The Mountain Bike Invasion of Wilderness Areas

#1
DATE: 01-01-15

SOURCE: Counterpunch

AUTHOR: George Wuerthner

LINK: http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/01/01/the-mountain-bike-invasion-of-wilderness-areas/

This article contains a couple of things I find interesting: (1) The National Defense Authorization Act contains legislation regarding Wilderness areas. A classic example of "Christmas tree bills" and "pork barrel politics". (2) The mountain biking lobby has enough political influence (e.g. money) to force the change of a Wilderness boundary.

I have not seen data but I suspect mountain bikers are a small group compared to those who use motorized vehicles to travel the back country. The question is, how does this group have this amount of influence in congress?

Below are excerpts from the article. Use the link to access the complete article.

[begin excerpt]

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) brought some early Christmas presents to the mountain biking community at the expense of wilderness.

Buried in the Act was a boundary adjustment to the Wheeler Peak Wilderness of New Mexico. The existing boundary had been put into place 50 years ago with the signing of the Wilderness Act. Since mountain biking (and any mechanical advantage) is not permitted in official Wilderness, technically mountain bikes were excluded from the Wheeler Peak Wilderness.

Approximately a mile of trail was removed from the wilderness protection to allow legal access (mountain bikers had already been illegally using the trail). The deletion of wilderness status allows the creation of a 15 mile long trail, much of it above 10,000 feet, that links the East Fork to Lost Lake and Middle Fork drainages to create what biking enthusiasts describe as a “ripping-fast single track”.

The change in the wilderness boundary was part of the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act that permanently protects 45,000 acres of the Carson National Forest in Northern New Mexico near Taos. The Columbine-Hondo was a wilderness study area since 1980.

Mountain bikers in the area consider this a small concession to balance out the loss of 75 trails they had been using in the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Study Area. But that attitude is part of the problem created by the Forest Service’s lax approach to mountain biking in the WSA (as they do nearly everywhere else). Instead of banning bikes from WSAs as they should, the agency allows this incompatible use to flourish, thus creating a constituency that frequently opposes new wilderness designations.

This was not the only concession to mountain bikers in the NDAA. The proposed boundary of a 22,000 acre addition to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness was also adjusted to accommodate mountain bike use along the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River.

Similar exclusions and revisions to wilderness proposals in the Hermosa Creek Wilderness in Colorado. The original roadless area was more than 148,000 acres, and for decades conservationists had sought to protect about 100,000 acres as wilderness. However, due to active opposition from mountain bikers, the wilderness boundaries were shrunk to 37,000 with 70,000 acres being designated a “Special Management Area” to permit mountain biking to continue.


[end excerpt]
 

DaveInDenver

Expedition Leader
#2
I suspect that some Congressman had an influential donor who's kid (or maybe a tourism group) complained about it. In my view IMBA is not super effective at a national level but generally gets local government and land manager respect. They are making headway, but they sure aren't anywhere near a Sierra Club or American Petroleum Institute in terms of political weight.

I don't know much about this specific case, but there are several places up here in Colorado where a Wilderness boundary interrupts a MTB trail and allowing an easement would make sense. A big one is the bypass you have to do west of Buffalo Creek when riding the Colorado Trail on the east side of Kenosha. Now that's more of needing to split right through the middle of Lost Creek Wilderness, so it's not a minor tweak...

One of my main pet peeves about the Wilderness law is that is did not anticipate mountain bikes in 1964 and the reality of 2015 means it, I believe, requires adjustment. Not to mention landscape, trails and boundaries change over time, so why shouldn't we occasionally revisit the maps?
 
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#3
I suspect that some Congressman had an influential donor who's kid (or maybe a tourism group) complained about it. In my view IMBA is not super effective at a national level but generally gets local government and land manager respect. They are making headway, but they sure aren't anywhere near a Sierra Club or American Petroleum Institute in terms of political weight.
The fact that this change was buried in a "must pass" piece of legislation supports your opinion of how this came to be.

My problem regarding how the Wilderness Act has evolved is much more fundamental.
 
#4
I have not seen data but I suspect mountain bikers are a small group compared to those who use motorized vehicles to travel the back country. The question is, how does this group have this amount of influence in congress?
Certainly true if you are focused on long distance back country travel, nor surprising given the limited range of a person pedaling versus any motorized vehicle.

But in terms of absolute size and political pull, the MTB community is much much larger and more politically organized than their motorized OHV peers.

R
 

DaveInDenver

Expedition Leader
#5
My problem regarding how the Wilderness Act has evolved is much more fundamental.
My suspicion is we'd agree.
But in terms of absolute size and political pull, the MTB community is much much larger and more politically organized than their motorized OHV peers.
That's probably a fair statement generally about bikes but MTB users tend to be much less so than commuter and multi-use users. OHV users have pretty bad coherency in lobbying, which is partially our fault but that the main driver politically is business and money. The bulk of money should come from Jeep, Toyota, Rover, etc but they simply can't tick off any group and they sell a lot of cars to all kinda of people. So that leaves ATV and motorcycle companies and they don't seem to do as much advocacy as does an REI, Patagucci, Specialized and the like.
 
