Wild Bill: Should new Wilderness areas allow mountain bikes as a way of gathering political support?

This is a pretty controversial topic. When the Wilderness Act was passed in 1964, there were not really any mountain bikes. The Act clearly bans motorized recreation, but it is somewhatunclear about muscle powered mechanical. I think it is clear enough that the judgment is against bikes.

The regulations written to flesh out the Act prohibited mountain bikes. The government’s interpretation has been very purist. Some really like that; others don’t; but it surely makes it harder to pass a Wilderness Bill.

Some mountain bike organizations have supported Wilderness anyway, but others have teamed up politically with the real target of the Wilderness Act, motorcycles, ATVs (although they didn’t exist in 1964), 4 x 4s, aircraft (except for some grandfathered backcountry airstrips), motorboats.

Allowing mountain bikes will probably require an explicit statement that they are allowed in future legislation.

Wild Bill: Are We Ready for Wilderness Lite? By Bill Schneider. New West.

Here is the text of the Act regarding “prohibited uses,”

(c) Except as specifically provided for in this chapter, and subject to existing private rights, there shall be no commercial enterprise and no permanent road within any wilderness area designated by this Act and, except as necessary to meet minimum requirements for the administration of the area for the purpose of this Act (including measures required in emergencies involving the health and safety of persons within the area), there shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area.



  1. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    From the act, in plain English: “…no other form of mechanical transport…”

    Bikes are obviously a “form of mechanical transport.”

    Bill Schneider writes, regarding bikers : “Almost all mountain bikers want roadless lands protected from road building and motorized abuse, but they don’t want Wilderness because agencies have made administrative decisions to prohibit bicycles in Wilderness. Instead, they want a new designation that only allows MPVs, Muscle Powered Vehicles like bicycles, horses, hikers and climbers, but bans roads and motorized recreation or wreckreation, as it’s been called..”

    Websters (4) (b): vehicle: a piece of mechanized equipment

    In plain English: horses are not vehicles. Hikes are not vehicles. Climbers are not vehicles.

    It can be seen that mountain bikes are “a form of mechanical transport also recognized to be a vehicle.”

    Mountain bikers are try to weasel themselves into a new classification by incorporating an old classification of animal/human powered locomotion into their new classification.

    Personally, I don’t care to come across bikers in the woods/mountains. Why? Because the damn things ARE a mechanical contraption. Our legs are formed in nature. Bikes are formed in factories. I own and ride a bike, but only on paved roads.

    I don’t think mountain bikes belong in wilderness areas.

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I don’t have difficulty with mountain bikes, except that they are too quiet!

    They need to warn you when they are right behind you. That’s on any trail.

    Wilderness provides so many environmental benefits maybe we should allow them in new Wilderness areas, not the already established ones, however. Maybe a few experimental ones?

    Of course, if mountain bike organizations don’t come through politically and help fight groups like the Blue Ribbon Coalition, then no deal.

  3. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    Ralph, yes, wilderness provides many environmental benefits, but I don’t think that necessarily means we should allow bikes in new and/or experimental wilderness areas.

    Bikes *aren’t necessary* to get into and enjoy wilderness; at a minimum; LEGS are (2 or 4-legged variety).

    It’s similar to the snowmobile issue in Yellowstone, which is not a matter of restricting public access, it’s a matter of restricting the METHOD of access. Snowmobiles aren’t necessary to enter Yellowstone; bikes aren’t necessary to enter wilderness.

    Do bikers want to enjoy wilderness, or do they just want to rider their bikes in wilderness?

    I propose they lock their bikes up at the trailhead and walk in.

  4. matt bullard Avatar
    matt bullard

    I think the single biggest issue is the alignment of certain mountain bikers (or regional groups) with access groups like the BRC. It is a non starter as far as trying to have a reasonable discussion while working towards a compromise. This article was posted on a mountain bike forum that I monitor, and the comments there are predictable, but not 100% anti wilderness, which means that there are plenty of mountain bikers willing to discuss these issues openly. The point I’ve tried to make is that if BOTH groups come to the discussion and Wilderness is on the table, we should be able to accommodate most conflict areas in a reasonable manner that may not make everyone happy, but gets Wilderness AND protects certain mountain bike routes. I think this has largely been done in the proposed White Clouds legislation (and agree with the folks who say that there is too much accommodation for the motorized users), but there are still a few hard core mountain bikers that will not accept the loss of any amount of trails that are currently open, even if you ignore their quality as mountain bike trails. As long as both groups think of it as a zero sum game, there is little reason to talk and everyone just digs in. I don’t think it needs to be that way, nor do I think Wilderness Lite is the solution. Perhaps a new framework for resolving conflict is the path that that should be taken while keeping existing land management designations on the table…

