Mountain Bike Bill Would Lift Ban in Wilderness Areas

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AUBURN -- A U.S. Senate proposal to lift the half-century ban on mountain bikes in designated U.S. wilderness areas has renewed the debate over how destructive bikes are to environmentally sensitive areas.

The landmark 1964 Wilderness Act bans "mechanical transport" from wilderness areas. Mountain bikes were barely on the radar at the time. Now it's a huge part of the bicycle market, especially in the Auburn area.

It's a significant part of the sales and service function of the Victory Velo Bike Shop in Auburn.

"Mountain biking is a huge force specifically in this area between the valley and Tahoe," said acting manager Andrew Clark.

The Auburn area is home to miles of trails that are shared by hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers.
Mountain biker Clark says cyclists have always tried to share the local trails with everyone and welcomes a lift of the ban.

Environmental groups like the Sierra Club say bikes cause damage to native plants, the watershed and existing trails.

The authors of the bill, Utah Senators Bill Lee and Orrin Hatch, insist there is no evidence that mountain bikes cause any more harm than hikers or horseback riders.

"I can't really see a noticeable difference over the course of a trail where specifically bicyclists have done more damage than any other group," said Clark.

Horseback rider LuAnn Thomas, who frequently rides the trails, says most bicyclists are courteous on the narrow dangerous parts of the trail, but that some go too fast. She also believes they disrupt wildlife and can cause more ruts in the trail than hikers.

She acknowledges that horses can do the same. Still she thinks the dozens of U.S. wilderness areas within California deserve special treatment.

"I think wilderness areas are more quiet and pristine and probably should stay that way," said Thomas.

But Clark says bicyclists have a stake in preserving preserved lands.

"We try to be considerate, as considerate as possible to the land. We like the land, we like to use the trails as well ... No one wants to go out there and ruin it for anyone else," said Clark.