Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338
August 16, 2001
Biking no worse for environment than hiking, new study shows
Mountain bikes are no more harmful to the environment than hiking, according to a new study by a University of Guelph professor.
Botanist Richard Reader and graduate student Eden Thurston say hikers have long argued that the deep treads of spinning mountain bike tires tear up more dirt than a simple pair of hiking boots. But their study of trail use found that with average amounts of activity, cycling and hiking have similar effects on the great outdoors. Their study is one of only a few ever conducted on trail use in North America. “Very little research has been done on the physical effects of mountain biking on the environment,” Reader said. “But we’ve found that hikers have the same affect as bikers do, regardless of the number of trips along the path.”
Environmental damage to areas along recreational trails from everyday use is a common problem faced by managers of natural areas. When trails start showing signs of stress and degradation, sharing the trail puts some hikers and mountain bikers at odds, Reader said. For the study, cyclists and hikers were asked to walk or ride down a four-metre-long track with no existing trail in Ontario’s Boyne Valley Provincial Park. The impact on vegetation cover and soil exposure was measured at five different intensities of bike and foot traffic: zero, 25, 75, 200 and 500 passes (trips along a specific trail). According to the data, the first 25 passes were the most — and equally — damaging for both hiking and cycling, greatly reducing vegetation cover and exposing the soil.
Despite the damage done by the 500-pass trials, the recovery rate one year later was almost 100 per cent. Reader said this means damage caused by both hikers and bikers is reversible if management decisions are made to allow the trails to rest and recover. But he cautions that behaviour and attitude are still vitally important for trail preservation. “In our trial, the behaviour of participants was controlled to simulate the average user, so when the same responsible behaviour is followed, there is no difference in impact. But if hikers and cyclists don’t exhibit the same behaviour, then these rules don’t apply.”
Reader adds that in the past, bikers have been blamed for increased signs of trail wear and tear because theirs is the newer activity. “In reality, both are equally damaging to the environment, but there is increased trail wear because twice the number of people are now using the trails.”
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