  5. Monty Avatar

    On national forest lands there are hundreds of miles of logging roads, many that have been closed with gates, berms and/or water bars. In addition there are also uncounted miles of open forest service roads that will safely accomodate both bikes & vehicles.

    Some of the trails that I use allow both mountain bikes & hikers. I have always found that the mountain bikers are courteous & respectful of the hiker. However, in the end, the seminal question, for me, are the numbers of bikers. But this is also true for areas of high use of hikers. So for me, I will stop using a trail when the numbers of hikers & bikers exceed–what in my judgement–is a “reasonable number”. I am a fan of lonely forest trails.

    But when it comes down to having wilderness or not I will side with the bikers in order to have more wilderness because in the end bikers, in most areas, are physical confined to the trails. And lazy poachers–who love open roads & “all gasoline powered assistance”–would find “bike poaching” an unreasonable challenge!!!

  6. matt bullard Avatar
    matt bullard

    On mountain bikes in Wilderness – I’ve read both arguments and it is easy to get caught up in the technical aspects of what is mechanized, congressional intent, technicalities like mtn bikes didn’t exist in 1964, or that mtn bikes have less impact on the land than horses. I’m convinced that you can make a sound, well reasoned argument on either side of the issue. My own opinion on the matter is that I think mountain bikes violate the abstract concept upon which Wilderness is based. It is more of an idea than something that can be easily explained in legal terms. I *think* that the people who wrote the act would probably agree that mtn biking is a great sport that requires a supreme amount of human effort and that it (clearly) does not use engines. But I also think that, in its current form, that these same people would agree that mountain biking is not congruent with the values that they were trying to preserve.

    The only way I can express this in words is that mountain bikes tend to make places smaller than they are – their speed and the (relative) ease with which a person can cover great distances tends to alter the scale of the place in which they operate. One of the great things about Wilderness is that it encourages us to interact with the land in a spatial and temporal scale that is unaltered and, in a sense, more human (or even, more animal, natural, if you will). I would argue that mountain bikes alter that scale to such a degree that they are incompatible with Wilderness.

    I’ve heard people argue that if we can use high tech fabrics to keep us dry and warm, propane stoves to cook our freeze dried food, and even oars to propel a canoe, then mountain bikes should be allowed as those items all provide some degree of “mechanical advantage” over the elements. But where that argument fails is that they really don’t alter the spatial or temporal scales on or in which we experience Wilderness. I know this argument is not something that could be defended legally, but that’s what I believe is so brilliant about the Wilderness Act – it has done a magnificent job of codifying in law such an abstract concept.

  7. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    Surely we can all agree that the Blue Ribbon Coalition is one radical environmental group…

    And if any bikers are aligning them selves with BRC, I think they’re shooting themselves in the pedal, er, ah, foot.

    I’m hearing “reasonable discussion,” “compromise,” “accommodate most conflict areas,” “hard core mountain bikers that will not accept the loss of any amount of trails that are currently open,” “new framework for resolving conflict.”

    Sounds like “mountain bike creep” to me.

    matt, I am not current on this issue (and please don’t try to bring me up to speed), but, nonetheless, my earlier comments still stand, including “Mountain bikers are try to weasel themselves into a new classification by incorporating an old classification of animal/human powered locomotion into their new classification.”

  8. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I think Matt hit an important point.

    I came a little bit before the mountain bike era, although I think I could ride one still.

    When I was in my 20s and 30s, I hiked fast. I surely felt strong and proud of it. When I began to slow down, I also began to notice a lot of things I had missed.

    Yes the time it takes to cross a landscape is a very important concept.

  9. Eric Avatar

    I’ve only visited a few federally designated wildernesses out west.
    I’ve come across bikers in non designated wildernesses and they never bothered me. I wouldn’t be in favor of the idea of promoting bike traffic on trails in wilderness though. I’m curious how it is that cows can graze federally designated wilderness though. Is it common practice?

