The Mountain Bike Invasion of Wilderness Areas


Expedition Leader
Having worked for the forest service and repairing trails in the past, I have some insight.

First - the damage that a dozen MTBers can do to an area is really nothing compared to what one moron in a Fordrolet CoalRoller 6000 SUX can accomplish during a 12er of natty light. Not to mention, I have yet to see a MTBer bring a house full of appliances out to a trail, practice some second amendment on it, and then leave it there as an Art Installation of Freedom.
Quoted for awesomeness

Christophe Noel

Expedition Leader
Here's just one example of IMBA's effectiveness. In 2005 I started an LLC in Prescott to help develop our mtb community. I did this knowing it would be a temporary project to drum up a community which we could then pitch to IMBA to absorb as an affiliate club with a board, members, etc. In 2010 I made the call to my friends at IMBA and they drove down to Prescott to speak to the ride community to make a proposal. Here's the genius:

Once IMBA arrived with five representatives, they spoke before 50-60 riders, a few city representatives, and business leaders and in a very refined and high energy pitch said, "We think Prescott's riding is so fantastic, and has so much potential, we'd like to make it an official IMBA RIDE CENTER. This got everyone wiggling in their seats with excitement and before you know it, the ride community swelled, a club formed, and trails built by the mile.

Here's the kicker. IMBA makes this pitch of a "ride center" to every city. Detroit was pitched as an IMBA ride center. But, it made our local community feel special, and who's to say we aren't. In the end, it was just one more superbly executed way to motivate a small ride community to aspire to be a bigger, better, more influential ride community. Our town now boasts of literally hundreds upon hundreds of avid riders where it was just ten years ago, a clutch of maybe 50-75 avid riders.

IMBA was so impressed with the response they received from their proposal, they even moved one of their reps to my live...permanently.

They give their Ride Center pitch weekly and sometimes it hits pay dirt. Just one more way they are so effective. They just know how to start a small fire to get things really cooking.
By that standard, 100% of government ground should be declared Wilderness.
No, there are too many lobbyists with diversified interests. Gotta have some cheap land set aside for energy, agriculture, ranching, mining, etc :)

So how much is enough? Seems the lower end is defined by the original Wilderness Act guideline and the upper end by the Rewilding Institute (Dave Foreman) vision of "...continental-scale conservation..."
This is the argument/position that comes up so often here. It is reactionary and does not create a solution. What do you say when someone says the "hey, that precautionary principle stuff you just cited sounds like a responsible hedge against screwing things up."

Perhaps the better counter is to create the position that well developed recreational OHV trails are in high demand/short supply. Support the assertion with comparisons of trail miles/user miles/number of users (ie there are lots of hiking miles:days available per user / far fewer miles:days per motor). Convince agencies to exclude maintained dirt roads from their "Ohv trail" mile count and only state those that are actually recreational trails with no other purpose. Stuff like that changes minds, or at least gets them thinking. Propose the changes you want to see.

So, Foreman and others want large areas of interconnected wildernesses. That's nice. I want long distance single track motorcycle routes through those areas. A rancher wants to run a bunch of cattle on that same land. And then there's a foreign mining company that wants to grind up the mountain to get copper. Im sure you know the pecking order of the winners there. The BLM and FS already write plans that establish were these things can take place and why. The easiest time to institute change is when a forest is writing a FMP or the BLM is working on their RMP. Instead of worrying about wilderness taking our trails, people should be concentrating on building more trails and defining existing roads as trails when they have outstanding recreational value.

Changing a wilderness boundary by act of congress, so glad it happened. I've been saying it was possible for years, but people here just laughed and retreated into their "once it's a wilderness, it's gone" mentality.
This is the argument/position that comes up so often here. It is reactionary and does not create a solution. What do you say when someone says the "hey, that precautionary principle stuff you just cited sounds like a responsible hedge against screwing things up."........

Perhaps the better counter is to create the position that well developed recreational OHV trails are in high demand/short supply......

Changing a wilderness boundary by act of congress, so glad it happened. I've been saying it was possible for years, but people here just laughed and retreated into their "once it's a wilderness, it's gone" mentality.
When anyone cites the "precautionary principle" as justification for anything, my response is the PP is not just bad science, it is not science.

