For Me, But Not For Thee

Posted by on Oct 15, 2009 in Bike | 13 Comments

Warning: Rant On.

The self-righteous, blowharding coming from the tireless defenders of designated Wilderness Area is rearing its ugly, mountain bike hating head again. From the far-seers at the United States Forest Service* comes this latest bit of sanctimonious drivel:

Existing lands that have been determined to be eligible for wilderness, they should not be considered for potential mountain bike trails at this point.

In other words, “we won’t allow mountain bikes on lands that might someday become designated wilderness.” Which just about describes every damn piece of land in the world, does it not? I am left wondering when the champions of the vaulted Wilderness (capital W) will realize that mountain bikers are every bit as passionate about conservation as they are. I don’t want to see mountain land overly developed. I don’t want to see paved highways where state or forest roads once were. I want the empty and vast wilderness (small w) to remain empty and vast. But I can’t see the connection between preserving that, and not allowing bikes.

*I like our local USFS agents. Friendly, helpful and pro-user.

I grow tired of the argument that mountain bikes somehow disrupt the peace and serenity of the wilderness. I grow tired of the aged hippie who thinks his usage is somehow more pure, more harmonious and more important than mine. And I reject the ridiculous and subjective argument that mountain bikers are disturbing the experience of others because they are shiny and fast. Michael Carrol, from the Wilderness Society’s Wilderness Support Center (yes, that’s the real name) said the following:

There is a wilderness experience, a truly backcountry experience, that is part of the idea and the concept behind wilderness, It’s preserving a landscape that is similar to the landscape that our fathers and their fathers before them were able to experience. It’s hard to argue that that experience has been preserved when you have heavy traffic zipping by on mountain bikes after you’ve spent two days hiking in.

Right. That truly backcountry experience is being pillaged by gaggles of mountain bikers. My forefathers eked out an existence in these harsh mountains through logging, mining, cattle ranging, and farming. I doubt they had much time to graze on organic granola while musing about the truly backcounty experiences they were having. Nor did they have the luxury of wondering how survival impacted the land. It is only because of them that I enjoy the leisure and ability to write about the superfluous things that I fill this space with. But the above statement is not based in reality. Wildlife encounters, quiet moments on a remote ridge, or watching a sunset from an outcropping of rock are as available today as they ever have been. Not only have I experienced these things in the presence of bikes, but I’ve experienced them while riding them.

I’ve also done a fair bit of backpacking in my life, both in and out of Wilderness areas. I’ve never encountered a mountain biker after hiking for two days. And if I did, I seriously doubt my ‘truly backcountry experience’ would be jeopardized by its presence. I have however, encountered scout troops who yell and litter and fart. I’ve also encountered trains of horses who leave the trail a post-holed mess of urine and manure. To claim that only mountain bikes are disrupting whatever it is that Mr. Carrol is experiencing is ridiculous. And to me, reeks of the ongoing disdain that Wilderness evangelicals have for mountain bikes.

This is why federal regulation of far away lands is an ongoing nightmare. Local officials, and local users ought to have the authority to allow or disallow user groups depending on the quality, resilience and usage of the trails themselves. On a local level, it would be detrimental to allow mountain bikes on the Timpanogos summit trails. They are crowded, rugged, and not built for that type of traffic. In addition to that, the majority of those two trails would be unrideable anyway. Similarly, the American Fork Canyon Trails ought not be open to motorbikes. They simply cannot hold up to the abuse. The local Forest Service agrees with that assessment, but their hands are tied by a Federal ruling. Land management is best done on the ground. Not by Washington lobbyists and politicians who have no interest in that land itself, other than a way to line their pockets and stuff ballot boxes.

I’ve yet to read a compelling reason why bikes should not be allowed in Wilderness Areas. The impact of several bikes is far less than that of one diarrhetic, hungry, and obese horse. Bikes are quiet, light, and human powered. To call them mechanized goes beyond the intent of the original Wilderness Act of 1964. If a bike is ‘mechanized’ then so is an aluminum trekking pole.

The usual reasons given for not allowing bikes in a Wilderness area are often couched in smug, condescending rhetoric that is neither objective nor helpful in furthering the conservation argument. Instead of rational discussion, mountain bikers have to put up with the kind of meaningless declarations like these from Mr. Carrol, who claims to be an avid mountain biker – but then in the same breath says that the Surely Pugsley (a bike designed for snow) is hurting the trail systems. I can count on zero fingers the number of times I’ve seen a Pugsley on singletrack. But no matter. Mr. Carrol is wielding the sword of the Nanny State:

Protecting the resource, protecting it for what it represents, for the clean air and water, the wildlife, protecting it for future generations … is the first priority of wilderness areas…there are so many people, if they could take a step back from their use and look at the larger resource issues, and the larger context, I wish they could see that this is about the greater good, not just about your specific use.

But of course, the greater good! We unwashed masses are simply too dense to understand what is good for us. Like everything else coming out of D.C., it’s better that a bureaucrat make decisions about our lives than it is for us to do so – after all, we might get it wrong. And so, just as long as Michael Carrol’s preferred method of travel in the backcountry is unregulated and unfettered, I’m sure we will continue to hear more nonsensical prattling about those methods of travel that he does not prefer – namely, mountain biking.

