Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions
No. You won’t see us advocating for bicycles on trails like the John Muir Trail and many others. We think local land managers should be empowered to do what works for a trail based on various factors, including current usage, the resources available for trail maintenance, and the possibility of repairing a neglected trail.
No. The bill simply removes the blanket ban of bikes. There are no rules in the Wilderness Act that prohibit camping within 100 feet of a stream, but local land managers can ban camping near streams when they have determined it is detrimental to the environment. Similarly, hunting is banned in certain areas and in certain seasons, horses are prohibited on certain trails, and hiking is prohibited in certain temporary conditions. So if the house bill is passed, the regulation of biking would be treated the same as the regulation of other activities that are permitted under the Wilderness Act yet prohibited when the local land manager deems those activities inappropriate.
As Mount Whitney hikers know, federal land managers currently require permits for some Wilderness trails. If it is in a trail’s best interest, a manager could also require permits to control bicycle traffic. (And no, we don’t envision mountain bikers being allowed to carry a bike to the top of Mount Whitney, or wanting to try.)
No. The bill is very simply written to remove the blanket prohibition. It stops there. There are no hidden agendas, loopholes, or other possible negative repercussions from this bill. Please take the time to read the text and you can see that it is very simple. As we've pointed out above, land managers have discretion to ban any activity from any area they determine it is innapropriate. So land managers can still ban bikes.
The “and for other purposes” language merely means that not all of the information about the bill can fit into the title. To know what is in the bill, just read the bill itself. These words are not part of the bill and do not create an open-ended law, and are commonly used when bills are introduced. “And for other purposes” is simply a way to shorten the title or description of what the bill does.
One could ask the same question of the opponents of relaxing human-powered travel bans in Wilderness. The answer is that much Wilderness is beautiful, scenic, remote, challenging country, far from the noise and hubbub of civilization. We would like to visit it by bicycle for the same reasons our opponents don’t want us to do that—at its best, it’s iconic.
Denying mountain bikers access to Wilderness on the ground that it’s relatively little land overlooks that much, probably most, public land is vast, trackless terrain with little scenic appeal. Few mountain bikers desire to struggle over thousands of square miles of arid, treeless BLM land in Nevada, Arizona, and Wyoming with no trails and lots of sagebrush. Nor would hikers or equestrians want to do that.
STC seeks to restore Congress’s vision for Wilderness travel, not undermine it. In the Wilderness Act of 1964, Congress said visitors are not allowed to operate “motor vehicles” or “motorized equipment.” E-bikes fall into one or both of these categories, so STC would oppose any legislative effort to introduce them into Wilderness. (We don’t know of any such effort and think it’s unlikely one will be made.)
More information on STC’s position is available here.
Some of the content of this article is a bit dated, and relevant to the Senate bill, but this article was written by John Fisch on Singletracks.com, and we like it so much that we're just going to link to the article:
Please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Sustainable Trails Coalition believes that the legislative history of the Wilderness Act of 1964 shows that Congress would have wanted to allow bikes in wilderness if mountain bikes had existed or they had thought about them. Everything points to Congress wanting human-powered travel generally.
But the Forest Service has gone back and forth on its understandings of what Congress intended. Allowing bicycles, then banning them, then allowing them unless a local manager banned them, and finally reaffirming a prior blanket ban shows that the question has been revisited numerous times.
We contend that federal land management agencies are interpreting the Wilderness Act inaccurately. In 1977 two of the key backers of the Wilderness Act came to the same conclusion.
"In some areas, the use of this type of equipment has already become established. To exclude this type of equipment, which to me is compatible with the wilderness concept, would in effect to 'tie' our own hands in administering the areas"
"The forgotten outdoorsmen of today are those who like to walk, hike, ride horseback or bicycle. For them we must have trails as well as highways. Nor should motor vehicles be permitted to tyrannize the more leisurely human traffic."
President Lyndon Johnson
Trails for America, Report on the Nationwide Trails Study
The United States Forest Service defines mechanical transport so as to allow human-powered travel in Wilderness. Since this is the first regulation implemented to support the Wilderness Act, and since it was implemented within years of the passage of the Act, it seems obvious that this interpretation was to what Congress intended.
"Mechanical transport, as herein used, shall include any contrivance which travels over ground, snow, or water, on wheels, tracks, skids, or by floatation and is propelled by a nonliving power source contained or carried on or within the device."
36 CFR § 293.6(a) (1973), formerly 36 CFR § 251.75 (1966)
Senator Frank Church (Democrat from Idaho) and Rep. Morris K. Udall (Democrat from Arizona), key backers of the Wilderness Act of 1964, caution that the Forest Service is interpreting the Act too strictly.
Rep. Udall wrote:
"The latter concept of wilderness, the so-called ‘purity’ issue, has involved extensive debate.... that the Forest Service has been unduly restrictive in setting wilderness evaluation criteria which relied solely on the most stringent possible interpretation…”
Senator Frank Church said:
"My final comments tonight concern the issue of wilderness purity. Time after time, when we discuss Wilderness, questions are raised about how developed an area can be and still qualify as wilderness, or what kinds of activities within a wilderness are consistent with the purposes of the Wilderness Act. I believe, and many citizens agree with me, that the agencies are applying provisions of the Wilderness Act too strictly and misconstruing the intent of Congress as to how these areas should be managed."
