Like many mountain bikers, I’m happiest when I’m charging up and down hills through the West’s spectacular public lands. I live in Durango, Colo., arguably the mountain bike capital of the world, and I ride every day. While I’ve spent most of my cycling years on roads, in the last five years I’ve been spending more time on trails.
But I believe there are places my bike doesn’t
belong, and ranking first is wilderness. I have thought about this
a lot lately because some of my fellow cyclists think mountain
biking should be legalized within our federal system of protected
I am against this because it would violate
the letter and spirit of the Wilderness Act of 1964, whose section
4 (c) says: "…there shall be no temporary road, no use of
motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of
aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport…" Under any
reasonable definition, mountain bicycles are a form of mechanized
In defining wilderness, even before mentioning
the word recreation, the law mentions "earth and its community of
life" and "outstanding opportunities for solitude." It refers to
primitive recreation, not just recreation. That was no accident.
There’s a line between activities that belong legally in
wilderness and those that don’t. The Wilderness Act drew that
Wilderness areas were always meant to be
more than playgrounds. They not only protect nature, they also
provide us with the opportunity to connect with nature at a basic
level. I take my bicycle almost everywhere I go, but I am not
wedded to it. I enjoy trails by foot just as much.
spoiled here in Colorado, which recently won the International
Mountain Bicycling Association’s highest rating for riding
opportunities. But we can easily lose these opportunities. The
threats we face are oil and gas development, sprawl, logging and
mining, which lock us out of areas and close trails. These are the
threats we should focus on, rather than squabbling over access.
This is especially true now that the Bush administration is
charging ahead with its drill-log-and-mine agenda.
wilderness areas are designated, the Wilderness Act requires that
they be managed in a manner that "will leave them unimpaired for
future use" and ensure the "preservation of their wilderness
character." Sure, all-terrain vehicles are more damaging than
bikes, but we’re kidding ourselves if we claim that we
don’t also take a toll on the places we ride through.
What’s more, since mountain bikes were developed
some15 years ago, our impact has magnified. Bikes can go places
that were all but inaccessible before, thanks to advances that have
led to lighter and stronger materials, suspension systems similar
to those on off-road vehicles and gearing that enables riders to
conquer steep slopes.
While most mountain bicyclists have
continued to ride on dirt roads and well established multiple-use
trails, these changes have enabled some to venture farther and
blaze new trails -- just like some dirt bikers and off-road vehicle
users. The result is a dramatic cultural shift in the bicycling
community toward extreme aspects of the sport, including
"downhilling" and "freeriding."
There are plenty of
places outside the wilderness system to ride, and we should work
together to protect both those areas and our remaining wild places.
Aldo Leopold, in A Sand County Almanac, wrote, "Mechanized
recreation already has seized nine-tenths of the woods and
mountains; a decent respect for minorities should dedicate the
other tenth to wilderness."
Forested mountains dotted
with lush meadows may be great places to ride mountain bikes, but
these are also the places that make ideal summer range for elk,
where even the presence of people causes elk to flee to areas where
they have less access to nutrient-rich meadows. Many wilderness
areas are already under stress from a variety of sources, and
adding mountain bicycles to this list will only continue to degrade
the land. Though only 2 percent of the land in the Lower 48 is part
of the wilderness system, I think we all know that this 2 percent
is under increasing pressure as our population booms.
believe that most mountain bikers are conservationists who want to
join me in the fight for the trails and areas we love. We can and
should work together to protect these special places without
endangering what little safeguards we have in place.