Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Mountain Biking Works

        Adventure | Biking

Environmental Impacts of Mountain Biking
Preserve the environment for others' enjoyment by staying on the trail.
Preserve the environment for others' enjoyment by staying on the trail.
Scott Markewitz/Getty Images

With all the fun and other benefits that mountain biking has to offer, many people will be surprised at how much controversy surrounds this sport. Critics argue that bikers can negatively influence the local environment. Some suggest that the environmental impacts of mountain biking may outweigh the benefits, particularly in terms of trail erosion. This erosion increases storm water runoff, destroys habitats and ruins the trails for other bikers, hikers and runners. Others worry that the behavior of the reckless mountain biker is also affecting trails. These critics suggest that as riders look for new challenges, they cut into preserved lands and damage plant-life and local habitats.

Fortunately, dozens of independent studies on mountain biking and the environment, many of which are published on the International Mountain Bicycling Association's (IMBA) Web site, refute these claims. A June 2003 report posted on Wildlands CPR.com cited several different studies that found no difference between hiking and biking in terms of environmental impact [source: Lathrop]. A March 2007 study posted on the National Trails Training Partnership Web site concludes that "mountain biking is no more damaging than other forms of recreation, including hiking." This same study reported that mountain biking has far less of an impact than equestrian activities [source: Sprung].

The IMBA maintains a strong focus on protecting trails so that future generations of riders can enjoy biking at its finest. IMBA has partnered with the Sierra Club in some areas to help balance preservation needs with building and maintaining bike trails.

To protect the environment as you bike, follow the IMBA's Rules of the Trail:

  1. Ride only on open trails.
  2. Leave no trace.
  3. Control your bicycle.
  4. Yield to others.
  5. Never scare animals.
  6. Plan ahead.

These basic rules will not only help protect the environment, but will also help to build strong relationships among hikers, bikers, equestrians and other trail users [source: IMBA].

If you see a problem while on the trails, take a few minutes to help maintain the trail for other riders. To cover a muddy or wet spot, lay sticks in a criss-cross pattern across the ground. This quick fix can last for a full month or more, and will minimize erosion and protect the future of the trail. If you see a spot where riders are frequently cutting off the trail for any reason, try blocking this area with rocks or a pile of sticks and debris. This will help keep bikers on the planned trails and protect local wildlife and plants. Finally, if you see an obstacle on the trail that may require riders to take a detour, stop and remove the obstacle as best as you can to make it safe for other riders. This will also help keep bikers from veering off the trail to by-pass the obstacle [source: Adams].