Using science to manage bike impacts on environment

With mountain biking enjoying another upsurge in popularity (alongside the boom in 'gravel riding'), attention is turning to using best practice in managing the interactions between the bike and the mountain.

MTB facilities are springing up around the nation, and in many cases drawing much needed visitation and economic activity to regional areas.

But these bushland environments are often sensitive environmentally, and there is always a risk that when not well managed, human activity can spoil the natural places we value so highly.

The mountain biking community is getting on the front foot and making sure that as well as building trails, they're building environmental goodwill.

In a recent development, a bunch of mountain biking scientists in the USA have compiled a document outlining what they know about making friends with the environment.

Here are some points from their FAQ:

In general, studies have shown that there is no statistically significant difference in induced soil erosion, excavation, incision (ruts), and trail widening between biking and hiking, and both are far less impactful than horse riding.

Erosion on trails depends more on trail design, water drainage, levels of use, and soil properties.

The degree of physical impact related to trails is mostly dependent on the trail maintenance regime rather than type of use.

There are a handful of studies that have been conducted over the past couple of decades looking into the comparative physical impacts (e.g. trail compaction/incision, trail widening, soil displacement and erosion) on trails by different user groups. The general conclusions of these studies are that: On properly-built and well-maintained trails there is little to no measurable difference between the relative impacts caused by mountain bikes vs. hikers.

Although there are few quantitative studies on the topic, it is generally accepted that informal/user-built trails tend to experience dramatically elevated rates of degradation due to poor design, management, and construction practices.

Read the succinct document for more good information.

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