  10. Mike Avatar

    This is a tricky situation. Would getting mountain bikers on board really help the passage of new wilderness? I doubt it. Not unless the mountain bike community denounced anti-wilderness groups like the Blue Ribbon Coalition.

    Also, there’s an important distinction between styles of mountain biking. Not everyone will stick to trails, and we will see all kinds of side spurs over the most “rad” jumps, etc.

    Mountain bikes also offer a more hurried, mechanzed form of transportation that IMHO doesn’t jibe with the Wilderness Act.

    Also, bikers have the vast majority of national forest lands and state forest lands at their disposal. Their opposition to official wilderness doesn’t make any sense at all.

  11. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    I think mountain bikes would be rather disruptive to the point of having wilderness areas. Obviously there are a lot of factors to be considered. If for some insane reason they ended up putting in bike trails that would in areas, meet up with hiking trails, someone would probably get whacked by a bike. But this country is so “sue happy” this would, dare I say, never happen.
    There are quite a few ski areas that have taken advantage of mt biking, and staying open year round by adding other summer activities.

  12. elkhunter Avatar

    I feel that both sides want the same thing, to protect wilderness areas, so why fight each other? I agree with the one poster, they should be more focused on working together to accomplish something, versus fighting against one another. You have to give a little sometimes, on both sides of the issue.

  13. matt bullard Avatar
    matt bullard

    You all might check out these two threads to get some other mountain bikers’ perspectives if you are intersted in seeing why its not so easy as just working together. Some do represent the extreme views, which I think is typical of many people who post online (sorry for the sweeping generalization, there). On the other hand, I never said that working something out in an online forum is the way to go – see previous comments here as evidence!



  14. catbestland Avatar


    I appreciate you willingness for both sides to work together. The problem is, in the past corporate America, including mining, logging, oil and especilly the cattle industry, those industries who capitalize off what the earth has to give have sucked her dry and left a trail a destruction in their wake. They may be trying to clean up their acts now. But it’s too late to compromise. This earth is our only home. When it is ruined, we have nothing to replace it with.

    If destructive forces invade our homes, termites, for instance, do we try to reach a compromise on how much destruction we will accept? Or which portions of that home we will allow the destruction to take place? Of course not. Or if cancer invades our body. Do we try to keep it contained to certain portions of it or only partially treat it? No we cut it out and try to keep it from coming back.

    Well, public grazing has proven to be a cancer on the land. The ecosystems of the Rocky Mountain west are too delicate to be invaded by cattle. They are an unnatural and exotic and destructive species to this area. If cattlemen can manage to maintain their herds on their own lands, then they should do so. If they can’t, then they should seek to establish their buisnesses where it is more feasable, in an environment more suitable to their industry. It appears that those who wish to reach a compromise, and continue on grazing on public lands to any degree, are not concerned about the health of this delecate ecosystem. They seek only to get as much more out of it as they can before abandoning and moving on to “greeener pastures” so to speak.

    You can’t say “Well, a few termites might not be so bad or letting them stay just a little longer won’t hurt anything. Or that we should just keep trying to repair the damage they have caused without getting rid of them.” You can’t say “We’ll only cut out part of the cancer or that we will only treat it with semi-effective drugs.” No, the cancer must go.

    It may sound harsh, but look at the number of wild and native species that have been displaced or even extirpated to suit the cattle industry. The ecosystems need all contributors that are natural to them. The earth is our only home. We can’t let the interest of one industry destroy what is left of it. Again, we have nothing to replace it with.


  15. matt bullard Avatar
    matt bullard

    Cathy – interesting points, but we (yep, even Elkhunter!) were talking about mountain bikes and how various interest groups have chosen to align themselves around supporting or not supporting Wilderness in this case. 😉

    I believe in general terms that my points about compromise are relevant even with the groups you mention, but that’s just how I believe public policy should be made and I know others on this forum believe differently (and actively work with organizations that use different tactics – I think this is great and I support their right to pursue changes in public policy in whatever means they believe is best – that’s what’s great and even maddening about our form of government).

    In the case of mountain bikes, various people have observed the strange relationship between some mountain bike groups and various motorized access groups like BRC and how that hurts the collaborative processes between mountain bikers and “environmentalists.” I believe that mountain bike groups would be MORE effective at serving their interests by alignment with environmental groups, even ones who advocate for Wilderness, but that’s just me.