The U.S. Forest Service issues a new regulation that prohibits bicycles:
"The following are prohibited in a National Forest Wilderness:... (b) Possessing or using a hang glider or bicycle."
36 CFR § 261.16 (1977), now numbered 36 CFR § 261.18.
When Congress created the Rattlesnake Wilderness in Montana with the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Wilderness Act of 1980, 16 USC 460ll, Congress found that cycling is considered “primitive recreation” and would be allowed in the Rattlesnake Wilderness. Congress declared that the Lolo National Forest, in which the Rattlesnake is situated,
“has long been used as a wilderness by Montanans and by people throughout the Nation who value it as a source of solitude, wildlife, clean, free-flowing waters stored and used for municipal purposes for over a century, and primitive recreation, to include such activities as hiking, camping, backpacking, hunting, fishing, horse riding, and bicycling . . . .”
The United States Forest Service issues a third regulation. It is inconsistent with both the 1966 regulation (which permitted bikes) and the 1977 regulation (which prohibited bikes). This new regulation provides for conditional allowance. Bicycles are allowed unless expressly prohibited:
"When provided by an order, the following are prohibited:... (h) possessing or using a bicycle, wagon, cart or other vehicle."
36 CFR § 261.57(h)
In a March 1982 memorandum, the Forest Service calls the 1977 no-bicycles regulation an "editorial error" and "an inconsistency" and says:
"36 CFR 261.16(b) states : 'Possessing or using a hang glider or bicycle.’ During the last CFR Revisions we intended to remove ‘or bicycle’ but the change did not get effected."
"It was our intent to provide for the prohibition of bicycles only where their presence created a conflict or problem and implement the prohibition by use of an order for a specific wilderness."
In a June 1982 memorandum, the Forest Service States:
"Previously we have directed that mechanical transport conveyances such as bicycles, wagons, wheelbarrows or deer carriers were not appropriate for wilderness. This may have been unduly restrictive"
In a November memorandum, the Forest Service announces that it has changed its mind and will enforce the 1977 bicycle prohibition.
"Previous discussions and direction on this were confusing because of the ambiguity between the direction provided by the Wilderness Act, the definition of mechanical transport, and the prohibitions in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)."
On June 21, 1984, the Forest Service announces that the 1977 bicycle prohibition "was supposed to be retained." This final decision to exclude bicycles from Wilderness may have been made on the basis of a single public comment.
On April 21, 1986, the Forest Service announces that the 1966 regulation, which allows for Wilderness travel by living power sources, is to be read as prohibiting Wilderness travel by certain living power sources, including bicycles.
On August 4, 1989, H.R.3172 was introduced in the House "To amend the Wilderness Act to allow the use of bicycles in wilderness areas." The bill was referred to the Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands without further action.
The National Parks Service amends current regulations and authorizes park superintendents to open trails to bike use when they determine they are appropriate. This is really the exact same legislation that Sustainable Trails Coalition seeks for Wilderness areas.
The Sustainable Trails Coalition forms to try and fix this situation.
Congress's Intent in Banning Mechanical Transport in the Wilderness Act of 1964. by Theodore J. Stroll. For the Sustainable Trails Coalition, we believe that this is the most important document because Congress's intent is ultimately why the Act was created.
Natural Resource Impacts of Mountain Biking - A summary of scientific studies that compare mountain biking to other forms of trail travel by IMBA.
Assessing and Understanding Trail Degradation - U.S. Department of the Interior Final Research Report, 2006.
The Trouble with Preservation, or, Getting Back to the Wrong Term for Wilderness Protection - Academic research paper that raises questions about the interplay between considerations of ecological functioning, recreation demands, and simple aesthetics in defining managed wilderness.
Impacts of Experimentally Applied Mountain Biking and Hiking on Vegetation and Soil of a Deciduous Forest - Environmental Management Journal, 2001.
As the map shows, there are far more Wilderness areas in the West.
As the maps show, very large areas of our western states are designated as Wilderness areas. Does it make sense to ban bikes in all that land?
In the News
In the News
The concept of biking in Wilderness areas has been covered for a number of years, and our recent efforts have generated considerable coverage. Here is most of what we've seen.
October 2, 2018 - a cause for question - Bike Mag
May 25, 2018 - Congress Reconsiders Bikes in Wilderness - Boise State Public Radio
May 19, 2018 - Lee Introduces Wilderness Biking Bill - KSL.com
May 14, 2018 - Extreme Mountain Biker Group Fights for Wilderness Access - High Country News
March 29, 2018 - Wilderness Under Assault - Blue Ridge Outdoors
March 2018 - Western MTB Trail Mangers Weigh in on Wilderness Access - Wasatch Rider
Februrary 28, 2018 - Don’t panic. This mountain biking bill by Tom McClintock is great for the wilderness - Sacramento Bee
February 1, 2018 - Wilderness, IMBA and the good, the bad ... and What you Can Do Now - Change.org
January 31, 2018 - Over a Beer: Mountain Bikers Are Conservationists, Too - Singletracks.com
January 30, 2018 - After voting for bill allowing bikes in the wilderness, Gianforte says he no longer supports it - Independence Record
January 30, 2018 - Santa Cruz Bicycles Endorses the STC as an Advocacy Organization - Singletracks.com
January 11, 2018 - Congressional Budget Office Estimate for HR 1349.
