Wilderness B = Wilderness with Bikes

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This new Wilderness B = Wilderness with Bikes is starting to take off, like Snake Hawk’s VDB has a posse movement.  I first came across it on the Facebook, and slowly have been able to see it gather some steam.  From what I can tell this gang of intelligent people, are all about modifications to pre-existing Wilderness restrictions, so that bicycle recreation could take place within Wilderness boundaries.  While this is not a new concept, I dig what they are all about, and suggest you give them a quick view, and maybe hop on board.  While IMBA and other Bicycle Advocacy groups have been on board with this concept for a while, the more organized groups the better.  Having seen the shitstorm that went down this past April when Montana mountain bikers lost over 150 miles of singletrack because of “solitude”, I’m of the opinion that the more organized groups working around the country for this common goal, the better.  Remember, if it can happen in one state, it can happen in the other 49.

IMG_2800Less signs like this….

IMG_3693More like this

A March 2010 article from Outside Magazine summed it up nicely, what almost all mountain bikers go through when they start to think about planning some rides in wilderness areas:

Through years of misinformation, mountain bikes have gotten lumped in with ATVs, snowmobiles, and other maligned vehicles by people citing environmental concerns. But on several different metrics—erosion, runoff, soil compaction, loss of vegetation—study after study has found the trail impact of mountain bikers to be equal to or less than that caused by hikers, and far less than equestrians. A 2006 study by the National Park Service concluded that “Horse and ATV trails are significantly more degraded than hiking and biking trails…[T]he proportion of trails with severe erosion…is 24% for ATV trails, 9% for horse trails, 1.4% for hiking trails and 0.6% for bike trails.”

Of course, the authors of the Wilderness Act never meant to ban any of these. A 2004 review of the legislation by a staff attorney for California’s Supreme Court found that “Congress did not intend for the Act to prohibit human-powered transport…Accordingly, the regulations of the Forest Service…prohibiting mountain bike use in Wilderness require reevaluation.”

In fact, bikes weren’t even banned until 1984, when the U.S. Forest Service refined regulations prohibiting their use. Depending on whose boundaries they overlap, Wilderness areas come under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, or Bureau of Land Management. When the Forest Service moved against bikes, the other agencies followed.

Since we all got our two cents about bikes in the wilderness (and I plan to provide you with mine), I will also give you my background as far as Wilderness goes.  I spent the Summer of 2003 living in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in Idaho and Montana.  I don’t know the exact numbers as far as its size, but it’s pretty fucking big as far as Wilderness goes in the lower 48.  I spent the better part of 12 weeks “working” for the Forest Service doing an inventory of noxious weeds, slept out under the starts, bathed in rivers, picked wild huckleberries, all the shit that an 18 year old who was raised in New Jersey should do at some point in their young life.

Prior to packing up my car and heading out west, I tried to get an idea of the mountain biking that I’d get to do in the Selway.  Government regulation then came forth and smacked me in the face, I would not be riding my bike in the Selway that summer.  Pay no attention to the men at that ourfitter camp loading up a string of pack mules with their camping gear, then getting on their horses so they could head off into the woods to go shoot bears, you on your bike is a greater threat to the overall ecological health of the wilderness.  As a mountain biker am i biased regarding this topic?  Yes I am, but that doesnt mean the cause I support is not some combination of reasonable and correct.

With that, if you are in favor of changes and modifications to the rules that are presently enforced regarding this topic, I suggest you go take a look at Wilderness B = Wilderness with Bikes, if you are on Facebook, go ahead and show your support by liking them.  The more people who get on board with this movement, get organized, educate people who do not have all the facts, practice safe multi-use trail use, the more likely it would be for mountain biking to be allowed in designated Wilderness areas.  With that I will leave you with a final image of why bikes should be allowed in the Wilderness.  This comes from the Black Bicycle Corps which in 1897 rode from Fort Missoula to St. Louis.  Montana in the late 1800’s is pretty close to a wilderness if you ask me, and here you have people riding bikes, looks like something that should be allowed again.