It is after all, for our own good.


  1. AC
    October 15, 2009

    Well said!

    Determing which trails allow bikes by drawing an arbitrary line on a map makes no sense at all, neither does allowing horses and the amount of destruction they cause.

  2. Ed
    October 15, 2009



  3. mtb w
    October 15, 2009

    I’m with you, brother! The claim that bikes are “mechanized” is just ridiculous. The statute in question was written, I think, in the late 60s/early 70s before mountain biking really existed and it was drafted to address motorized vehicles/dirt bikes. They need to change the statutory definition so that the Forest Service can’t mess with it (or have a court rule that the definition of “mechanized” doesn’t apply to mtb).

    However, I don’t necessarily agree that it is “hippies” behind this. On the front range, they are closing trails to mtbers due to suburban yuppies complaining that mtbers disturb their hikes/walks in nature. I am overgeneralizing, sure, but it seems like its the big SUV crowd and elderly crowd that shows the most displeasure when I see them on the trail. I always slow down and say hi to hikers when riding (although some have a look of disgust when they see me on a bike) since I know that it only takes one or two hikers complaining to have a trail closed to mtbers. Last year, the FS tried to close down the vaunted/famous Monarch Crest Trail, which is used almost exclusively by mtbers (I think that 80-90% users are mtbers), for the same reasons you mentioned until an outpouring of support by the IMBA and other groups stopped it (at least until next the next FS manager tries again). So, unfortunately, perhaps organized political activity is needed to stop the boneheads in Washington and beauracrats in the FS from implementing such policy. If there is a better way, I’d be glad to take it. OK, that is my rant for today.

  4. Corey
    October 15, 2009

    The most recent legislation that, if passed, will turn large parts of Utah into Winlderness was introduced not by politicians from Utah, or any of the 4 corners states. It was introduced by some dude from New York.

    What right does a guy from New York have to say how I use “public” land in Colorado or Utah?!

  5. SkiMoab
    October 15, 2009

    Awesome post Grizzly, thanks for not only sharing your opinion, but getting this out there so the rest of us are aware of what’s going on.

  6. Jon
    October 15, 2009

    Here, here! Last Sunday, I was riding in Millcreek canyon and in anticipation of ski season, decided to pedal my bike up Porter Fork. At the end of the road, I was greeted by the wilderness signs at the trailhead specifically stating that bikes are not allowed on the trail. As my knobbies called me to continute, I decided to comply and headed back to the Pipeline, wondering about the whole “mechanized” rule. They really should change the regulation to not allowing “motorized” vehicles in wilderness. After all, what’s the diffrence between a Dynafit AT binding or a Volie splitboard set-up and a bike? Is someone going to tell me I have to be on snowshoes to access the wilderness?

  7. Andrew Brautigam
    October 15, 2009

    Great Post! I hate the stupid, self-serving wilderness hippies.

    One thing about your post – in NY you can’t have a group of more than EIGHT in a wilderness area – keeping educational groups out of wilderness areas. Say what you will about PITA boy scouts, but I think that we need more kids in the woods than out, and placing unnecessary restrictions on group sizes hinders the work of high quality camps and educational groups.

    The thing that sucks most about the Wilderness Nazi’s is that they don’t USE the wilderness on a consistent basis. How often do people who are “passionate” about hiking get out? Twice a year?

    P.S. Could you ride a rigid, fixed gear MTB in the wilderness? That’s way less mechanical than my MSR stove…

    • Grizzly Adam
      October 15, 2009

      I hear you Andrew. Get the kids off the couch and into the backcounty. Here in Utah in one particular area group sizes are limited to 10, but that excludes boy scout troops. I took some scouts up there in August and they had a great time.

      Good thoughts.

  8. Greg
    October 15, 2009

    Wow, I think you have summed up everything I thought about government and politics over the course of my entire life in just a few paragraphs.


  9. spaz
    October 16, 2009

    Hell yeah!!!

    The idea that MTB’s and their riders are disturbing anything is complete BS. Besides if a person doesn’t want to hike 30 miles but will ride ride a bike 30 miles (or more) who’s to stop em’. If they say that MTB’s mess things up, what about all the tree-hugging, pot-smoking hippies that are feeding all this crap to the park service. Their pot smoke does more pollution to the wilderness than a bike does in its entire lifetime. I am glad that we dont have a real problem with that where I live, but if i did, I would simply say “the hell with what ever park service tells me”. I’ll leave my truck somewhere they won’t tow it and see if they could catch me on my bike while I’m riding the trail, and if they did then oh-well I’ll just do it again. That’s why its called “public land”….access to any citizen who is paying taxes.

  10. mtb w
    October 17, 2009

    This is a recent news article of the banning of mtb spreading to areas across the nation.

  11. Rich
    October 18, 2009

    The government is right. The wilderness areas are better preserved through the grazing of livestock.

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