  16. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    An change in the presentation may go a long way in getting people to together, including the persons writing these proposals being open and honest. Presenting one side seems to be the protocol. It could be seen as a way to pit folks against each other so that nothing is accomplished. Or an easy way to give the public a brush off knowing people will get hung up arguing. Regardless, changes need to be made. Nothing will be accomplished as long as our gov’t officials pick and choose. They definitely do not advocate working together. Sometimes just getting folks together on common ground, makes the differences less important. I do not know the number of mt bikers there are, but maybe they would be good addition to help protect the wilderness area. Uniting for a common goal tends to make people more willing to compromise. And more receptive to learning about related issues they knew nothing about. You know, the education thing.
    Human nature; people want to be included. What would be the benefit to all outdoorsy folks?

  17. elkhunter Avatar

    Cathy, I was not referring to the grazing or mining industries. I was commenting on the subject of mountain bikes in wilderness areas.
    Both sides want the same thing, so rather than fight each other, they should work together. Each side needs to give, if one side thinks they are right and the other wrong, then both will just dig in.

  18. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    What elkhunter fails to realize is that “both sides” want to utilize wilderness as a common goal but that as a subset, one side wants to ride mountain bikes in wilderness and one sides does not want mountain bikes in wilderness.

    So you see both sides have 1 common goal but the other 2 goals are different.

    It can be plainly seen that both sides do not “want the same thing.”

    I’m trying to be nice here, but it’s difficult. 🙂

  19. matt bullard Avatar
    matt bullard

    My point is that while mountain bikers may not want Wilderness, if we (mountain bikers and wilderness advocates) discuss the areas of conflict, in many cases, I think we can address or come to agreement on how to mitigate those conflict areas. Clearly, some mountain bikers don’t want to lose an inch of singletrack, but if Wilderness advocates are willing to give up some acreage to preserve some trails for bikes, then one would think that mountain bikers would be willing to give up some trails. There is an attitude that I happen to not agree with (as a Wilderness advocate AND a mountain biker) that Wilderness is inherently no compromise because of the usage restrictions placed upon the land. But that attitude’s not really a way to start a discussion to mitigate conflict…

  20. elkhunter Avatar

    Mack, thats where compromise comes in. 1 common gaol, 2 different goals. So both sides should give a little each way so that they can both come to a conclusion, I realize that they have some different, both sides need to give ground. Not one side think they are correct and the other is completely wrong.

  21. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    Here is an excerpt of the text of the Act regarding “prohibited uses,”

    (c) …there shall be no…other form of mechanical transport…

    Bikes are a form of mechanical transport. Can we agree?

    I think wilderness is one of America’s most valuable resources and as such, should *never* be compromised. Why? Reasons include “usage restrictions placed on the land,” but also include the more important elements that wilderness offers. I think most of us know what they are.

    At the wilderness boundary, lock up your bikes and hike in. It would be more pleasant for everybody.

    At the wilderness boundary, lock up your helicopters and hike in. It would be more pleasant for everybody.

    Who remembers Gary Kaufman, owner of Vortex Helicopters? He wanted to offer helicopter “scenic tours” over the Gros Vente wilderness a few years ago. I don’t think the Wilderness Act prohibits commercial helicopter tours that don’t land, but he was made to feel very uncomfortable about operating here and changed his mind. 🙂

  22. elkhunter Avatar

    When I hear mechanical transportation I think of ATV’s and things like that. I found this
    ” What did Congress mean in 1964 by “no mechanical transport”? One indication is the 1965 regulations adopted by the Forest Service to implement the new Wilderness Act. The agency defined mechanical as “powered by a non-living power source.” A look at a 1964 Websters dictionary shows that “mechanical” meant, “of or like a machine”, and a “machine” is either a motorized device, or a contraption consisting of fixed or moving parts. If the first definition of machine or the original Forest Service regulations are adopted in interpreting the “mechanical transport” clause, then bicycles should be allowed in wilderness. If the latter, very general definition applies, then shoes, saddles, backpacks, and skis should be prohibited from Wilderness areas. After all, doesn’t a shoe have “fixed and moving parts”? Are not today’s complex backcountry, alpine-touring skis quite mechanical?”
    The author makes a valid point. Mechanical is anything with fixed or moving parts. Hence ski’s, is cross-country skiing allowed in wilderness area’s? I dont know, if so, that could fall under mechanical. As he mentioned also, saddles, shoes etc. All have fixed or moving parts.
    I draw the line at motors. Motorized vehicles should be prohibited from all Wilderness areas. Bicycles should be prohibited from some, maybe most, Wilderness areas…. places that are extremely pristine, or extremely popular. But so many designated Wilderness areas in America are neither pristine nor popular, and there are many places — such as that road in the Maroon Bells — where bicycles are an appropriate form of transportation, every bit as appropriate as those mechanical devices of winter, skis”

