MTB trail access: Do bikes damage trails?

trailaccess.jpgLet’s be honest: Mountain bikes cause erosion – but then again, so do hikers, horses (big time), and certainly ATVs. Heck, even wild animals like deer are known to leave trails in the woods that become channels for rain and runoff water. Erosion is a natural process, though extreme overuse of trail systems by ANY user group can accelerate things in a major way. If you’ve ever hiked at the Eno River State Park here in NC you know these hiker-only trails are some of the rootiest, rockiest, most eroded tracks in the state – and bikes have never touched them!

But there’s a funny thing about trail erosion that most in this debate tend to overlook – trail erosion is often reversible and even preventable! In fact, your local bike club or organization probably puts in hundreds of hours each year keeping mountain bike trails in tip-top shape and preserving the trails for generations to come. If your bike club is actively involved in maintaining local trails, even your toughest hiking critics can’t argue that mountain bikers are hurting the trails.

Just as important, much can be done when designing mountain bike trails to minimize adverse environmental effects. Switchbacks are an obvious alternative to steep, loose trail sections and things like berms and bridges can keep trail use damage to a minimum. IMBA provides excellent trail building guidance so there’s really no excuse for weak mountain bike trail design.

Even beyond these controls, there are things we can do as individuals to lessen our impact on the environment. “Ride in control” is a tired phrase but it just means try to keep your skidding and off-trail excursions to a minimum. Accidents happen and fortunately that’s what brakes are for – but if you find yourself constantly missing turns and dragging your back tire, it might be time to slow down or go back to the beginner trails.

Trail damage and erosion arguments against mountain bikers are pretty weak, especially coming from other trail users who have just as much responsibility for maintaining outdoor paths. If we do our part in maintaining trails, we’ll find ourselves with more (and better) trails than when we started!

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of posts about mountain bike trail access issues. The next post in the series will discuss the environmental impact mountain bikes are said to have on trails. Don‚Äôt miss it!