Doug's Mountain Biking Pages
We think *all* sports should be cross-country! -- Calvin & Hobbes


Mountain Biking

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

    Gordon Cessford

    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 opportunities.

  • Guelph study (13 page PDF, 1.5 Mb).
    Impacts of Experimentally Applied Mountain Biking and Hiking on Vegetation and Soil of a Deciduous Forest
    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 discussed.

  • 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)
    Newsgroups: rec.backcountry
    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 this claim.

    1. The Kepner-Trego Analysis (U.S. Forest Service Santa Barbara, 1987, updated 1989): "During the past 2-3 years of bicycle use, trails have not shown an increase in the erosion rate."

    2. The Seney Study ( Joe Seney, Montana State University, Dept of Earth Science, Bozeman) (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 surface.)

    3. 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.

    4. 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.

    5. 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 and geology.

      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 fear.

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