Picture 1

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About 40 Hands

A fan of riding bikes with one gear, malt liquor, riding without knowing how many miles I’ve covered, and strip clubs that let you bring your own keg. I typically have a stupid grin on my face, it is because deep down I know that no matter what, my mom thinks I’m cool. Denver, Colorado, USA

20 thoughts on “Wilderness B = Wilderness with Bikes

  1. nice post, 40. and i am totally down with wilderness b. for my whole life i have seen the effects here in Colorado of “wilderness c”- the current scheme that allows cattles (and sheeps) to graze and trample the piss out of the same “wilderness” areas that bikes are excluded from accessing at all.
    lots of old, romanticized western stereotypes need to fall. government subsidized, private enterprise grazing on public wilderness lands is, in reality, nothing more than welfare for ranchers.
    so git them doggies off the goddamned singletrack already. we have some bikes coming though.

    and just where the hell is the local tea party weighing in on all of this, btw? hmmm

  2. …great article…excellent perspective…

    …in the early days of mountain biking here in marin county/norcal, we, as cyclist’s encountered amazing resistance from locals because despite there being a lotta open space in a fairly populated area, the old school horse set represented that old-time local wealth & those folks influenced even their friends who didn’t ride…

    …we, as the new kids on the block were seen as just a little too different, what with being out there enjoying a freedom through mtb’s that made all that open space much more accessible & somehow it was originally twisted about that mtb’s caused more erosion problems than horses…

    …now, that’s a ridiculous argument but public perspective being what it is, the horse set was glad to let that obvious lie be accepted as truth because it served their purpose of keeping ‘their’ domain exclusive to themselves & the hikers…

    …fortunately wiser minds prevailed on that particular issue but there is more contention, to this day, here in what is considered to be “the home of mountain biking” than pretty much anywhere else i’ve ever heard about in the lower 48…

  3. Virginia Tech did a study at Big South Fork state Park a few years ago on the impact of different user groups. They proved that bicycles have less of an impact than hikers… never mind the troughs horses cause.

  4. Excellent essay, Mr. 40. All is not quite crystal clear, however. For a few years, the ski resort where my cabin sits offered lift-assisted mountain biking. Turns out the “free ride” crowd couldn’t stay on the designated trails, trashed the meadows (which have about an eight-week growing season each summer), and the USFS had to shut it all down.

    From what I have read, mountain bikes should indeed be allowed in the Wilderness on a trail-by-trail basis. For instance, here in the Pacific Northwest, most Wilderness trails are steep and muddy and don’t hold up well to downhill bike travel. (Don’t get me started on what horses do.) In other places, “buff singletrack” would make awesome, low-impact mountain biking. The obvious problem is, who decides? How is it signed? It could be confusing and difficult to enforce.

    Oh, and the tea baggers? They think that Wilderness itself amounts to librul gubmint trampling on ranchers’ god-given rats to profit by overgrazing public land. Morons.

  5. Great post 40. The word needs to get out. Last time I was backpacking in the Three Sisters Wilderness outside of Bend, OR, I was blown away at the copious amounts of horse shit on the trail. If bikes cause more harm than 1000lb shit beasts then Lance is clean….

  6. Killer, 40. I’m somewhat surprised to know that beyond the Congressional Wilderness Act that outlawed any “mechanized” access to Wilderness, bicycles were outlawed at a later date – 1984 e(coinicdentaly the same year that Van Halen began to suck). This makes me wonder if a revision will be “easier” since the exclusion of bicycles in wilderness was defined by the forest service at that later time?

    Mikey, if one needs to ride in a truck to get to the top of the mountain, they shouldn’t be included in any Wilderness-B idea. Shuttler’s can keep their fun to the limited areas already established for them. Although I have a few friends in the valley that shuttle, I generally believe that if you can’t earn your turns, you shouldn’t get them.

  7. Gnomer, you’ve hit on a critical but subtle point.

    I would tend to agree that XC riders, who get maybe a few thousand feet of vert in a day (gasp), cause less damage per rider than cup-wearing, sick fuck freeriders dropping ten foot rocks on 50-pound bicycles.

    The freeride scene at Whistler is mind boggling. It’s the one thing in this world that makes me wish I was thirty years younger. And the kids stay on the trails, apparently. In the back country maybe it makes more sense to make guys earn ’em.

    But is this too subtle to manage in real life? What’s to stop guys from shuttling to the top of some Pass and dropping in?

  8. 40 – I’m not sure you’re reading this correctly.

    The Wilderness B Facebook page reads:

    “Wilderness B – a movement to create awareness among elected officials of the need to update public land protection’s acknowledged historical gold standard by creating a sister designation that provides ALL of Wilderness’s protections, yet allows bicycles.”

