The Angry Singlespeeder: Stop the bleeding of mountain bike access

If you care about continued rights to ride trails, now is the time to act

Opinion
Idaho’s alpine Alp d’Huez – Castle Peak. Photo by Lars Guy

Idaho’s alpine Alp d’Huez – Castle Peak (click to enlarge). Photo by Lars Guy

If you haven’t already heard the news, nearly 600,000 acres of public land in Idaho just became federally protected Wilderness, meaning no more access for certain human-powered transport such as mountain bikes. The Boulder-White Clouds is one of Idaho’s most treasured areas and has been legal for human-powered recreation for generations, until now. This is just the latest addition to a broken system that selectively excludes tax paying citizens from more than 100 million acres of federal Wilderness, ultimately reducing the quality and upkeep of the trails in those “protected” areas.

These pristine views of the East Fork of the Salmon River would be off limits if a new Wilderness provision passes in Idaho. Photo by Ed Cannady

These pristine views of the East Fork of the Salmon River would be off limits if a new Wilderness provision passes in Idaho (click to enlarge). Photo by Ed Cannady

To help stop the bleeding of trail access, the Sustainable Trails Coalition is on a mission to raise upwards of $100,000 to help fix America’s trail system. The current federal policies in place – like the Wilderness Act – are well intended, yet flawed. A blanket ban on bicycles is a discriminatory blockage on one of the fastest growing groups of human-powered trail users in this country.

In a time where childhood obesity is at an all-time high and where mountain towns struggle to maintain tourism-based economies, any legislation that excludes human-powered transport from public lands hurts U.S. citizens, and hurts the trails we’re allegedly trying to protect, as less usage means less maintenance, and ultimately, a trail disappearing for good.

wheelbarrow
 
Not even wheelbarrows are allowed in federally protected Wilderness, making trail maintenance extremely difficult (click to enlarge). Photo courtesy Sustainable Trails Coalition

Adding to the hypocrisy, under current laws, federal land managers aren’t even able to use basic maintenance tools like chainsaws or wheelbarrows to maintain trails in Wilderness areas. The very laws that were created to allegedly protect public lands are the same laws preventing them from being used and maintained.

The STC is not trying to turn a blanket ban into a blanket permit, but instead change the current regulations that were created more than 50 years ago when America’s population was a fraction of what it is today. There are certain places where human-powered recreation isn’t a good idea, but there are literally millions of acres of land where activities such as mountain biking are the most ideal and efficient means of human-powered recreation and transportation.

Times have changed, and rigid, inflexible and antiquated laws that forbid low-impact outdoor recreation on public lands need to change as well. Every American citizen has a right to enjoy human-powered recreation in their own way without the government or special interest groups creating blanket bans on how we choose to enjoy our public lands.

Continue to page 2 to read why the Angry Singlespeeder wants you to donate to the STC now »

About the author: Kurt Gensheimer

Kurt Gensheimer thinks the bicycle is man’s most perfect invention. He firmly believes ‘singlespeed’ is a compound word. He sometimes wears a disco ball helmet. He is also known as Genshammer. He is a Gemini and sleeps outside in a hammock.


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  • tyrebyter says:

    The Wilderness Act isn’t a policy; it’s a law. And oddly enough, it does not prohibit bicycles. That is done by USDA regulation and therein lies the problem.

  • Tom says:

    So much of the intent of laws gets futzed up by often not at all well-meaning bureaucrats, when they take a law, and turn it into regualtions.

    It’s time to stop this. I’m a longtime member of IMBA, and they utterly failed in the White Clouds. It’s time to respect the idea of another approach. I’ll be donating to STC.

    Thanks, ASS, for bringing this to light. Beat the jungle drums, and talk to your fellow journalists. There should be a feature article about this on every similar mtb website.

  • Tman says:

    Even Ted Stroll says that this effort may not provide any results. Basically you are just flushing your money down the toilet. To fully understand this issue you guys need to read my blog here: http://tisfortrails.blogspot.com/2015/07/an-in-depth-look-at-mountain-biking-on.html

  • Angry Singlespeeder says:

    Tman –

    “…moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” – Barry Goldwater

    Could the STC fail? Yes.
    Could the STC succeed? Yes.

    Anything in life worthwhile involves risk. I’m willing to back an effort that could fail, because it could also be a huge victory.

    And to your discussion on the PCT – until 1988, the Forest Service in D.C. never felt a need to cut off bicycle access to the PCT. It was a non-issue…that is until the predecessor to the PCTA continued to nag the Secretary of Agriculture to ban mountain bikes for whatever selfish reasons. Since D.C. had no intention of doing it, three Forest Service Regional Foresters in the West (clearly in cahoots with the PCTA predecessor) signed their own directive to close the PCT to bike access with no opportunity for public notice or comment. In short, this was a regulation, not a federal order, and seen by many including the PCTRI as illegal. According to the PCTRI, two of the three Regional Foresters who signed the directive are still living and have told the PCTRI they would support removing the ban. But perhaps you already knew all of this.

    - ASS

    • AC says:

      It’s guaranteed to fail if the effort isn’t made. ASS, You’ve written a lot of columns of questionable value IMO, this isn’t one of them. Well done.

  • guy smiley says:

    “The very laws that were created to allegedly protect public lands are the same laws preventing them from being used and maintained.” Put biking aside and keep driving deeper… that’s exactly the point these fanatical wilderness yahoos are trying to make….no human intervention eventually means no human access. The access problem is extreme conservationism.