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Christophe Noel

Expedition Leader
#6
I have not seen data but I suspect mountain bikers are a small group compared to those who use motorized vehicles to travel the back country. The question is, how does this group have this amount of influence in congress?
Full Disclosure - I'm not only a fan of four wheels, I'm an avid mountain biker. The mountain bike demographic is actually, quite large. Large enough I'd dare say it is larger, far larger, than the 4x4 audience. Not that I think that's a bad thing. Just last year, the U.S. bicycle industry reported more than 5.8 billion dollars in sales. That's bike sales, and a lot of bikes at that. As a group, they wield a great deal of influence. Even our little town of Prescott, AZ (pop. 45K), sees more than $2.7MM in cash dropped in town during our one and only mountain bike race on one weekend.

I don't know the particulars of this specific bit of legislation, but I do know, having been in the bike industry and community since the mid 80's, that the mountain bike world almost always gets what they collectively want. It's an educated demographic with enough disposable cash to not just afford $5,000 bicycles, but invest in spendy vacations to places like....New Mexico.

Personally, I'd love to see the 4x4 audience pay closer attention to how the mtb crowd pursues access. I have to say, the records show, they're far better at it.
 
#7
The mountain bike demographic is actually, quite large. Large enough I'd dare say it is larger, far larger, than the 4x4 audience. Not that I think that's a bad thing. Just last year, the U.S. bicycle industry reported more than 5.8 billion dollars in sales. That's bike sales, and a lot of bikes at that. As a group, they wield a great deal of influence. Even our little town of Prescott, AZ (pop. 45K), sees more than $2.7MM in cash dropped in town during our one and only mountain bike race on one weekend.

I don't know the particulars of this specific bit of legislation, but I do know, having been in the bike industry and community since the mid 80's, that the mountain bike world almost always gets what they collectively want. It's an educated demographic with enough disposable cash to not just afford $5,000 bicycles, but invest in spendy vacations to places like....New Mexico.

Personally, I'd love to see the 4x4 audience pay closer attention to how the mtb crowd pursues access. I have to say, the records show, they're far better at it.
Interesting data on bike industry sales. I assume it includes road bikes as well as mountain bikes. Based on personal observation, I believe the 4x4 crowd outnumbers mtn bikers. I include those with stock vehicles that rarely go farther than an established campsite. If only hard core 4x4 expedition types were counted, the ranking might be reversed.

I tend to agree with your assessment of the demographic. The degree of political influence a demographic subset has is a combination of collective will plus money.

The 4x4 crowd seems to lack one or both of the characteristics.
 
#8
Certainly true if you are focused on long distance back country travel, nor surprising given the limited range of a person pedaling versus any motorized vehicle.

But in terms of absolute size and political pull, the MTB community is much much larger and more politically organized than their motorized OHV peers.

R
The parameter used by federal govt to measure usage on federal land is "Recreational Visitor Days" (RVD). This as opposed to miles traveled. Based on the number of 4x4 vs mtn bikes I see, I have to disagree with you regarding the relative size of the 4x4 and mtn bike crowds.

I do agree that the mtn bike crowd has more political influence. I have to conclude they are willing to spend money working collectively, as opposed to having fun individually.

Sidebar issue: According to federal data on all types of recreational use, Wilderness areas account for less than 2% of Recreational Visitor Days. This raises more questions: If land designated as Wilderness is used so little, why is more needed? How does such a small demographic have so much influence on land use?
 

Jay H

servicedriven.org
#9
This was a smart move for wilderness. It will lead to more cooperation. When looking at new Wilderness bills if the areas overlap trails currently used by bikes they have a problem in that we who mountain bike may oppose them. If they modify proposed areas there is no reason to oppose and they gain a lot of support. Other than the loss of mountain bike trails I am a supporter of Wilderness.

Have to keep in mind Wilderness is a political designation and not a technical one based on ecology and wildlife. This what ultimately frustrates most who are in the know.

Ask me about allowing changes to NWR national wildlife refuges and see a whole different thing.

When talk of Wilderness comes up here in Flagstaff discussion goes to roads and trails. I just roll my eyes... its just trivial. The biggest threat to Wilderness areas here is poor fire management. I want to see fire management info even before a map of the proposed area.
 

Mr. Leary

Glamping Excursionaire
#10
Have any of you guys been to Carson since they closed everything? It sucks. There is basically one road through the place, one campground and zero dispersed camping, there seemed to be only two trails that we're actually open (old logging trails), and of course they don't go through to anything.

The part that passed me off was that the forest service apparently has leased huge areas to ranchers for grazing as we encountered several herds on the way through, yet closed off most of the public access on the premise of reducing impact.

If wilderness land elsewhere was impacted as a result of a "deal" due to Carson, it makes me question the decisions even more. That said, altering the status of a small section so that a trail May pass through while leaving the rest intact might not be All bad.
 