    Good and valid point. Areas that are very popular and populated have valid reasons to not want bikes on trails, but wilderness area’s that are not hotspots to hikers should be allowing bikers. In my opinion.

    Plus he brings up a good point about banning people in wheelchairs. That is against the disabilities act. Off-road wheel-chairs! Be cool to see.

  23. elkhunter Avatar

    Another good point on the definition of “mechanical transportation”

    “Stroll argues that the four decades of evolution in recreation technology and the expansion of Wilderness as a tool for resource protection since the Act was passed necessitate that we re-evaluate what Congress meant by prohibiting “all forms of mechanical transport.”

    Read strictly, this term could be applied to numerous forms of transport: alpine and mountaineering skis, rowboats with oarlocks, antishock hiking poles and gear. Pushed even further, the term could even prohibit the mechanical transport of anything, thus banning fishing reels, wheelbarrows and game carts. We already have high tech kayaks that utilize human-powered propellers, making them more akin to bicycles in their transmission system, and who knows what other forms of human-powered recreational devices might be down the pike”

  24. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Elkhunter raises an important issue here — the advance of backcountry technology.

    I know the Forest Service decided game carts were mechanical and so, banned, but they are very rudimentary and I think they would protect the Wilderness resources.

    GPS units and cell phones? Is high tech digital, wireless, etc. mechanical? Not really, but their use certainly diminishes the wilderness experience of being on your own.

    It’s not clear to me really, but I guess I’d come down on the side of whether the device or “rig” diminishes the possibility of “primitive and unconfined recreation” and/or solitude, self-powered and avoiding leaving permanent imprints of human activity(from the Wilderness Act).

    This absolutely rules out motorized stuff, but each other non-primitive device might have to be decided case-by-case.

  25. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    I don’t think that, in this issue as well as others, that one side is necessarily “right” and the other side is necessarily “wrong.”

    I would argue that mountain bikes are an inappropriate way to utilize wilderness areas, according to the Wilderness Act, that’s all. I hold no “moral authority” here.

    matt bullard wrote “Wilderness is inherently no compromise because of the usage restrictions placed upon the land. But that attitude’s not really a way to start a discussion to mitigate conflict…”

    The Wilderness Act itself “mitigates conflict,” making a discussion unnecessary. We don’t have to always compromise. Compromise is an excellent tool in many, but *not all* circumstances. Some things are worth not compromising over and I think wilderness is one of them. I think sometimes the “right” thing to do is to stand our ground and say to hell with compromising, we’re not compromising, period.

    This whole issue is nothing more than “bike creep.”

    Sec. 2. (a) In order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the Congress to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of
    wilderness. …and these shall be administered for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use and enjoyment as wilderness, and so as to provide for the protection of these areas, the preservation of their wilderness character…

    NOTE the mention of “growing mechanization.” Clearly, mountain bikes are an example of “growing mechanization.”

    NOTE the mention of “the preservation of their wilderness character.” Clearly, mountain bikes zipping down trails detract from “wilderness character.” They add “urban character,” it seems to me.

    Sec. 2. (c) An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this chapter an area of underdeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which
    (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation…

    NOTE the mention of “primeval character.” Mountain bikes are a relatively new mechanical contraption, which destroy the “primeval character,” as they zip down trails or off trail, poaching as they zip.

    NOTE the mention of “has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation…” hiking and cross-country or back-country skiing or snow-shoeing clearly are primative types of recreation. I would argue that mountain bikes are quite sophisticated, far more so than any telemark, AT or randonee setup.

