A few handy links to studies relating to the
impacts of mountain biking
- Gordon Cessford has written another scientific paper on
mountain biking. The title is: Perception and Reality of
Conflict: Walkers and Mountain Bikes on the Queen Charlotte
Track in New Zealand.
It's online at
It was presented at a conference in Vienna, Austria,
in February, 2002. A version of this paper is also due
to be published (late 2002/early 2003) in the Journal
of Nature Conservation.
Despite the general perception otherwise, most available
comparative reviews and studies have concluded that while
visibly very different, the physical impacts of bikes on
tracks were not any worse than those of walkers overall
(Keller, 1990; Wilson & Seney, 1994; Chavez et al. 1993;
Ruff & Mellors; 1993, Cessford, 1995a; Woehrstein, 1998,
2001; Weir, 2000; Thurston & Reader, 2001;). This appears
to be the case whether considering important biological
features or the physical state of the tracks. On this basis,
selective restrictions to biking based on physical impact
concerns may be inappropriate.
Perception and Reality of Conflict: Walkers and Mountain Bikes
on the Queen Charlotte Track in New Zealand
Science and Research Unit, Department of Conservation, PO Box
10420, Wellington, New Zealand.
Abstract: A variety of social and physical impacts are attributed
to mountain biking. In many cases, the perception of these impacts
differs from the reality of on-site experiences. This distinction
is explored in two ways. First, a brief review of impact issues
associated with mountain bikes is carried out. Second, results
are presented from a survey of 370 walkers on a multi-day natural
track where biking has been allowed on a trial basis. Walker
opinions are surprisingly positive toward bikes. These opinions
are found to be more positive among those walkers who had actual
encounters with bikes. By contrast, more negative opinions were
found among those who had no such encounters. Such distinctions
between perception of a conflict and the actual outcome from an
experience have important implications for park managers
responsible for providing a range of different recreation
- Guelph study
(13 page PDF, 1.5 Mb).
Impacts of Experimentally Applied Mountain Biking
and Hiking on Vegetation and Soil of a Deciduous Forest
RICHARD J. READER
Department of Botany
University of Guelph
Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1, Canada
Many recent trail degradation problems have been attributed to
mountain biking because of its alleged ca-pacity to do more damage
than other activities, particularly hiking. This study compared
the effects of experimentally ap-plied mountain biking and hiking
on the understory vegetation and soil of a deciduous forest. Five
different intensities of bik-ing and hiking (i.e., 0, 25, 75, 200
and 500 passes) were ap-plied to 4-m-long 3 1-m-wide lanes in Boyne
Valley Provin-cial Park, Ontario, Canada. Measurements of plant
stem density, species richness, and soil exposure were made before
treatment, two weeks after treatment, and again one year after
treatment. Biking and hiking generally had similar effects on
vegetation and soil. Two weeks after treatment, stem density and
species richness were reduced by up to 100% of pretreatment values.
In addition, the amount of soil exposed increased by up to 54%.
One year later, these treatment effects were no longer detectable.
These results indicate that at a similar intensity of activity, the
short-term impacts of mountain biking and hiking may not differ
greatly in the undisturbed area of a deciduous forest habitat. The
immediate impacts of both activities can be severe but rapid
recovery should be expected when the activities are not allowed to
continue. Implications of these results for trail recreation are
Joaquin Miller Report (HTML, on BTC-EB site) -- a study
done in a popular city park in Oakland, CA.
- Seney (to be added)
- A few other bits/pointers to follow up on (to be completed)
From: trailrdr (at) [ the well ] (Alan Goldman)
Subject: Re: Are mountain bikes ecological correct
Date: Wed, 5 Jan 1994 23:29:21 GMT
Eric Durbrow edurbrow (at) bigcat (dot) missouri (dot) edu writes:
What do people think about mountain bikes
and trail use? Do bikes really accelerate trail erosion?
Are bikes incompatible with the low-impact approach?
Mountain bicycles have little, if any, more effect on the environment
and trails than hikers, and much less effect than horses do. There is
little scientific information available, but what does exist supports
- The Kepner-Trego Analysis (U.S. Forest Service Santa Barbara, 1987,
"During the past 2-3 years of bicycle use, trails have not shown an
increase in the erosion rate."
- The Seney Study ( Joe Seney, Montana State University, Dept of Earth
(Presented at Assn. of American Geographers, 1990 Toronto, Canada):
"Results did not show trail damage by bikes to be significant"
This study used trails of different soil types and slopes, wet and dry.
Horses, bicyclists, hikers, and motorcycles made passes over the trails.
Runoff, sedimentation, compaction, and micro relief were measured.
Bicycles had no more effect than hikers. Horses, in many cases, were
worse than motorcycles. (Rototiller like digging up of the trail, and
creating potholes that fill with water, softening the surrounding
- A negative declaration of environmental impact done by the Santa
Clara (California) Dept. of Parks and Recreation (1989) found the
environmental impacts of bicycling on trails to be generally
insignificant, and easily mitigated.
- The Use of Mountain Bikes in the Wilderness Areas of the Point Reyes
National Seashore (National Park Service, Point Reyes, California 1984):
Flora and Fauna Disturbance: "A few people assert that bicyclists are
very disturbing to the wildlife and will trample endangered plant
species. EXISTING EVIDENCE INDICATES THAT BICYCLES ARE FAR MORE TRAIL
ORIENTED THAN THE OTHER USER GROUPS AND LESS LIKELY TO TAKE OFF CROSS
COUNTRY." (Emphasis is mine)
So, it appears from this study that the excuse of "protecting the plants
and animals" is not viable. Cycists stay on trails. Hikers wander
around and stomp things.
- Finally, there's me. For many years I have built, maintained, and
repaired trails, both as a volunteer and as a paid professional. I have
worked for State Parks, Open Space Districts, Water Districts, etc. I
have run trail crews, and inspected the work of contract crews. I have
hiked for over 30 years, was a ski mountaineering guide, and am a long
time cyclist. I have a Forest Technology degree, and have studied soils
It is my personal and professional opinion that bicycles do little, if
any, more damage to a trail than hikers. They certainly do much less
damage than the horses we permit on most of our trail systems here in
California. Any damage they might do is easily mitigated by simple,
proper maintenance and construction techniques. The same goes for the
impact hikers have. The main things that cause trail damage are improper
construction, location, and maintenance.
To conclude: This is a very controversial topic. Others will disagree, I
am sure, with my statements. Review carefully all the things alleged,
and be sure to insist on documentation and evidence. If the
mountain bicycle vs. hiker issue is to ever be settled, it must be done
on the basis of fact, logic, and reason, not exageration, emotion, and