The environmental impacts of mountain biking are a topic of frequent, and sometimes heated, discussion by advocates, tourism promoters, environmentalists, and land managers. Unfortunately, misunderstandings and stereotypes exist, and in the worst cases poor information is used to make decisions about trail access. While there are many anecdotal and emotional responses to mountain biking, what are the actual impacts?
While not extensive, scientific research into the impacts of recreation trails is mostly focused on erosion and damage to vegetation. All trail users have some level of environmental impact; in most cases we accept that the impact is minor and outweighed by the benefits to trail users, such as exercise and a connection with nature. In many cases, the impacts of trails are acceptable because they occur in an area with other development (such as roads) or because they focus use within a defined, manageable corridor.
A comprehensive review of existing studies indicates that mountain bicycling has a similar level of impact as hiking and less than that of equestrian or motorized use
Of note is that mountain bikers and hikers affect trails differently. Where hikers are more likely to travel off trail to cut switchbacks or avoid muddy areas, mountain bikers are more likely to displace soil through skidding. Fortunately, this potential damage can be mitigated with proper trail design, construction, and maintenance techniques such as those developed by the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA).
Impacts to wildlife are another concern. Each animal species is unique so no overarching statements can be made about the effects by mountain bikers specifically versus trails users generally. Obvious factors such as the number of users, noise, speed, canine companions, or the propensity to stop and view wildlife could affect a given species. Generalizations, however, are inadequate given the variety of reactions by different animals and each case must be studied independently.
There is no scientific data to indicate that mountain bikers have a greater negative impact on wildlife compared to other trail users
It is clear that mountain biking does not negatively impact natural resources more than other uses. With this knowledge we should strive to minimize the particular impacts of trail riding by applying proper development and management techniques thus providing the benefits of mountain biking while being good stewards of our lands.
The one pager is intended to help you give your local partners a quick overview of the environmental impacts of mountain biking and solutions to minimize them. This overview is a condensed summary of different studies about the issue. In the past we were fortunate to even conduct some studies on our own in close collaboration with environmental agencies, such as the WWF or the Swiss agency Pro Natura. For those who want to dive in deeper, here are three studies for you to download and study:
Example: Rerouting and minimizing the impact of hiking and mountainbiking on mother nature at the 673 Bernina Tour in Switzerland:
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