    Sec. 4. (a) (3) (b) Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, each agency administering any area designated as wilderness shall be responsible for preserving the wilderness character of the area and shall so administer such area for such other purposes for which it may have been established as also to preserve its wilderness character.

    NOTE the mention of “preserving the wilderness character.” Study the above carefully. This is the provision for *new uses*, which were unknown when the Act was written. A wilderness area could be manged for mountain bike use IF the wilderness character is preserved. I maintain the wilderness character cannot be preserved with the addition of mountain bikes.

    Sec. 4. (a) (3) (c)…there shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area.

    CLEARLY it can be seen that a mountain bike is a form of mechanical transport – add a motor and you’ve got a motorcycle. To speak of hiking boots as being mechanical is creeping toward the absurd. Look at the *context* of this section – it addresses mechanical vehicles. CLEARLY, mountain bikes are mechanical vehicles.

    Sec. 4. (a) (4) (d) Nothing in this chapter shall prevent within national forest wilderness areas any activity, including prospecting, for the purpose of gathering information about mineral or other resources, if such activity is carried on in a manner compatible with the preservation of the wilderness environment.

    NOTE that the key above is “any activity…if such activity is carried on in a manner compatible with the preservation of the wilderness environment.”

    I would argue that mountain biking is not compatable with the preservation of the wilderness environment.

  26. matt bullard Avatar
    matt bullard

    FWIW, Mack, you took my quote out of context, as I was paraphrasing a mountain biker’s perspective I do NOT share when you sited me above. I do see this person’s point if you take an example like the White Clouds, which is currently open to mountain bikes and therefor, if Wilderness passes, would be a major loss (well, to some very advanced mountain bikers). In that case, to those few mountain bikers that see that area as 100% open, Wilderness, does involve a lot more concessions on their part and they see any Wilderess as only gains for Wilderness advocates. This person did not acknowledge concessions for mountain bikers as a loss for a Wilderness advocate because of the way the land is currently designated in this example. It’s a tough discussion, but I still think it it is one worth having, and this discussion here has been very illuminating – lots of great points made by all!

  27. elkhunter Avatar

    How is it not compatable?

  28. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    matt bullard, you have my apologies for misquoting you.

    I have no excuse.

    This is offered IN JEST:

    “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say will be misquoted, then used against you.”

    elkhunter wrote: “How is it not compatable?”

    I suggest you read what I wrote. The answer is there, I promise. If you cannot find the answer there, I cannot help you.

  29. elkhunter Avatar

    Did you read the links that I gave Mack? Mechanical moving parts? High tech “movable parts” on cross-country skis, oar-locks are movable parts. I see hikers all the time where I bowhunt, and they seem very far from primitive! Electronic devices and GPS, shock absorbing hiking sticks, which have moving mechanical parts, anyone can intrepret and twist anything to aline with their point of view. Ski’s can be classified as mechanical transport. They move through human power, if no human power they do not move, they allow the individual to move faster than if they were trudging through the snow. They have moving parts and are very high-tech these days. Same with a bike, i agree with the article I read, there are obvious places where mountain bikes should not be present, but in wilderness area’s that are not hiking hotspots, there is no reason that mountain bikes should not be allowed. Also that rule contradicts the disabilities act, wheelchairs are mechanical devices, if you outlaw them then you are discriminating.

  30. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Wheelchairs are allowed inside designated wilderness areas, I believe.

    It has been a point of contention, but I think an amendment passed that allowed them, not that you see many. I’ve never seen a wheelchair on an unpaved trail in the woods.

    Someone correct me if I am wrong.

  31. Mike Post Avatar
    Mike Post

    My experience with mountain bikers in the Southern Sierras and in a 30,000 acre ecological reserve in San Luis Obispo county, CA is that they are destructive to habitat, cut new illegal trails without regard to the damage caused or the posted regulations, disturb wildlife, feel entitled to exclusive trail use, are abusive and even dangerous to hikers and equestrians sharing the trails, and generally are so wrapped up in biking that they have limited consciousness about habitat and wilderness preservation. Public lands are just one big mountain bike agility course to many of them. No doubt there are great and wonderful folks biking very responsibly in the wilderness, but the very visible legasy left in the wild does not illustrate it, at least in my part of the world.