  • Murray Hann says:

    Folks,
    I fully support what the STC is attempting to do here. As has been pointed out, it is actually an interpretation of a rule (within the Law) that currently forbids mountain bikes. Mountain bikes were allowed for many years, when the rule was interpreted as “no motorized vehicles” (and “no motors” unless utilized in management activities). The rule was “re interpreted” after the Sierra Club lobbied the agency to specifically eliminate mountain bikes from all wilderness areas. They wanted these areas reserved only to their members. For years, the Sierra Club maintained 10 fundamental tenets of the club, one of which was “elimination of all mountain biking from public lands”. This is despite federal studies showing mountain bikes do similar or less overall damage to the environment as walkers (and 160X less damage than horses,… which are allowed in wilderness areas. A 1500 lb non-native animal with steel shoes is OK,… 30 psi rubber tired bikes are not…).

    I am not sure how STC can succeed without somehow making peace with the Sierra Club (which is governed by over-the-top environmental extremists).

  • Steve says:

    Just out of curiosity, what is the penalty for riding a bike on a closed section of the PCT or in the wilderness? I have always respected trail closures but am about ready to just ride the trails and pay the damn fine. I have been supporting IMBA for over 25 years and it is not working. I am going to grow too old to ride before IMBA effects any change. I gave $100 to the STC as money talks in Washington. It is worth a shot.

  • skinewmexico says:

    I truly don’t understand why horses get magic status in Wilderness areas. But I don’t see the priorities given the family farm either.

  • JD Svoboda says:

    Lots of good comments here. Horses are favored for reasons of history, pace and perceived wealth/maturity/influence of participants. For this issue, as well as E-bikes, we need to employ K.I.S.S., and be 100% consistent, to sell it politically:

    “ANIMAL POWERED”

    If it is animal powered, it should be permitted, if not, then not. Horses are NOT indigenous to North America, so they do not necessarily belong in the wilderness any more than a person on a bike. Commercial outfitters really do not belong, but I understand such is tough to enforce and there is a lot of grey area. The “mechanized” term is also fraught with potential grey areas.
    At what point does a saddle become a machine?
    What if it incorporates gyros and actuators to provide a small amount of suspension?
    What about a horse with an artificial limb or two? What if they incorporated power?
    Who determined long ago that a traditional saddle is not already a mechanism? The U.S. Patent Office would most certainly consider it a mechanism.

    The point is that the rules should make common sense, not focus on where certain types of technology are today, and should apply universally as much as possible. It would simply be fair and logical. Obviously certain trails and areas are completely inappropriate for bikes, just as some are for horses (and Yosemite Valley is for vehicles, as John Muir famously observed 100+ years ago). When was the last time an equestrian group had a trail building day in your area? Could they reasonably be viewed as the “takers” of back-country society?

    Animal muscle power is likely to be a pretty good guideline for a very long time. Let’s consistently drive that message home.

  • Tman says:

    Hey Angry,

    That predecessor of the PCTA that you posted about was the Pacific Crest Trail Advisory Council, a Committee authorized by Congress to figure out the details of
    the PCT. The reason the Forest Service in DC decided not to do anything about the bikes on the PCT issue was that it was a west coast issue, so let them handle it. And PCTRI keeps saying that order is illegal, well at least they did. It’s so illegal that they decided not to challenge it in court, and now they are saying it might be legal. Plus, who reported that the 2 of the foresters supports lifting the ban, was it Outside Magazine? MTBR.com, No, it was PCTRI itself. I think I’d rather have an independent journalist report that story. You gotta stop drinking the PCTRI koolaid.

  • Capt.OGG says:

    Land of the free must be one of the most regulated countries regarding land access. So sad.

  • C says:

    I stopped obeying trail mandates years ago. There is nothing sound about the whole issue. It always comes down to who knows who and those who do not like ‘bikes’ on trails always seem to get their way when they make any real attempt at removing trail rights from the biking community. I pay zero attention to ‘no access to bikers’ signs. I ride everything and anything I feel inclined to ride. I’ve been chased a few times too, and at no time have I EVER been caught by these idiots in trucks. Not once. Ever since my favorite trails were ‘absconded’ by the horse and hiker community I stopped obeying ALL laws regarding this issue. Ironically, the very same trails that MOUNTAIN BIKERS BUILT were taken AWAY from mountain bikers in my area…so go figure.

    Today’s abundance of ‘law’ so called, to me, holds not weight. Today’s ‘law’ not just in the environmental sense but in nearly ALL respects is totally out of hand and of zero bona fide authority in my book. Man up and reclaim your American Spirit : Ignore the law. Do whatever want. Piss on all these paper shuffling imbeciles. Think free, RIDE free. If everyone does it we will simply overwhelm their capacity to stop us.

    • Marquis says:

      I’m with “C”. I worked on some local trails for years with a very small group of other local riders. In spite of our always being courteous and deferential to hikers/dog walkers/horses, one day some lady got upset that mountain bikers were on “her” trails – the ones we nurtured and maintained for 15 years. So she went on the warpath and got a naive local government to “close” the trails to bikes. We agonized about what to do until we came to the conclusion C did – we’re riding anyway. The rangers won’t get out of their trucks (I don’t think they care, actually) and the trails are all tight singletrack, mostly along cliff lines and in canyons, so it’s not like they could catch us even if they wanted to. We’ve never had any issues in the two years since “closure” and don’t expect any.

  • pbass says:

    Donated…

  • Z says:

    When I first became acquainted with Kurt’s written work, I thought he was just trying to make a name. But after reading his latest article in Dirt Rag, about a 420 mile bike trip, I see he is the real deal. Great story! I am unfamiliar with the ins and outs of the legislation but I donated because of respect for the author. He gets it.

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