Here, reprinted with permission, is IMBA president Mike Van Abel’s full response to the Human Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act proposed by two Utah Senators. As the comments on that post suggest, there’s more to meets the eye. On the surface, the proposal seems to be a win for mountain bikers as it would reshape the language of the Wilderness designation to allow “non-motorized” vehicle use, which is a better descriptor than the current “non-mechanized” verbiage that has led to inconsistent rules being applied from one area to another (but mostly just banning bikes altogether).

The letter is posted on IMBA’s website and directed to IMBA chapter leaders throughout the U.S…

FROM IMBA: This past week, U.S. Senators Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch, both from Utah, introduced Senate Bill 3205, titled The Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Act. For some mountain bikers, especially those in the western states, this Bill could be seen as a dream come true. But for just as many mountain bikers, especially those that are current IMBA members, it also elicits some concerns. And if you are a committed wilderness advocate, the prospect of opening up and amending the 1964 Wilderness Act in any way is your nightmare.

The prospect of people traveling by bicycle in Congressionally designated wilderness is a polarizing issue. And we know empirically, from our recently completed IMBA member survey, that our membership is split nearly right down the middle on this issue. Further, this issue is creating an unproductive divide (where there should be more common ground based on shared values of conservation of our public lands) between the mountain bike community and the longstanding community of wilderness advocates.

It’s plausible that this Bill is the fruit of the cumulative effect of the frustrating loss of access to trails and their landscapes that mountain bikers have enjoyed and cared for as volunteer stewards for decades. And as time marches forward from the original 1964 Wilderness acreage of 9 million to today’s 109 million acres of Congressionally designated Wilderness, the risks of any additional loss of access to mountain biking is sadly a win-lose scenario if the primary tool utilized for conservation of our public lands is Congressionally designated Wilderness.

The good news is there are other conservation tools for which a win-win can be accomplished. These have been pursued by mountain biking advocates and successfully legislated so that mountain biking access is preserved and public land protected in a manner that’s equal to, and often superior to, a Wilderness designation (“superior” in a political/legislative viability sense).

IMBA is pleased to see the issue of access by mountain bike on trails on our public lands rise to this level of a much-needed national conversation. For that, we are grateful to Senators Lee and Hatch for their engagement. However, IMBA is also on record with the strong belief that amending the Wilderness Act comes not only with a risk of unintended consequences, especially political consequences and further polarization of the stewardship and outdoor recreation community, and is unnecessary to preserve mountain bike access while also achieving landscape level conservation. While we commend Senators Lee and Hatch for their interest, we also have deep concerns that there are other agendas that this Bill could facilitate, especially a public land seizure agenda.

As to the merits of S.3205, which was in large part drafted by the Sustainable Trails Coalition, IMBA’s team of government relations staff and advisors will continue to monitor the legislative process, as we do with any draft legislation that has the potential to impact public lands and mountain biking access. This is not new territory for IMBA and our members should rest assured that we will seek the best win-win solutions to preserve mountain biking access while also keeping in mind what’s best for the long term conservation of our nation’s public lands. As with any legislative effort at the federal level, this will likely be a long process and thus the current Bill language will likely change and be amended if, in fact, it gets traction. And getting traction and moving a Bill in the last half of an election year is highly unlikely.

Finally, the current language of S.3205 seeks to redefine bicycling as a “non-motorized” form of transportation. We applaud this. The “mechanized transport” language codified in regulations written for the 1964 Wilderness Act is ill-defined and unnecessarily confusing to many public land managers. The effect of this “mechanized” definition is human-powered bicycles being managed in the same manner as motorized forms of travel. And this land management approach to bicycling on trails has crept beyond wilderness landscapes.

Let me conclude with this reminder – as a chapter leader, you know that mountain biking is no longer some fringe, niche outdoor activity. The romanticized and hyped image of a rider hucking off a cliff, with anti-gravity like flight is not to be misconstrued with the more popular and mainstream activity which is akin to hiking or backpacking, snowshoeing or backcountry skiing, climbing or mountaineering, canoeing, kayaking or rafting. Mountain biking is a low-impact, human-powered, healthy outdoor recreational activity that relies upon access to natural surface trails by people seeking a nature-based experience. Mountain biking helps immerse people in nature and inevitably strengthens their appreciation for and desire to protect wild places. In an increasingly wired and online society, mountain biking is a rapidly growing outdoor activity that provides a vital wellness benefit to an ever more urbanized society. In addition, the sport has become an increasingly important part of the outdoor recreation economy. It is vital to many rural economies that have transitioned from resource extractive industries to one of tourism and a quality of life that attracts residents and “clean” industries. Federal land management agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management, USDA Forest Service and the US Army Corps of Engineers have developed sustainable mountain bike trails nationwide and welcome both local residents and out-of-town guests. Finally, advocates for public lands conservation increasingly understand and recognize the sustainability and environmentally low impact of mountain biking and cooperate with IMBA’s efforts to create, enhance and preserve trail access.


