Hey nsimms, I just came here to post that article, but without the political slant. The one thing that I’ve learned when it comes to protecting our wilderness, forests, parks, etc. is that as one entity (mountain bikers for instance) we have a small voice. But when you take all users of the outdoors together (we all love our wild places) then you have a booming voice.

      Even though I hunted as a kid growing up, I stopped when I became a vegetarian. But I never put the hook and gun club into a category that I was against. We shared the outdoors in different ways. Did they align with my beliefs? No. But when it comes to protecting those wild places they align with me 100%.

      There are democrats, republicans, independents and communists that mountain bike. Mountain biking is one thing we all agree on. Let’s spend more time educating our biking brothers and sisters about what a wilderness area really is, and less time trying to divide us further. The outdoors industry is huge. It’s finally getting some recognition in Washington (its contribution to GDP is now larger than oil and gas extraction) and that will only work if we stay united.

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