I agree with your recommendation for positive action. You should know that the reason I spend the time posting this sort of stuff it to educate the ORV crowd on what is going on. My informal polling shows at best an awareness that access is incrementally being lost. However, most seem to think this is happening in haphazard way and that the trend will not continue. I totally disagree with this opinion.

I do not bike but I was pleased that someone managed to put a dent in Wilderness armor. As to the "once it's wilderness it's gone mentality" one of my professors had this to say about unexpected events: "If it happened once, it was a fluke so ignore it. If it happened twice it was a coincidence, so ignore it. If it happened three times, it is a damned conspiracy."
yep. this. same story in Western Colorado. not a big deal to let mtn bikes ride on or build their own single track trails to access an area... most 4x4 access roads that closed around here were due to 5 roads crossing the same 5 acres to the same overlook... each with 5 of their own fire pits full of cans and diapers. fact is, anyone that arrives by vehicle is perceived as a '4x4' user, not a hiker, biker, or bird watcher.

The only place where mountain bikers are excluded, are these wilderness trails we're talking about. The density of riders around population centers is simply a reflection of the mountain bike lifestyle. Because many riders hit the trails almost daily, they usually ride close to home, and most trail systems are close to most population centers. That's where the users are.

What we've been seeing as of late in the MTB community is a greater scrutiny of which designated Wilderness areas deserve that protection. Some wilderness areas seem to have earned their designation somewhat randomly, or at the least the boundaries seem randomly drawn.

As others have said, the biggest advantage the MTB community has in their advocacy arsenal is the low impact nature of the activity. Second to that is the willingness of the community to assemble in mass to grab shovels and repair or build their own trails. I also see within our own regional advocacy groups, a good bit of compromise. The MTB groups here are very strategic, willing to give up a trail here, to gain a better one there.

Not to keep hammering on the 4x4 advocacy groups, but they really just don't get it, at least not as a whole. They pick battles they can't win, war over turf they really shouldn't defend, and most importantly, don't realize that they are a minority advocacy group and made even smaller by divisiveness.

There's the kicker. It's not entirely about the size of the user group, but the size of the advocacy voice within that group.


Expedition Leader
I just want to point out the Gramscian propaganda technique embedded in the referenced article in the OP and the title of this topic. "invasion" is a loaded negative word, deliberately applied to taint the described activity in the eye / mind of the reader. Human use of the land immediately placed in the negative category. Just that one word reveals the bias of the editor / writer of that article.
I don't have a mtb, but they are usually much better stewards of the land than the typical guy in a 4x4. Just don't run over me when I'm hiking down a trail.

Christophe Noel

Expedition Leader
I don't have a mtb, but they are usually much better stewards of the land than the typical guy in a 4x4. Just don't run over me when I'm hiking down a trail.
Such an excellent point. Last summer I had a total blowout with two hikers. The first in 20 years, and it was horrible. I came around a turn saw two hikers, slowed down and just as I was putting my foot down, the lady in front of her husband looked up and FREAKED OUT. It didn't matter that I was at a full stop, or that there was still 25 feet between us, I scared her.

Her husband charged at me waving a hiking stick, yelling, I seriously though I was gonna get smacked. I immediately apologized, then after a solid two minutes of expletives, and despite always being calm and mellow...I snapped. I unleashed my own F-bombs and tirade. It was the cathartic moment I needed for years as the guy always getting yelled at for no reason.

Then, amidst the shaking fists I said, " that you?" The three of us had been friends ions ago, hadn't met in years, and this was our chance encounter. We all felt like idiots.

Tensions between hikers and bikers are always high, but I almost never have bad encounters. But, about three years ago I dropped $1,000 on bike bells and gave them out to our local riders. Unfortunately, they're not as common as they should be. Wonder where $1,000 worth of bells went.
We are not mountain bikers but live a very short ride away from 3000 acres of private forestry land that supports around 50 miles of trails. In the 33 years we have seen the progression from dirt bikes, 4x4, hikers and horses to mainly mountain bikers and hikers/runners. The motorized folks left trash, wore down the pipeline right of way until they hit the sensors (and you don't do that in a town that had a huge pipe explosion that killed 3 young people). They would pound on our doors in the middle of the night drunk and stuck somewhere off the logging roads. Several times they spent the night bogged down on our pasture. Finally, the owner put up gates which put a stop to mechanized access. About this time, one of my neighbors had been building mountain bike trails. He hauled out a whole bunch of garbage, also. Then, the momentum built and today we have hundreds of bikers from Seattle to Vancouver, BC who ride. They police themselves as far as behavior, groom the trails and repair damage to the trails from logging working closely with the owner and the logging company. Great bunch of people. They have an advocacy group who were also at the table for a re conveyance of state timberlands to the county park system, 9000 acres of woods overlooking Lake Whatcom.