Christophe Noel

Expedition Leader
#11
Interesting data on bike industry sales. I assume it includes road bikes as well as mountain bikes. Based on personal observation, I believe the 4x4 crowd outnumbers mtn bikers.
Cycling as a whole has regularly ranked as the number 7 recreational activity behind things like walking, fishing, camping, and somehow bowling slips in there. Go figure. In the last few years bike sales have hovered around 2.6 million units sold per year. Since 2009 this number has far surpassed automobile sales. The mountain bike category still makes up more than half of bike sales, whereas 4x4 sales are a relatively small portion of current automobile sales.

There's more to this than just numbers though. There's a culture within user groups that has to be considered. Mountain bikers tend to get what they want because they generally stick together and there are few negative attributes projected onto the user group. The 4x4 audience however, gets screwed by getting negatively impacted by users that are outside their core group. Think of the yahoos and rednecks that just happen to be able to get to remote locations to deposit beer cans, trash, and generally destroy the backcountry. These ne'er-do-wells often get lumped into the same group with responsible 4x4 enthusiasts, which, are a small number.

Here's another interesting stat. I forget the source, so please take that with a grain of salt, but in 1996 it was reported that one in four households in the U.S. had one mountain bike. This number eclipsed homes with a baseball, basketball, and you can imagine how few homes had a 4x4 in the garage comparatively.

So, to me, the takeaway is relative to the 4x4 group making efforts to promote the growth of their numbers, defending against those who degrade the public opinion of 4x4 use, and then developing a cohesive community with a singular voice. But...that ain't gonna happen.
 

Christophe Noel

Expedition Leader
#12
Oh, and by the way, many of us probably log more off-road miles on bicycles than many ardent 4x4 drivers do. I spent 6,700 miles on my bicycle last year, a rather low number for me. Of that, over 3,500 of it was on PURE off-road. Singletrack. How many 4x4 drivers spend more than that on pure 4x4 trails?

My numbers are small potatoes. I think of guys like Jay Petervary who probably spend well over 15,000 miles riding pure off-road routes.

This notion that bicycles log small miles compared to 4-wheeled conveyances, a concept even members of our Overland International team succumb to, is - erroneous.
 
#13
Cycling as a whole has regularly ranked as the number 7 recreational activity behind things like walking, fishing, camping, and somehow bowling slips in there. Go figure. In the last few years bike sales have hovered around 2.6 million units sold per year. Since 2009 this number has far surpassed automobile sales. The mountain bike category still makes up more than half of bike sales, whereas 4x4 sales are a relatively small portion of current automobile sales.

There's more to this than just numbers though. There's a culture within user groups that has to be considered. Mountain bikers tend to get what they want because they generally stick together and there are few negative attributes projected onto the user group. The 4x4 audience however, gets screwed by getting negatively impacted by users that are outside their core group. Think of the yahoos and rednecks that just happen to be able to get to remote locations to deposit beer cans, trash, and generally destroy the backcountry. These ne'er-do-wells often get lumped into the same group with responsible 4x4 enthusiasts, which, are a small number.

Here's another interesting stat. I forget the source, so please take that with a grain of salt, but in 1996 it was reported that one in four households in the U.S. had one mountain bike. This number eclipsed homes with a baseball, basketball, and you can imagine how few homes had a 4x4 in the garage comparatively.

So, to me, the takeaway is relative to the 4x4 group making efforts to promote the growth of their numbers, defending against those who degrade the public opinion of 4x4 use, and then developing a cohesive community with a singular voice. But...that ain't gonna happen.
I do not dispute your data. It simply does not agree with my (non scientific) observations when I'm off the beaten path.

As to 25% of households having a mtn bike, I reckon 50% of households have a stationary exercise bike and 80% of those bikes will never have more than 5 miles on them.
 

Christophe Noel

Expedition Leader
#14
As to 25% of households having a mtn bike, I reckon 50% of households have a stationary exercise bike and 80% of those bikes will never have more than 5 miles on them.
Ha ha. Ain't that likely the truth.

One of the fortunate aspects of all of this is the cross-over. I'm regularly drawn into discussions with my mountain bike pals about adventure motorcycling and of course, wheeling. This is why Overland Journal and Expedition Portal are featuring more mountain bike stories, and as odd as it sounds, websites like Gear Junkie, Outdoor Retailer and others that once only catered to foot or bike travel are featuring 4x4 vehicle reviews. The crossover is...massive. This is a very good thing for all of us.
 
#15
I do not dispute your data. It simply does not agree with my (non scientific) observations when I'm off the beaten path.

As to 25% of households having a mtn bike, I reckon 50% of households have a stationary exercise bike and 80% of those bikes will never have more than 5 miles on them.
I have the same anecdotes. When in the backcountry and remote areas, I don't see any MTB riders.

But on trails within 10 miles of an urban area, I cannot count all the MTB riders. They are everywhere.

So they clearly outnumber the 4x4 crowd and have better advocacy groups, funding, demographics, etc....

I belong to the MTB, OHV and 4x4 user groups. And based on my experience, the MTB advocacy groups walk circles around the others.

All that said, I do not know whether or not I support MTB access in designated wilderness areas.
R