The Environmental Impacts of Mountain Biking

In the struggle to secure long term, sustainable access for mountain biking, a common criticism is that “mountain bikes destroy the land”.  It is a very legitimate concern – if bikes cause irreparable and sustained damage to trails, there is really no way for trail access to be sustainable at all.  Yet, we have several trail networks in the valley which in fact require very little maintenance.  Perhaps there is more to the story, or perhaps mountain bikes aren’t as destructive as some would make them seem.

The International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) completed a study in 2007 which aimed to answer the question of what the actual environmental impacts of mountain bikes are.

This very well written report systematically addresses soil degradation, wildlife and vegetation concerns, and comes to an interesting conclusion – mountain bikes are actually less damaging than most land users.

“The environmental degradation caused by mountain biking is generally equivalent or less than that caused by hiking, and both are substantially less impacting than horse or motorized activities. In the small number of studies that included direct comparisons of the environmental effects of different recreational activities, mountain biking was found to have an impact that is less than or comparable to hiking.”

The study found that the most important factors in managing the environmental impacts of trails, regardless of use, is trail design and management.  Let that sink in for a second – it’s not WHO is using the trails, but its HOW the trails are built and managed.  Properly built and maintained trails, with a proactive management strategy in place have proven to be extremely sustainable, and best practices have been identified in the mitigation of wildlife and vegetation disturbance.

It is for this reason that the designation and management of recreation areas is critical in the long term sustainability of trail access for all users in the valley.

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