Are mountain bikes allowed in wilderness areas?

When we think of mountain bikes, immediately trails and rocky paths come into mind and Yes, they are meant to be ridden on those. However, there are bounds to that and to ensure the rider’s and the natural wildlife habitat’s safety, it is recommended to bike in designated trails and bike parks.

To help protect the safety of the environment and wildlife habitat, according to 1984 regulations of the Wilderness Act, bikes are banned in wilderness areas. Riding Mountain Bikes in wilderness areas not only causes an impact on wildlife habitat but also causes erosion. However, there are plenty of bike trails and parks designated for this sport, that one can easily find nearby and enjoy.

Although to date, there is a larger debate and unrest in the biking community about the ban and some of the factors for re-consideration that includes:

  • Mountain Biking sport picked up after the ban act, hence not a lot of attention and details were considered at the time.
  • Biking sport has overgrown over the number of years, with its code of ethics and operations adapted to enhance the safety of riders and habitat alike.
  • Modern bikes maybe posing a lesser impact on the environment with improvement in the materials used.

Although there is no question about every effort to be made to preserve nature and wildlife habitat including many precious species, looking into the mountain biking sport and how it has grown over the period of time is worth looking into for better understanding.

Let’s take a closer look and elaborate this further.

Why are bikes not allowed in wilderness areas?

According to the Wilderness Act, the use of ‘mechanized transport’ was banned in order to protect the designated precious land.

It was all in grey area since 1695 when obviously mountain biking sport wasn’t established, all the way until 1984 where Forest Service mountain biking was considered as mechanized transport, therefore deemed not allowed in wilderness areas.

To elaborate on this further, Bikes, and especially mountain bikes are designed for rough terrains, meaning they are designed in a robust manner, thus any path these bikes are ridden on will flatten the surface and with excessive brakes and skids, it is obvious impacting the surface it is ridden on.

There are a few very important factors we must consider to understand why mountain bikes are not allowed in wilderness areas. Let’s discuss them in a bit more detail:

Potential risk to bike rider safety

The safety of the Rider is an absolute priority when it comes to mountain biking. In wilderness areas, especially if the rider is alone, there are a number of factors that can put the rider in danger. In case of an injury, you don’t want to be all by yourself and in wilderness areas, you won’t see anyone around for help.

This means, you are pretty much on your own, you may survive or help yourself for a minor injury, but anything of serious nature can quickly deteriorate the situation out of your hands to a more critical condition. It is, therefore, always recommended to avoid such areas that can potentially pose an increased risk to the safety of the rider.

Here are some of the Safety Tips you may find useful.

Potential risk to wildlife habitat

Any artificial man-made mechanized and motorized vehicles and tools can potentially cause an impact on the natural wildlife habitat in the area.

The species are not accustomed to such unnatural mechanized sounds and thus creates a fear factor in them as they come into an interaction with it, making them flee from the area.

Potentially causing erosion

Soil erosion is the wearing away of topsoil due to various means, thereby degrading its ability and fertility of botanical growth. Apart from the naturally occurring phenomenon, the human force can cause this to happen as well. Usually, an activity like mountain biking and wheel impact to the ground is considered to be causing soil erosion, thus a potential impact on the land.

Do Mountain bikes damage trails more than horses?

There is quite a debate in the communities around what could potentially damage the trails more, biking, hiking, or horse-riding? It all leads back to the disagreement amongst the biking community to have mountain biking banned in wilderness areas and press on that horse-riding can potentially damage the trails more than the bikes do.

Just because horse-riding is not mechanized, they are allowed while mountain bikes are not. It makes sense when you get into the technicalities of the impact to the ground with horseshoes versus tires and considering the weight of the bike against a horse, leads to believe horse riding would pose more of an impact to the trail than a mountain bike would.

What is the Role of E-Bikes on Wilderness Act?

With the emergence of Electric Bikes (E-bikes) in modern times where everything is moving from conventional to Electric form, bikes are not an exception. Currently, we see a large number of models and brands in E-bikes that offer partial to full power to the crank mechanism helping the rider with additional boost and minimize human effort, causing more of a ground/environment impact.

While mountain bikes could be debated on being full mechanized transport, E-bikes certainly are, hence those are definitely banned. It also impacts mountain bikes due to their design similarities.

Can you ride a mountain bike anywhere?

You can, except the areas that are prohibited such as Wilderness areas, in order to protect the land and wildlife habitat according to the Wilderness Act.

However, there is nothing to get discouraged about since with time as the sport of mountain biking picked up a lot of interest in all age groups, more and more places are groomed for this sport to offer best-in-class trail systems for the riders to enjoy.

You can ride certainly mountain bikes on the roads as well, although efficiency will not be as that of a road bike, yet offers a great deal of physical activity and exercise to keep you in shape.

Are mountain bikes allowed on trails?

Usually, mountain bikes are allowed on trails unless specifically outlined for a trail to be hike only. You can find various types of trails, some are exclusive for mountain biking, where hiking can become dangerous and unsafe. While other trails are of hybrid use that is shared by hikers and mountain bikers alike.

From a safety standpoint, priority is given to hikers and special codes, hand gestures, calls are made by bikers for alerting pedestrians on the trail in order to keep a balance on a multi-use trail. Be sure to follow proper biking protocol to ride safely.

Should I ride my bike on the road or sidewalk?

Since side-walks are used by pedestrians with kids of all ages and carrying transport such as strollers, hence bikes, considered as vehicles, are not allowed to be ridden on sidewalks.

Usually, there are bike lanes marked on the roads, which allows a clear guide for the rider to stay within the bike lane. Any motorized traffic including cars and motorbikes keeps a fair amount of distance between the rider for safety. This allows the sidewalk to be left for pedestrians.

The traffic law prohibits biking on sidewalks due to its potential dangers to pedestrians. Usually there are various levels of fines associated to it in accordance with the age of the rider. Normally 7 years and older riders are prohibited from riding a bike on the sidewalk.

Even in cases of high traffic on the road, if need be, it is recommended to get off the bike and walk with it on the sidewalk.

There may be some exceptions to this in other parts of the world, however, common sense aligns with leaving the sidewalks to pedestrians and use the road for biking instead.

While bike riding is absolutely fun activity, every precaution should be taken to keep safety in mind and make it an amazing experience on every single ride.