Should Mountain Bikes Be Allowed in Protected Wilderness Areas?

Apr 1, 2016

There is an effort to amend the Wilderness Act to allow one form of mechanized transportation into pristine areas.  Conservation groups are lining up against the idea.


When the Wilderness Act was passed in the 1960s, one main concept was to keep mechanization out of areas declared as wilderness.

Years later, the Forest Service specified that would include one human-powered device--the mountain bike.

Now those enthusiasts are asking lawmakers to sponsor legislation that would allow bikes in.

Ted Stroll, president of the Sustainable Trails Coalition, says the machines have a very minimal impact. He explains, "Riding a mountain bike is quiet, slow moving, and environmentally benign. It is surprisingly much more environmentally benign than current uses allowed in wilderness areas, like commercial, profit- making horse pack trains that go into wilderness areas in the west and do damage to meadows, streams, and lakes.”

One who feels the bikes are not appropriate is Mike Petersen of the Lands Council of Spokane, one of 116 groups that sent a recent letter to Congress opposing efforts to allow the bikes in wilderness.

He says, “It impacts wildlife when someone is rushing through the woods. On a mountain bike they are going five times faster than you can walk. So that is a big difference for wildlife. They cross through creeks; they can cause erosion if they are on steep trails. They displace rocks, run over plants. Trails get widened because they form dips and form mud puddles, and so you have wider and wider trails.”

There may be room for compromise with some conservation groups, however.

Susan Drumheller of the Idaho Conservation League, which did not sign on to the letter from Congress, issued a statement hinting compromise is possible. It said, “Our approach is to work out boundary issues before wilderness legislation is enacted. We are also interested in alternative designations where mountain biking could be allowed while preserving conservation values."

The mountain bike proponent says she hopes some members of congress will craft legislation this spring to modify the Wilderness Act.