    As I read it, wilderness b is proposed as an ADDITIONAL, SISTER category of wilderness that allows bikes. But you’re post talks about “modifying pre-existing wilderness restrictions.”

    Those are two totally different ideas.

    One idea involves a new category of wilderness, and would necessitate designating new protected (wilderness b) areas that are in addition to and would not affect the management of existing wilderness areas. The other idea would simply change the existing wilderness definition and management.

    Though it’s riddled with complexity, I suspect a broad constituency could be built around the former conception of wilderness b in many places; but changing existing definition of wilderness would be dead in the water.

  9. Either way, mountain bikers need to practice leave no trace ethics or it will all go away. Wilderness A,B or C. If you are in Wilderness, pack it out. Hands down. Pack it out. You are in the most pristine territory left in the U.S. Respect it.

  10. Taylor,
    In my haste to get this written and paraphrasing the information from the Wilderness B page my apologies for any inaccuracies I have presented. While not falling into the “six of one, half dozen of the other” distinction, to me creating a “sister category of wilderness that allows bikes” is making modifications to the restrictions that are currently in place for wilderness areas. I could be wrong about this, those who know me are well aware that this would not be the first time I was wrong. In the end my overall message is still the same, lets get organized and try to make some changes so that mountain biking is allowed in wilderness areas. Once again my apologies for any inaccuracies which I presented, and thanks for pointing them out.

  11. @ Mikey #7, It would be wilderness-b designation that prohibits motorized access, but allows mechanized access, I think.

    My concept of wilderness-b is that it would be a gray area “demilitarized zone” that bleeds across the border of public land and wilderness, such as here in Flagstaff, where cyclists can ride up waterline (prior to the burn this summer, anyway) while cars cannot access that same road. At the top of the road however, a cyclist can go no further, but a hiker or equine can due to wilderness regulation.

  12. Thank you for the information. I’m with you on this one. I think that hikers and equestrians want the trails free of mountain bikers because some bikers are scary and ride too fast and scare the horses.
    The motocross people that have a libertarian bent want to be able to take their stinking 2 stroke ‘bikes’ everywhere without restriction… in the wilderness, national parks, etc… They are voting.

  13. Before ’84 we bicycled in wilderness areas legally. After that we were outlawed, and only the ranchers with their pickups, their cattle, and dozens of pack trains remained. Wilderness B sounds reasonable, but reason has nothing to do with the definition of “wilderness” in America. It is all about the entrenched interests of ranchers, horsemen, and hikers. They want that land for themselves, and will fight to keep it. If bicyclists become more politically powerful, we may eventually prevail. But considering the horse is a national icon like the gun and apple pie, it won’t be easy!

  14. Mr. Taylor speaks well when he makes the distinction between creating a new type of Wilderness (“B”) and changing the existing “non-mechanized” Wilderness verbiage.

    The former would be a bit like my trail-by-trail notion. The latter has other dangers— the sled heads would have us believe they aren’t “mechanized” because they “don’t touch the ground.” Absurd on the face of it, but as Mr. littlejar points out, they vote and they buy politicians. And they stink up Yellowstone NP. The sled heads have (in my opinion) been the primary opponents to Wilderness designation (such as the successful Wild Sky, which they opposed) here in the Pacific Northwest.

    As I’ve said before, these are subtle but critical distinctions. My opinion is that IMBA (and locally, the BBTC) have been a little too quick to side with moto and sled head interests in the name of “access.”

    Wilderness [sic] is a very important idea. Disclaimer: I am an Advocate-level supporter of The Wilderness Society (TWS), an inside-the-beltway, public lands policy advocacy group.

    Leave only footprints, take only photos.

  15. We are having this argument/discussion here in Portland, with folks clamoring for more mountain bike singletrack in Forest Park — an old-growth forest butt-up against the cith of Portland that is home to some significant endangered plant/animal species also protects part of the Bull Run Watershed (from which much of Portland gets its drinking water). So far, City Council has told the mountain bikers to be happy with the 3 tenths of a mile of singletrack they’ve been “given” thus far — there won’t be anymore forthcoming for awhile:


    Comments pretty much run the gamut, from “I don’t care, I just want to ride” types to folks with more nuanced responses.

  16. @Beth- Seems to me like the barrier with Forest Park is that it’s near really rich people’s backyards.

  17. Love the blog here. Nice colors. I am definitely staying tuned to this one. Hope to see more.