  1. “Further, this issue is creating an unproductive divide (where there should be more common ground based on shared values of conservation of our public lands) between the mountain bike community and the longstanding community of wilderness advocates.”

    So, sounds like IMBA represents Sierra Club, not mountain bikers, right? How exactly kowtowing to hikers will increase MTB access? So far it seems to be doing quite the opposite: huge swaths of land suddenly get designated wilderness and we loose ability to ride there.

    I’m moving my membership to STC.

  2. So tired of the IMBA. My money is with the STC. The IMBA is nothing more than an arm of the Sierra Club disguised as a so called mountain biking advocacy. The IMBA also has big pocket bike companies behind it, who want e-bikes included in the wilderness act change. Don’t fool yourselves, the real Pandora’s box is the IMBA, who is staging their own path with the e-bike dudes. At least the STC didn’t sell out to the e-bike makers.

    By the IMBA’s logic then horses shouldn’t be allowed. What do you think happened there? Horsemen advocated for the wilderness act to allow them in. Horses out or bikes in. Leaving the status quo only benefits those who want to exclude others from participating in just as logical a low impact use of the resource.

    We are talking pedaled bikes here, not some outfitted 4Runner with off road tires and a combustible engine. Let’s not blow this out of proportion.

    IMBA is showing sour grapes once again because they cow towed to the Sierra club and the big bike makers and STC didn’t.

  3. Yes and IMBA did such an outstanding job on the White Clouds and getting their a## handed to them by the various pacs and so forth as they went for a national monument status or whatever they were trying to do there. Keep on the sidelines IMBA and watch more land be turned to wilderness everyday while you figure out what to do. Least someone is trying to change things for the better for the MTB world.

    • A lot of the issues with the wilderness designation is that its the biggest hammer in the public land conservation tool box especially in a era of talk of transferring public lands to the states (so they can be sold). Messing with the wilderness definitions unlocks a lot of protected space to other changes. You have to be wary of any legislation out of Utah, the state has been trying to sue the federal government for control of BLM and forest service land. The American lands council and similar have that hold state in their pocket.

  4. y’all gonna be super bummed if this passes and Sens Lee and Hatch start selling off land?

    they want to. lots of legislators are salivating at the opportunity to start breaking down control of federal lands and placing them in the (extremely corrupt, like WAY more corrupt than at the fed level. less scrutiny) hands of state lawmakers and executives.

    don’t be so selfish as to automatically put your support into an initiative that might grant you some more access for your own recreation at the expense of losing protected lands to mining and forestry interests.

  5. 1) IMBA is still better than USA Cycling. At least IMBA does advocacy and builds trails.
    2) Sh*tty letter because a) there’s no position being taken and b) there’s no ask.
    3) IMBA isn’t in bed with the Sierra Club. They cooperate whenever Congress threatens to defund the Recreational Trails Program, and neither was to share with ATVs, but that’s it. The Sierra Club represents hikers, birders, and horses. The SC is at best ambivalent about biking whether on road or off road.
    4) The Utah Senators are no friends of mountain biking so WTF is going on here? If you are calling IMBA dupes of the Sierra Club, then I can just as call STC dupes of the oil/gas/mineral extraction industries.

      • The “catch” is that this bill will set a precedence. If passed it will show that states can determine local use regulations for federal lands including wilderness areas. The “mechanized” use description is vague because the end goal is to get ATV/off road use opened up in Utah on federal lands. The bill has nothing to do with bicycles, other than the fact that the senators know that the cycling crowd is emotional and likely to throw their support in for this without doing their homework. Hopefully we won’t act as pawns.

  6. Like everyone else I was skeptical when the two Senators proposing this bill were named. However, no matter how many ways I read it I can’t see the “catch” with the bill. Unless they think opening up talking about wilderness amendments will lead to bigger things, or they plan to combine the STC bill with some other bill, or throw in a “gotcha” bit to the bill at the last second as so often happens in Congress.

    However, until one of those things shows up, I think we have to take it on face value no? Has anyone actually asked one of the Senators why they are doing this or what this does in their bigger picture sceme? It is possible they just agreed to go forward with this little bill?

