Where do we draw the line?

  Dear HCN,
As both a mountain biker and a supporter of the idea of wilderness areas, I read your “Writers on the Range” debate on the subject of mountain bikes in wilderness areas with great interest (HCN, 3/3/03: The Wild Card). While I support the idea of allowing mountain biking in wilderness areas, I think it would have to be limited, as some areas are certain to be more impacted than others. The real question, though, is just what is “mechanical transport” or “mechanized transport?”

I think we can agree on the definition of a mechanism as a system of manufactured parts that interact. I can ski into a wilderness area on the Fritschi bindings on my Randonee skis, but I can’t pedal? Where’s the difference? A bicycle is not any more a mechanical device than a bridle, a saddle, or a pair of hiking boots. I can live with not being able to enjoy wilderness areas because my mode of human-powered transportation is banned. (I can’t hike on my old knees anymore,  but I can pedal all day.) I can understand that we aren’t about to require that anyone entering a wilderness area should be unable to use any form of mechanized transport, including shoes. But it seems patently unfair that horseback travel, which is as dependent upon mechanical devices as mountain bike riders, is allowed in wilderness areas, even though horses can do much more damage to trails than mountain bikes.

So where do we draw the line? How long until a mountain biker sues the Forest Service for discrimination? What it seems to come down to is that the arguments against allowing bicycles in wilderness areas are unfounded and the current enforcement of the regulations is discriminatory. Either the Forest Service needs to ban the use of bridles, saddles, pack frames, hiking boots, and ski bindings, or they need to allow bicycles.

Agustin Goba
Snowmass Village, Colorado
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