October 22, 1999
Director, Office of Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Affairs
1520 Lakeside Drive
Oakland, CA 94612
Re: Mountain Biking Is Destroying Oakland's Parks!
In park after park around the world, the pattern is the same: mountain bikes are allowed on a few trails, but the bikers are never satisfied. They ride off the trails, they build new trails illegally, they ignore "No Bikes" signs, or even rip them out of the ground, until the public gets fed up and throws them out completely.
Brown's Woods, one of the last stands of native forest in central Iowa (southwest of Des Moines), illustrates these issues. It was saved from logging and development in 1972 by the S. E. Polk (High School) Ecology Club and their sponsor, biology teacher, Kirk Brill, for which they won a national award. The students worked hard to earn money to build two miles of bike trails through the preserve.
However mountain bikers illegally built 4 1/2 additional miles of trail ("bikers have gouged more than six miles of trail, up to 30 feet wide and a foot or more deep in spots" (Loren Lown, PCCB Natural Resources Specialist, 1996)). Wildlife were disappearing, elderly hikers were driven out, and vegetation was destroyed. "Already the bikers have caused permanent irreparable damage to this pristine area" (Ben Van Gundy, PCCB Director). It was called "ecological vandalism". Last year, once again, Brill and his students were forced to campaign to save the preserve, this time from mountain bikers, and won, getting a unanimous vote of the PCCB for a "total and permanent ban on the use of mountain bikes" in Brown's Woods.
In Marin County, mountain bikers decided that they didn't have enough trails, and secretly built a mountain biking trail on public land, which the public then had to remove. The Marin Water District decided that it didn't want the additional work and liability of managing mountain biking on its watershed lands. When one of their rangers told a mountain biker that he couldn't ride there, four mountain bikers beat him up!
East Bay Municipal Utility District looked down that road and decided that they didn't want to go there, either. They banned bikes from their entire watershed. Similar battles have occurred in many other areas around the country.
The Golden Gate National Recreation Area gave mountain bike access to many of its trails, but that wasn’t good enough for the mountain bikers. They sued the park in federal court. The court threw their suit out on summary judgment, saying that land managers have the right to protect the resources under their jurisdiction. In other words, there is no "right to mountain bike". (By the way, this puts the lie to the mountain bikers' endless whining about being "discriminated against". Since everyone is subject to the exact same rules, there can be no discrimination. Banning bikes from a park does NOT ban bikers, and does not "exclude" them, as they are fond of claiming!)
Mountain bikers seem to think that, just because they are able to buy a machine that allows them to ride off-road, the public is obligated to give them a place to ride it. As these cases demonstrated, that is not true!
Mountain bikers cannot be controlled. They say that they will educate their peers, and make them obey the rules, but their peers ignore them, cursing them and showing them via sign language what they think of the rules. Their helmets, goggles, and other gear hide their faces and make it impossible to identify them. They travel so fast, that they can be caught only by a motorcycle, increasing the expense and impact of enforcement. Bike patrols are ineffective, and increase impacts still further. One mountain biker told me via email"You cannot stop me".
Rampant erosion is only the most visible sign of mountain bike damage. Probably their worst harm is caused by the ease with which they allow people to get into wildlife habitat areas, greatly increasing human presence and human impacts on our precious remaining habitat, and driving out most of the wildlife. Mountain bikers have also killed many small animals, which they travel too fast to avoid, included the federally Threatened Alameda whipsnake. One look at a knobby mountain bike tire should tell you that they are up to no good! Most discussions of mountain biking ignore wildlife, and pretend that the various human user groups are all that matters.
Similarly, mountain bikers intimidate and endanger equestrians, children, the elderly, and other hikers, and have already driven many of them permanently off of their favorite trails. At the very least, meeting a big piece of machinery in the wild, when you are there specifically to relax and get away from the headaches of city life, destroys your experience.
Mountain bikers must be addicted to their sport (indeed, many of them use that word), because they pursue it with the same antisocial tenacity of an addict looking for his fix. They attack relentlessly anyone who gets in their way. I have been physically attacked four times by mountain bikers, for simply informing them politely that bikes are not allowed on that trail. I have been harassed and threatened by phone, mail, at work, in person, and in every other way (including several death threats), for simply telling the truth about mountain biking and its effects on wildlife and people. They vandalized a car, that they apparently thought belonged to me, three times.
The following post to one of their Internet newsgroups is typical:
"Subject: Who are our enemies?
On 7 Jul 1997 22:09:53 GMT, in email@example.com
We at Bike Magazine are doing an article on mountain biking's worst
enemies. We know about Mike V., but who are the others? The list would include airlines that rip us off to fly bikes, politicians that give national forests to logging companies, and whatnot. Any other ideas? They can be general or very specific, i.e. someone who prevents bike access at a local park.
Let us know who they are and we'll make sure they get their comeuppance.
(I am still waiting for my "comeuppance".)
The conditions in Dimond Canyon Open Space and Joaquin Miller Park constitute an emergency. The damage being done by mountain biking must be stopped. Immediately! Then we will have the time to assess the situation rationally, and, hopefully, repair it. Let's keep bikes on roads (preferably paved roads), where they belong, and where they can do a lot less harm.
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
"When they claim that we are cutting illegal trails into the park, a destructive, minority of cyclists is sadly guilty as charged." Eric Muhler, President, Bicycle Trails Council of the East Bay
Mountain Biking Symposium Proceedings. Vancouver, BC: Outdoor Recreation Council of British Columbia, c.1990.
Photo of mountain biker destroying Joaquin Miller Park:http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/Joaquin_Miller_mtb.tif http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande (including photos of mountain bike damage at Mammoth Ski Resort)