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 (18)
  • 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.

  • keatonb1-kor
    10/13/2016 - 10:20 a.m.

    i think there should be a sperate trail for bikers and hikers but they should be side by side with each other.I think this because bike go faster than humans and you dont want anyone to get hit by a bike and get hurt

  • clewi-wim4
    10/21/2016 - 11:49 a.m.

    I think mountain bikers should be able to ride in the wilderness because we can move faster than hikers and biking is an awesome sport. I love riding mountain bikes and I go to the mega cavern bike park and I feel it would be fun to do this and bikers should be allowed two.

  • kb-gai
    12/02/2016 - 09:09 a.m.

    I don't think that bikes should be aloud on the mountains because
    don't want anyone to get hurt at all.


    why will someone go and ride on a bike on a mountains?

  • slauren-dav
    12/08/2016 - 10:09 p.m.

    In response to "Should Mountain Bikes Be Used in Wilderness Areas?," I agree that bikes should be used in wilderness areas because it is a good experience. Another reason I agree is because mountain bikers like to be out in the wilderness and do what they like to do. Getting exercise and having fun is a win-win! Another reason is the fun that people would have that have not experienced riding bikes in wilderness areas. It would definitely be fun and exciting. The article says "The mountain bikers prefer to move the boundaries of wilderness areas to allow bikes on trails." I think the bikers enjoy the rush of discovering new trails and being the first bikers in a new area. I think the wilderness bikers should ride but at their own risk. A third reason I agree is that no part of the environment is being harmed. As a matter of fact, people are staying healthy and enjoying our beautiful earth. Although any biker could possibly hit an animal, I think if bikers were cautious and paid attention, then bikers would continue to have fun while staying healthy and should definitely be able to ride in the wilderness.

  • noahr-ste
    5/01/2017 - 01:45 p.m.

    Yes. they should be able to go wherever they want to go, as long as they are being respectful.

  • Ashlynd-dav
    9/25/2017 - 01:48 p.m.

    In response to "Should mountain bikes be allowed in wilderness areas?," I agree that mountain bikes shouldn't be allowed in a wilderness area because if he law says they can't ride than they can't. One reason I agree is that in the passage it says that mountain biking can mess with the nature. Another reason is that some people could be walking and they don't want people flying by them when they are strolling down the trail. It says in the article " Wilderness is the first time we as a species decided to put the needs of nature above the needs of man." A third reason is if they are called mountain bikes then they should only be ridden in mountains. They call them that for a reason. Even though people do want more exercise, I think the mountain bikes should stay in the mountains.

  • ChrisG-dec
    9/24/2018 - 10:47 a.m.

    Bikers can make ruts and water will run in the ruts and erode the trails.

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