Bicycling myth versus reality


Truth about Bikes & the West TSA

In interest of long-term success of our public lands-of which well-managed mountain biking is an integral part-BMA offers the following real information and corrections to perpetuated myths.

Mountain Biking Benefits Boulder & Open Space:

Mountain biking yields a tremendous net-positive contribution to Boulder's community, brand, economy, conservation ethic and the OSMP program:

  • Meets needs of Boulder community
    • Key factor for area businesses to attract and retain quality employees
    • Low-impact activity for healthy lifestyles
    • Reduces vehicle usage related to pubic lands
  • Achieves OSMP Charter
    • Activates large constituency to support and implement VMP
    • Creates future generations of Open Space supporters and stewards
    • #1 Gateway activity for kids to experience nature and develop conservation ethic
    • Demonstrates sustainable design & inspires other users to help repair poor routes
  • Promotes values of fairness, tolerance and the VMP "least restrictive management" approach

Real Information. Not Myths or Hyperbole:

User Interaction

Myth: Mountain bikers are incompatible with other users.

Reality: Mountain bikers peacefully coexist with other quiet trail uses around the country. Many successful, tested, shared-use solutions exist including: trail design techniques, user outreach, and bike patrol. Are such best practices valued in Boulder?

Myth: Mountain biking will take over trails and displace hikers.

Reality:  Proposed access leaves 95% of trails in the West TSA bike-free.

Myth: Other users do not want to see mountain bikers.

Reality: While it is true that some people dislike even seeing bicyclists on trails, intolerance by one user is a not valid reason to exclude another. Fairness and tolerance should be exercised on public lands to create the broadest support for the Open Space program. Intolerance against cyclists is merely vocal, not widespread (approx 4%, based on an OSMP Springbrook study).

Myth: Mountain biking is dangerous to other users.

Reality: Aside from unverifiable anecdotes, there is little to no evidence of injuries caused by cyclists to other users on shared-use trails. This small risk must be evaluated against the benefits of cycling. Those who simply want to not encounter cyclists have 100+ miles of bike-free trails available.

Environmental Damage

Myth: Mountain biking destroys trails.

Reality: Scientific studies of trail erosion have found that mountain biking and hiking cause similar levels of erosion. The main cause of trail erosion are trail design and construction techniques that do not adequately handle runoff from precipitation. Quality trail design is the primary tool for minimizing erosion. A poorly designed trail will erode significantly even if it is hiking-only.

Myth: Mountain biking damages vegetation.

Reality: A controlled experiment conducted at a university in Canada showed that hikers and cyclists treading the same vegetation caused equal harm to vegetation. But cyclists are less likely to leave the tread than any user. Hikers routinely go off-trail, trampling vegetation, while bicycling is much more trail-dependent. Bicyclists may cause less vegetation impact than both hikers and equestrians.

Myth: Mountain biking endangers wildlife.

Reality: Numerous scientific studies present a body of evidence that shows bicycling and hiking have somewhat different impacts on wildlife, but the overall magnitude of impact is about equal. Bicyclists travel farther and can cause startling when approaching quickly and quietly. Hikers spend more time in habitat and are much more likely to go off-trail, which causes significant disturbance to wildlife.

Myth: Human presence is pressuring nature, so we must exclude cyclists to limit total visitation.

Reality: Singling out one user group to bear the burden of our society's impact on nature undermines support for conservation. Because hiking, bicycling, horse travel, climbing, and running all cause impacts, restrictions should be shared evenly among all uses.


Myth: Neighbors unanimously oppose mountain biking.

Reality:In a survey of 500 neighbors to open space conducted during the Community Collaboration Group, 50% expressed a for better mountain biking access from their homes.

Myth: Mountain biking will attract Denver's masses, causing high traffic and parking in neighborhoods.

Reality: A north-south bicycling trail in the West TSA will not offer the mileage, single-track, or loop opportunities that attract outside riders. Cyclists from afar will prefer more attractive riding offered on other public lands, such as those of Boulder and Jefferson Counties and the Roosevelt National Forest. West TSA bicycling trails will primarily serve Boulder locals, allowing them to travel by bike from home without use of a car.


Myth: Mountain biking is incompatible with the OSMP Charter.

Reality: Mountain biking helps achieve the OSMP Charter. Defined by the charter as a form of "passive recreation," it contributes quality of life and nourishes support for conservation. The OSMP Visitor Master Plan identifies bikes as under-served.

Myth: Mountain biking is a small special interest and should not be served by OSMP.

Reality: Cycling is a key thread in the fabric of Boulder, our economy, and our values. Cycling serves as both eco-friendly transportation and nature-appreciating recreation. The cycling community consistently supports public lands preservation and open space acquisition. Bicycling businesses in Boulder employ many people and serve a growing, important constituency.

Myth: Cyclists already have too many places to ride on County and USFS land.

Reality: Trail options for cycling on county and USFS lands eclipse OSMP, yet pale in comparison to hiking opportunities. The real question is of fairness. There is no basis for excluding cyclists or forcing them to drive to real trails while other users with similar impact have nearly unlimited access.

Myth: Cyclists can ride Valmont Bike Park (VBP) and Greenway Paths ... they don't need trails.

Reality: VBP and surfaced transportation paths are not a replacement for enjoying trails, nature and our Mountain Parks. Any such claim suffers the same fallacy as claiming that sidewalks, running tracks, treadmills and Rec Centers preclude the need for hiking or running on OSMP trails.

Myth: Mountain Bikers crave adrenaline, not nature.

Reality: Cyclists seek human-powered experience of natural places and value fresh air, appreciation of nature, contemplation, clarity of thought, low-impact exercise, self-challenge and time with friends. For young people, bicycling offers greater excitement, which helps them become more interested in conservation.

Management & Financial

Myth: Mountain biking requires significantly different trails and greater expense.

Reality: A sustainable trail is 90% the same regardless of user types. The majority of West TSA trails are eroding after years of hiking-only use because of design issues.  Allowing mountain biking is not a threat, but an opportunity to tap the cycling community's resources to improve trail sustainability.