What is the actual environmental impact of trail building & mountain bike riding. What social impact does mountain biking have on a community? The Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz (MBOSC) wanted to know more, so their Science Committee took a comprehensive look at existing research to summarize the impacts of mountain biking. Their motivation was first to look at impacts in their own community, but publishing their findings in a summary handbook and FAQ section on their website provides a valuable resource that all trail building & trail riding advocates can benefit from.
MBOSC review of the impacts of mountain biking
The product of a year of comprehensive research by the MBOSC Science Committee, the Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz have just released their summary Mountain Biking Impact Review.
The Review addresses the most frequently asked questions concerning social and environmental impacts of mountain biking and trail construction. Focusing on Santa Cruz County in the report, the issues are relevant everywhere mountain biking is popular. By taking a deeper & objective look at the societal & environmental impacts of mountain biking, cyclists can better understand the issues surrounding shared access, and work constructively towards advocating for improvements & expansion of mountain bike trail access.
The entire process started in Oct 2017 when the Science Committee was established following internal MBOSC discussions about how to take advantage of one mountain biking member’s soils science research in an effort to inform responsible trail construction, maintenance & stewardship. It grew from there to address a broader range of impacts, with the committee composed of scientists, mountain bikers, hikers, and environmentalists. Surveying published scientific research on the relationships of recreational trails and their mix of users, they looked at impacts relative to hydrology & geology, plants & wildlife, and to social issues.
“These questions are relevant wherever mountain biking is popular,” said Science Committee member Emma Kelsey, a wildlife biologist. “We believe the questions we addressed provide explanations for the most common concerns regarding the social and environmental impacts of mountain biking and trail construction.”
“We have heard a wide variety of opinions on the impacts of mountain biking over the years ranging from mountain bikes being benign to mountain bikes being the scourge of the earth. We felt the need to become the experts on the subject which has led us to this review,” said MBOSC Executive Director, Matt De Young. “We believe MBOSC members and the general public could benefit from a better understanding of the science behind trail construction and mountain biking environmental impacts.”
Some noted findings in the Review:
- In general, studies show no statistically significant difference in induced soil erosion, excavation, ruts, and trail widening between hiking and biking, and both are less impactful than horse riding.
- On properly built and well-maintained trails, no measurable difference is seen between the relative impacts caused by mountain biker vs. hikers.
- User-created trails are unplanned and don’t undergo the rigorous environmental review and design that modern, sanctioned official trails do.
- Impacts on wildlife are similar whether the human interaction is by hikers, bikers, or equestrians. Some animals were found to be less likely to be disturbed by bikers than other types of trail users.
- Birds tend to be more adversely affected when users make frequent stops along a trail or when they make more noise.
- Unsanctioned trails are not isolated to mountain bikers and are often a symptom of an unmet need for legitimate trail use options.
The product of the MBOSC Review is an online resource for mountain biking trail advocates to understand and address frequently discussed topics. For each topic, the summary also includes best practice suggestions of how mountain bike riders can minimize their impact on the trails themselves, the surrounding wildlife, and other trail users. The FAQ report is available in a website format or a single downloadable PDF report from MBOSC.