Over a Beer: Mountain Bikers Are Conservationists, Too

The debate about mountain bikes in Wilderness areas is pitting recreation groups against conservation groups, and mountain bikers against each other. The crazy thing about this entire debate? If mountain bikers were allowed in Wilderness areas, we could all join forces and work together instead of being divided.

Rider: Jim Cummings. Photo: Greg Heil.

Editor’s Note:Over a Beer” is a regular column written by Greg Heil. While Greg is the Editor in Chief for Singletracks.com, any opinions expressed in this column are his alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Singletracks.com.

The single greatest travesty in the cacophonic debate regarding mountain bikes in Wilderness areas (and HR 1349 in particular) is how mountain bikers are portrayed. Too often, we’re portrayed as thrill seekers who are out to pillage the land, skidding headlong through the mountains, leaving ugly scars in our wake.

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We’re also portrayed as wanting access to all trails everywhere at all times, reason be damned! Oh, and if damage through resource extraction comes along with our quest to slay all the most beautiful Wilderness trails? Oh well, that’s too bad, because we want our trails and we want them now.

If there’s one thing I could say to the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, and their cohorts, it is this: “mountain bikers are conservationists, too.”

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Every mountain biker I know loves and values the wild spaces that we ride in. Mountain bikers do not want to see our wild places opened to rampant resource extraction, developed into an endless sea of condos, or degraded through overuse of the land. No, we want to see all of these gorgeous, intimidating, expansive Wilderness places that our forebears have wisely set aside from development, remain in their wild state.

We just want to enjoy them on our bikes, too.

The science is in: mountain biking is a low-impact human-powered activity. The impact of a mountain biker is similar to that of a hiker and much, much less than that of a horse. We’ve covered this time and again on Singletracks, and the argument is so obvious to the astute trail traveler, it’s not worth harping on anymore.

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Instead of banning 8 million Americans who ride mountain bikes from all Wilderness trails in our most beautiful lands, what if advocacy groups like the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society, who are dedicated to preventing government overreach and the abuse of our lands, could draw on these involved, passionate mountain bikers? What if instead of being divided, instead of arguing against each other, we could be united in our quest to preserve and enjoy these wild places?

“Well, then why are you trying to gain access to Wilderness areas?” an anti-bike person might ask. “Why all of this sudden push to upset the balance? We were doing just fine until you decided that you suddenly needed access to trails in Wilderness.”

Well, we weren’t doing just fine. There was no balance. And this wasn’t a sudden decision.

I have never been a member of the Sierra Club. I want to add my voice to theirs, as I believe in their general philosophy of preserving wild places. But I can’t in good conscience support such an organization as long as they don’t adopt a truly science-based approach, as long as they continue to oppose mountain bikes.

The recent push by the Sustainable Trails Coalition and the groundswell of support from mountain bikers across the nation isn’t based on a new desire to ride in Wilderness areas, as if mountain bikers just had an epiphany, “wait, what if we were able to ride our bikes in Wilderness areas?!” No, this has been a sore spot for the last 34 years since bikes were wrongfully banned from Wilderness. It simply took a group of passionate people to stand up and say, “we have an idea of how to right this injustice, and we’re actually going to try to DO something about it. Who’s with us?”

Eight million tax-paying American citizens, co-owners of our public lands, enjoy the low-impact sport that we call mountain biking. We’re conservationists, too… and we just want to ride our bikes.