We talk to quite a few of them and they are grateful to have such a great place to ride. They keep it clean as it is rare to find any garbage. It is also popular with families and we chuckle to see little kids with helmets almost as big as they are. They respectfully yield to hikers although if we hear them, we move out off the way. There are trails identified as downhill which we avoid walking only the cross country as identified on a map. They bring money to town and yes, we have seen the $5000 bikes. They are very passionate about their sport even riding in the famous rainy weather we have.

So yes, they are powerful but more respectable and organized. There are a few rogue builders on DNR land but most riders on Galbraith are either students, families, even retired and middle age business people. A good cross section of America.
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Christophe Noel

Expedition Leader
SeeNik48, That scenario seems to be more common than not with regard to the mountain bike community. There are still tussles with equestrians (along with everyone else they challenge), a few hikers, and some motorized users, but for the most part the mtb audience is a respectful bunch, and not too contentious or insensitive to our impact on land. I think where we are strongest, is our ability to self-police. We don't tolerate anyone within our own user group that behaves in such a way it undermines our causes. If I see a mountain biker behaving poorly, damaging trails, cutting illegal trails, leaving trash--I'm in their face. Bad mountain bikers are few and far between, but not tolerated.

I think other user groups are a bit reticent to confront each other when poor usage is witnessed, and who knows, maybe that's a good idea. I think mountain bikers simply don't want to disappoint their peers. How that came to be? Dunno. Just an organic development.
It's not hard to see why 4x4 trails get closed and MTB trails get some love. No conspiracy needed - I know which demographic I'd be more willing to host on my land. I say this, and I love 4wheeling and offroading, but it is chockablock with morons, hicks, and dweebs who have no respect for shared public areas and lack common decency.
Talk about hitting the nail on the head. I love both forms of recreation...but ask me which user group I choose to "belong" to...and I'm a Mountain Biker or Overlander. Respect for shared places goes a REALLY long way with just about anyone and everyone. What is the difference between the contrived term "Overlander" vs. "Off Roader", I definitely do not know, but respect for the spaces where we recreate seems to be part of that distinction.

The "lacking common decency" component is overt EVERY time I visit a place with OHV. I want to support that community as Access is what I'm concerned about. I want to work with them on access issues but they really need to get their act together, learn to self police. I think most users do recognize this. However they also need to be keenly aware of the sheer scale of damage one unruly user can cause and find a way to keep those morons in check. At present, it's a group I want no part of...and that isn't because I dislike the activity.
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Here, it's the MTB community who both build and maintain most of the trails, so it's pretty hard for anyone to complain (though some do). Bikers do cause trail damage, especially the guys who like to get muddy, but I've seen much more trail damage done by horses, and even more by park rangers themselves taking 4wd's out to the trails when it's too wet. Or even worse, trying to do "improvement projects" in the early spring just after a snow melt.
I know this is somewhat of a thread revival, but I've gotta say the calm, collected and well worded posts on this topic are why I love Expedition Portal and its users.

I've owned off-road motorcycles and Jeeps, and had my share of fun in the mud, but I will always be a cyclist first and foremost. I love that mountain biking is becoming more organized, more political and community oriented, and that most riders are becoming more sensitive to the impacts on trails and other users.

I, like others in this thread, hope that the OHV community can learn to do the same, for sake of its future access as well.
. Keep the original Wilderness areas bipedal transport only. mined, logged, homesteaded, fenced, railroaded and is crisscrossed with
Keep in mind that pack horses and mules are allowed in Wilderness; those four legs grind away much more trail surface than bipeds or even [properly]ridden mountain bikes. That's roughly the total weight of a large man on each hoof.