  32. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    I’m trying to be nice here. 🙂

    Example 1: the early days of nordic skiing involved using leather straps to secure boots to a pieces of wood that were hand-shaped into skis. Today’s setups are extremely well designed and made of far superior materials, to be sure. But basically, they accomplish the same thing – allowing one to ski – although today’s skins allow one to ski uphill.

    Example 2: in the early days after the execution of the Wilderness Act, there were no mountain bikes. Now, mountain bikes are on the scene and want wilderness access.

    Example 3: pre and post high tech skis = no significant alteration of the character of wilderness.

    Example 4: post mountain bike introduction = significant alteration of the character of wilderness.

    Exmaple 5: to consider the moveable parts of hiking boots (shoelaces) and oar locks to be components of “mechanical transport” is not bordering on the absurd, it IS absurd.

    Sec. 4. (a) (3) (b) Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, each agency administering any area designated as wilderness shall be responsible for preserving the wilderness character of the area and shall so administer such area for such other purposes for which it may have been established as also to preserve its wilderness character. Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, wilderness areas shall be devoted to the public purposes of recreational, scenic, scientific, educational, conservation, and historical use.

    This is key, because it allows “other purposes” that weren’t concieved of when the Act was passed. Mountain biking would be one of those purposes. However, mountain bikes destroy “wilderness character” so it doesn’t qualify.

    The substitution of shock absorbing hiking poles for wooden hiking sticks doesn’t alter the character of wilderness.

    Mountain bikes in wilderness can clearly be seen to alter the character of wilderness.

  33. matt bullard Avatar
    matt bullard

    Wheelchairs are allowed in Wilderness, I think by the ADA, if not then by an amendment to the Wilderness Act itself. Simpson has provided a provision for a wheelchair accessible chair in the White Clouds – this is the first time I believe this will be available.

    Go back to my original comments – I think you can make good arguments either way on the mechanical issue, and sure, elkhunter, there are inconsistencies, but I agree with those who have said that mountain bikes are NOT congruent with the spirit of the Act, but also that they are clearly a mechanical device that has been correctly disallowed from use in a Wilderness area.

  34. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    Did you mean that anyone can twist a meaning too accomodate their own purposes, because you think this may be an issue where people start getting nitpicky about other outdoor gear?
    Just curious… I think we all know that folks can get very”creative” in their arguments to try and get what they want.

  35. Eric Avatar

    I bike frequently and have taken a few epic distance trips on none other than a mountain bike (though it clearly isn’t the right bike to travel 2000 miles on paved roads). I have never had the urge to bike on trails in mountainous terrain even though I see the attraction of using the gearing and knobby tires on challenging surfaces and getting a workout etc.. I use wilderness for the same reasons others have pointed out above, and never had an inkling to bike through it. You’d miss the whole point that way in my opinion. Mike Post I bet your experience with bikers is pretty representative across the board as it relates to use of wilderness trails. I don’t really think there is much use in reconciling the two.

  36. d. Bailey Hill Avatar

    The author of the article states, “The Wilderness Act doesn’t really ban bicycles.”
    I think that’s absolutely rediculous. A bike is a mechanical object.
    Sure it says “other purposes”, but that does not include a bike , because a bike undeniably mechanical.
    When in doubt ask an engineer, a few engineer’s… including serious bike riding engineers.
    The concensus was a bike is mechanical, and should not be allowed in the wilderness.

  37. Monica Craver Avatar

    Mountain bikes today are no less than unmotorized motorcycles. (If you can count electric mountain bikes as “unmotorized”). The mountain bike advocacy lobby has painted the authorities as “suckers” if they believe mountain bikes are benign to the trails and environment, like hiking, etc.

    In the end we get the forests we deserve, if we continue to coddle the mountain bike lobby groups. They are nothing but a bunch of eco-vandalists and wreakreationalists — no different than your usual brand of ATV’ers and ORV’er wrecreationalist. If you believe other wise, than you have proved PT Barnum right when he said, “There’s a sucker born every minute”.

    Watch the mtb’er videos; read their websites, etc. and try to tell me they care about the wilderness flora and fauna. Not only their riding, but their trail building techniques are invasive. Both the riding and consummate trail and structure building is all part of the rabid mountain bike culture.

    Don’t be taken in by in by the mountain biker advocacy ruse. The preservation of their biker lifestyle comes first. Conservation doesn’t come into the equation. They can be a nasty bunch if you oppose their free-riding lifestyle/cult.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan