Should mountain bikes be allowed in wilderness areas? A biker rides along a trail near Salt Lake City. More than 100 million acres of America's most rugged landscapes designated as wilderness are off-limits to mountain bikers, but two Utah senators Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch, both Utah Republicans, have introduced legislation that would allow bikers to join hikers and horseback riders in those scenic, undisturbed areas. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Should mountain bikes be allowed in wilderness areas?
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More than 100 million acres of America's most rugged landscapes designated as wilderness are off limits to mountain bikers. But two senators have introduced legislation that would change that. It would allow bikers to join hikers and horseback riders in those scenic, undisturbed areas.
 
The proposal is controversial within the biking community. It's also opposed by conservationists. They say bikes would erode trails and upset the five-decade notion of wilderness as primitive spaces.
 
The bill comes from U.S. Sens. Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch. Both are Republicans. It would give local officials with the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and other federal management agencies two years to decide in each wilderness area if bikes will be allowed. If no decision is made within two years, the bike ban would be lifted in that area.
 
The legislation comes from somewhat unlikely sponsors. Hatch and Lee represent Utah, where outdoor recreation and mountain biking are big business. But both are supporters of the Republican state's push to take over public lands controlled by the federal government. That is something environmentalists and outdoor recreation groups oppose.
 
Lee said he's a former mountain biker. The senator said his bill takes on what he sees as another overreaching federal regulation that restricts locals. He says there's no evidence that mountain bike tires cause any more erosion than hikers do.
 
At issue is a part of the 1964 Wilderness Act. It restricts the use of "mechanical transport" - bikes, all-terrain vehicles and cars - in those 100-plus million wilderness acres in 44 states. It's the only blanket ban on bicycling in the federal public lands system.
 
The ban on "mechanical transport" doesn't include wheelchairs. They are allowed as part of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Lee notes that skis, rock climbing gear, kayaks, which are also allowed, "arguably involve some type of mechanical action" and help people move about.
 
Mountain biking wasn't a popular sport when the law was passed. But the bicycles will alter the character of those spaces and are tough on trails, said Alan Rowsome. He is with The Wilderness Society. It is a conservation group.
 
Rowsome said that only about 10 to 12 percent of all U.S. public lands are protected under the Wilderness Act. He called it one of "the bedrock environmental laws we have in this country."  It sets aside some areas as untouchable.
 
That includes tens of thousands of acres of forests, valleys, lakes and peaks around Lake Tahoe, a large freshwater lake between California and Nevada.  "If mountain bikers could start riding those trails, they would be in Seventh Heaven," said Ted Stroll. He is president of the Sustainable Trails Coalition. It is a nonprofit that's working to overturn the ban.
 
Stroll said the wilderness ban on bikes leaves riders in Colorado on dirt forest roads from Crested Butte to Aspen. This is instead of more scenic single track trails. In North Dakota, he said, about 100 miles of one bike trail are bookended by wilderness zones. They leave bikers to make detours at both ends to avoid the protected areas.
 
The International Mountain Bicycling Association is still reviewing the bill. That is according to its president, Mike Van Abel. But the association's 40,000 mountain bikers are divided on the idea.
 
Some mountain bikers don't want to upset longstanding political alliances with conservation groups. The mountain bikers say bikers should instead focus on working with interest groups and lawmakers to negotiate. The mountain bikers prefer to move the boundaries of wilderness areas to allow bikes on trails.
 
"Wilderness is the first time we as a species decided to put the needs of nature above the needs of man," said Ashley Korenblat, the owner of a bicycling tour company. It is based in Moab, Utah. The area is a mountain biking playground. "We don't need to ride our bikes everywhere."
 
Korenblat is a former chair of the International Mountain Bicycling Association. There are few trails in wilderness areas that would be fun to ride, Korenblat said. But "the last thing the bike industry wants to do is have a big fight with the environmental community."

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COMMENTS (16)
  • carmenh-orv
    8/24/2016 - 09:57 p.m.

    Bikers will be able to move faster than hikers, also will be able to cover more ground in less time and have better chances running away from animals that are trying to attack hikers and bikers

  • tgriffin-dav
    9/05/2016 - 12:31 p.m.

    In response to the article "Should Mountain Bikes be Allowed in Wilderness Areas," I disagree that mountain bikes should not be allowed to ride on trails. One reason I disagree with this is that people should be able to have fun. Another reason is that according to Senator Lee, there is no evidence that mountain bike tires cause erosion. It says in the article that hikers are just as destructive as mountain bikers. A third reason is that they could just make more trails for mountain bikers to enjoy. Even though some people don't think they should be on trails, I think they should be allowed to stay.

  • sierrab-ste
    9/07/2016 - 09:54 p.m.

    I don't understand why this is even a debate. The bikers will be safer than hikers are and it's good exercise. As long as they're careful they should be allowed to bike in the wilderness.

  • leer-pav
    9/14/2016 - 10:01 a.m.

    In my opinion, I think that mountain biking should be allowed in preserved areas because it would be extremely fun and a whole new area for bikers. Also, it wouldn't do too much damage to the environment because bikes don't use gas.

  • kevink-pav
    9/14/2016 - 10:01 a.m.

    MOUNTAIN BIKES SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED. THEY ARE ANNOYING TO THE NICE PEOPLE JUST TRYING TO TAKE A NICE STROLL THROUGH THE WILDERNESS AREAS. THERE ARE SPECIFIC AREAS MEANT FOR MOUNTAIN BIKING AND NEXT TIME I GO ON A NICE STROLL I'M PROBABLY NOT GONNA BE IN THE MOOD TO GET TRUCKED BY SOME ROGUE MOUNTAIN BIKER WHO THINKS HE CAN JUST GO ANYWHERE AND DO ANYTHING JUST BECAUSE HE IS RIDING AROUND ON A BIKE!!!

  • abyrd-wim
    9/16/2016 - 12:07 p.m.

    I think mountain bikes should be allowed in wildness areas but you must wear a helmet and you can only ride at your own risk. It would be extremely fun and a whole new area for bikers. Also it wouldn't do too much damage to the environment because bikes don't use gas. In fact it helps the world when we use bikes

  • wcarsyn-dav
    9/22/2016 - 07:10 p.m.

    In response to, "Should mountain bikes be allowed in wilderness areas?" I believe that mountain bikers should be allowed to bike in wilderness areas. One reason I believe this is because allowing mountain bikers in wilderness areas make people want to become more involved in the sport. If people knew they could go biking in these beautiful areas, it might make more people want to start mountain biking. Another reason I believe mountain bikers should be allowed in wilderness areas is because it would provide more people with a chance to enjoy the beauty of nature and the animals in these areas. The final is that allowing the mountain bikers to bike in these areas won't cause them any harm. According to the article, "there's no evidence that mountain bike tires cause any more erosion than hikers do." Some people might argue that the mountain bikers might cause disruption to the wildlife living in the area, I believe that mountain bikers should be allowed in wilderness areas.

  • sethl-stu
    10/03/2016 - 12:05 p.m.

    why is this such a problem it should be allowed because it isn't isn't causing any harm or pollution

  • jovieh-stu
    10/04/2016 - 01:13 p.m.

    No they should not because they are capble of hurtting them selfs.

  • atziryc-stu
    10/10/2016 - 04:27 p.m.

    bikers would be able to go fdaster than hikers because the hikers they are walking and the bikers are on there bikes and when they are going down the bikers go even more faster.

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