  7. +1 at Bikemark. This legislation isn’t particularly trustworthy at this point. But IMBA could do a better job of clarifying its stance.

  8. I know that there are a lot of people who do not trust Senators Lee and Hatch to have mountain biker’s interests truly in mind, and perhaps they do not. However, to play devil’s advocate, consider that Utah is already a hot bed of activity for mountain biking. Several large bike companies have warehouses or headquarters in Utah.

    Utah has hosted national mountain bike races, and is currently home to the biggest international freeride event of the year. On top of that, the state has multiple bike parks, and hundreds of trails across the state that bring in tourism dollars from around the world. (for example, DH legend Steve Peat just spent two weeks or so in Park City, Utah.) Many of those trails can be used for back country bike packing, which is the form of biking most likely to be used in the wilderness area, so long as the intent of the wilderness act remains in place.

    As far as mountain biking and mountain bike access is concerned, Utah’s interests and economy is best served by keeping current mtb access and expanding it if possible. Perhaps it is because the mountain bike industry is a noticeably sized piece of Utah’s economy, and an even bigger part of Utah citizens “recreation quiver” that Lee and Hatch have decided to take up this issue. Perhaps they recognize that their constituents wish to see mountain bikes have a chance to be a part of the wilderness.

    • You may be right Patrick, (about money being their motive), BUT… that may not necessarily be a reason to oppose this. It’s impossible to really know what their motives are, but looking at the size of the bike industry in Utah and the amount of money it brings in I would guess that it’s quite likely that the politicians involved see a financial and political up side to supporting the biking community and industry.

  9. I’m sorry if this sounds biased or stereotyped, but I don’t trust politicians, and I don’t trust many Democrats, but I REALLY don’t trust Republicans, or Utah Republicans. I do not trust this seemingly innocent piece of legislation. They’re up to something–there’s money or something going on behind the scenes. No way do two Utah Republicans suddenly have the best interests of the mountain bikers at heart.

    Don’t trust this. Leave the wilderness–and the wilderness it actually protects– in the Wilderness Act. Those senators have something nefarious in mind. They’re not do-gooders. Somewhere, somehow, they’re trying to make a buck off of this.

    • Patrick, I pretty much feel the same as you but the post above yours makes good sense. MTB is a big part of the recreational pie in UT. Many voters in SLC, Moab, Park City, St George….. probably support this bill. Politicians do whatever it takes to maintain power. It seems logical that Lee and Hatch would see this as a way to gain some votes. I’m sure they would both like to gut the wilderness act if they could, and maybe this is a trojan horse, but that doesn’t mean we can’t benefit from their attempt. Their bill looks great to me, and I don’t see it going further in a bad way even if that’s their end goal. I’m willing to believe they are just chasing support in a state with a large per capita outdoor recreation population. If they are up to no good I’m confident they won’t be able to gut the wilderness act anyway.

  10. Two very successful career politicians who share affiliations to very specific politically aligned groups, who have a track record of supporting some questionable bills (and not just the one allowing stable radio active material to be stored in Utah), who have no personal connection to cycling – yes, they’re doing it for the benefit of all mankind, a shinning example of altruism.

  11. IMBA has made their bed with the Sierra Club and others. There is an opportunity here that we cannot miss out on. Managed properly this legislation allows local FS Management to decide that bikes and wheelbarrows/chainsaws can be allowed, nothing else. Pretty dam simple.

  12. It’s interesting that no one seems to pointing to a flaw in the actual proposed legislation–you know, the thing drafted by STC. I don’t see a Trojan horse inside it, and IMBA hasn’t pointed one out. All we are getting is conspiracy theories.

    Sure, someone could try to amend the STC bill in an effort to gut the wilderness act. Those same people could do the same thing tomorrow by introducing another piece of legislation. Doesn’t mean that sort of thing will pass.

    From here on out, my donation dollars are going to STC and my local advocacy group.

  13. Show us where the STC’s bill has wording saying land will be sold off. I’ve read it and it does not. Yes, quit trusting but make sure you quit trusting IMBA and naysayers on scare tactics w/ no substance. This bill has substance to potentially open up wilderness to bikepacking which 1000% better then horses. Let’s pay a permit to go into the wilderness and start fixing trails for everyone… including horse who destroy the trails and shit all over them. I donated a long time ago.

  14. 1. Don’t be a pawn in the Utah vs. Feds land battle.

