Does Mountain Biking Cause Harm to Nature?

By in Green Talk on 18 August 2010

There is little doubt that the popularity of mountain biking has increased in recent years. This is not without controversy – not long ago, there was discussion about allowing mountain biking in national parks where it had not been allowed before. Here are some of the pros and cons of mountain biking, and some of the suggested rules that mountain bikers can follow to minimize their impact.

Pros

  • Allowing mountain biking in national parks increases visitation to the park. That’s good for the local economy and for the environment – after all, if a national park gets a lot of visitors, it will help the park financially. A financially strong national park can do more to preserve wilderness areas.
  • Mountain biking promotes bonding with nature. If more people can build an appreciation for nature, that ultimately is good for the environment.
  • Mountain biking provides healthy exercise. In a day when childhood obesity is a problem, getting the family out onto the trail can be an important means of increasing health and fitness.
  • The whole family can participate in mountain biking to some degree. That promotes family bonding as well.

Cons

  • The speed with which mountain bikers sometimes travel can frighten and disturb, injure, or even kill wildlife. Animals such as snakes, lizards, or frogs may not be able to get out of the way before a speeding mountain bike runs over them. Mountain bikers often crash or fall as well, making for greater disturbance.
  • Treaded tires, especially when speeding around curves, can cause erosion of the soil and disturb habitats.
  • The tearing and trampling of vegetation is a concern with mountain biking. Some plants are more vulnerable than others to this type of damage, but it’s certainly possible to destroy a plant before it can bloom or otherwise reproduce.
  • Mountain bike tires can create deep ruts in the trail. These ruts collect rainwater, and as the water runs through these narrow channels, it takes soil with it. When the water dries, the ruts leave hard ridges that are hazardous to other bikers and problematic for hikers.

Rules Mountain Bikers Can Follow to Minimize Impact

  • Stay on the trail. Riding a mountain bike in undeveloped areas is not only dangerous for the biker, it can also tear up vegetation and disturb wildlife habitat. Bikers who stay on the trail do the least damage.
  • When making a turn, slow down and take the corner without skidding and kicking up soil.
  • Don’t ride when it’s wet. Trails are much more vulnerable to erosion and widening when they are soggy and wet.
  • When riding downhill, don’t “ride the brakes.” That digs the tires in and causes more soil to be kicked up.
  • Be considerate when sharing trails with hikers. Slow down when you see hikers ahead, and call out to let them know you are riding through.

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