    2. Do you really think the U.S. Senate has your personal biking interests at heart?
    Those politicians have already sold you out on this deal, with their ulterior motives.
    When your prized designated “Wilderness” gets sold to some rich a-hole, you & your bike are OUT. Permanently.

  15. Keep that land ownership federal. Giving or selling control to state, local or private interests is going to be bad for mountain bike and all other public access over time.

  16. that letter is barely readable. IMBA, pls just say what you mean…you’re getting ripped here in the comments. If it can’t be plainly stated, might not be worth saying anything.

  17. I am befuddled by this all business if not trusting these two senators. I read the bill and it’s very narrow in scope. All it does is give us access to the thousand of miles of trails we lost to bad regulations. The Trojan horse theory is chicken little fear mongering.

  18. Sorry, but one large scale mineral extraction operation will produce more revenue for Utah (or any other state) in one month than the entire cycling industry would in years. Pretending that Lee and Hatch wouldn’t sell cyclists down the river after getting their hands on formerly federal lands is a pipe dream.

  19. Criminy, does this guy get paid by the word?! Eight long paragraphs and I still dot know if IMBA supports or opposes the bill. Just a lot of weaselly “it’s complicated” crap.

    • I am a Utah mountain biker and I wholly support this bill. The major reason for this are wilderness groups continue to remove mountain bikers from wilderness study areas (not Wilderness) across the west, trails that have been ridden for over 20 years. A great example of this is the loss of thousands of miles of trails in western Montana in areas that are not wilderness but wilderness study areas like the Lions Head. Montana used to be a great place to ride, now it is not. Another example is the Boulder White Clouds in Idaho. One of, if not the biggest user group of this trail system before last year was mountain bikers, now it is not. A second reason is this bill is narrow, they are not selling off these lands or changing in any way its wilderness status, it is about changing the definition of what mechanized travel is. With the increased popularity of bike packing it would greatly expand opportunities to link up longer distance single track rides. An example is the Great Divide trail, instead of routing around wilderness, route through some wilderness. Again more recreation. The third reason is that it opens up access decisions to local land managers. A number of trails border between wilderness and non-wilderness, at this time there seems to be little guidance on whether these are trails are off limits to bikes or not, land managers err on the side of wilderness and bikes are banned. In short, if you wish to have more back country access to beautiful places then support this bill. We first lost access to trails in Montana, now Idaho, and soon parts of Utah. You will lose access in your state sooner or later if we don’t fight this now. If you want the continued loss of mountain bike access to your public lands support IMBA, if you don’t then support STC.

  20. I’m proud to be a sock-wearing member of IMBA.

    A) The bill isn’t narrow. It doesn’t even mention biking: it says all forms of human-powered transportation. So biking, party rafting (nothing wrong w/ that where allowed), whatever.

    B) Hatch and Lee want to set a precedent for amending the Wilderness Act, which no one’s tried to do for a long time. Setting that precedent would embolden other, equally crazy, prolly equally Utahn, senators to break out the red pens.

    C) Development harms wildlife, so adding a user group with all the attendant facilities, traffic, and shuttles, etc., can only hurt. Wilderness designation is meant to protect land and wildlife. We have plenty of trails w/out breaking into the miniscule portion of land (theoretically) managed for the benefit of nature.

  21. I also didn’t see any appropriation of funds in there, so the increased trail maintenance necessary’s going to be paid for with magic, I guess?

  22. Ah IMBA, the for profit non profit.

    All you imba members keep in mind most of your “donations” line Van Abel’s pockets.

  23. Bill is narrow. Maintenance would be better and more efficient with chainsaws too. Read the bill before spreading false rumors.

  24. Here’s why you can’t trust them: God KNOWS what money/other interests they accepted and are now acting on behalf of. Money and favors and graft and the Utah outdoor industry? Coupled with a strong right-wing hatred of the Federal government? That’s a recipe for trouble. Just because you don’t see the trojan horse doesn’t men it’s not there. If it’s too good to be true, it should be dismissed. Don’t trust this.

    • This could be said about everything federal, state and local governments do. They are all corrupt by their very nature and this bills sponsors are no different. However, rather then speculating please point out the bad/concerning language in the bill so we can possibly change it. It’s a shame this bill is receiving so little support due to it’s republican sponsors when it could be a rare win for mountain bike access.

  25. IMBA can’t make up their minds “Sierra Club-Mountain Biking” I guess my money is going to go to the STC. There is finally a bill before congress and IMBA will not put its full backing behind it, what ashamed. I have been a member for almost 20 years waiting to see this happen and now they side more with the Sierra Club. See Ya

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