January 11, 2018 - Federal bill: Allow bikes in wilderness - Point Reyes Light
January 11, 2018 - Wilderness, bikes can coexist - Missoulian
January 9, 2018 - Should mountain bikers be allowed on Wilderness land? - Colorado Springs
January 2, 2018 - GIANFORTE SUPPORTS BILL THAT WOULD ALLOW BIKES IN WILDERNESS - The Western News
December 21, 2017 - Outdoor Recreationists, the ranchers of tomorrow? - The Southwest Journal
December 18, 2017 - Bill would allow bicycles in wilderness areas - Auburn Journal
December 17, 2017 - Wheels in the wilderness? Bill to allow bikes divides outdoor lovers - Star Tribune
December 13, 2017 - Allowing Bikes In Wilderness Areas - My Motherload.com
December 10, 2017 - Congressman McClintock's Bill To Prevent Draconian Public Access Restrictions - Sierra Sun Times
December 7, 2017 - IMBA Opposes Bill to Allow Mountain Bikes in Wilderness - Pinkbike
December 5, 2017 - Congress considers allowing bikes, other wheeled devices in wilderness areas - Twin Cities Pioneer Press
December 5, 2017 - Mountain Biking Bill to Go Before Congressional Subcommittee - Aspen Daily News
November 2017 - Mountain Biking Into The Wilderness - Colorado Natural Resources, Energy & Environmental Law Review
September 27, 2017 - Can conservation and recreation get along? - Jackson Hole News & Guide
June 13, 2017 - Should Congress Make It Legal To Mountain Bike In Wilderness Areas? - NPR for Central California
March 10, 2017 - Congress could dump wilderness bike ban - Reno Gazette Journal
October 5, 2016 - Why shouldn’t I be able to bike in federal wilderness areas? - Washington Post
September 21, 2016 - An Unexpected Battle for the Future of Wilderness - National Geographic
September 10, 2016 - The Wilderness Can Handle Bikes - Santa Fe New Mexican
September 7, 2016 - Is allowing mountain bikes in official U.S. wilderness a slippery slope? - Fusion
September 6, 2016 - No, Mountain Bikes Won't Destroy Our Wilderness Trails - Men's Journal
September 5, 2016 - Keep Bikes Off Our Wilderness Trails - NY Times Op Ed
August 20, 2016 - Op-ed: Allowing wheels in Wilderness - Salt Lake Tribune
August 19, 2016 - Bill Opening Wilderness Areas to Bikes Also Opens Debate - The New York Times
August 19, 2016 - Wheelis in the Wilderness - Mail Tribune
August 10, 2016 - The Ban on Mountain Biking in Wilderness Areas is More Than Misguided; It’s Dangerous - The Inertia
August 10, 2016 - Responses to 5 Arguments Against the Human Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act - Singletracks.com
July 16, 2016 - Congressmen Introduce Bill to Allow Mountain Bikers in Wilderness Areas - Outside Online
July 15, 2016 - Bill would let mountain bikes — and chainsaws — into wilderness areas - The Denver Post
July 14, 2016 - Breaking News: The Sustainable Trails Coalition’s Bill Has Been Introduced in Congress - Singletrack.com
June 2016 - Mountain Biking into the Wilderness - Heidi Ruckriegle / Wyoming Bar
June 30, 2016 - East Bound and Down: Davis, West Virginia - Pinkbike
June 14, 2016 - The Fight for Mountain Bike Access in 2016 - Teton Gravity Research
May 18, 2016 - Should Mountain Bikes Be Allowed in Wilderness Areas - Utah Adventure Journal
April 11, 2016 - Do mountain bikes belong in the wild? Battle brewing over bike access to federal land - The Oregonian
April 1, 2016 - Should Mountain Bikes Be Allowed in Protected Wilderness Areas?
March 29, 2016 - It’s inevitable. There will be bikes in wilderness. - High Country News
March 28, 2016 - Banned in the USA: Part 2 - Vernon Felton in Pinkbike
March 18, 2016 - Banned in the USA: Part 1 - Vernon Felton in Pinkbike
March 2016 - MTB In Wilderness....Leadership Needed - SocalByciclist
March 3, 2016 - SDMBA supports the Sustainable Trails Coalition
March 3, 2016 - President’s Message: The Wilderness Debate - Concerned Off-Road Bicyclists Association
February 25, 2016 - Letter to every IMBA member from The Angry Singlespeeder - MTBR
February 19, 2016 - A Kerfuffle at MTB Advocacy Camp - Uncommon Communications
February 15, 2016 - Responses to the 10 most common arguments against allowing mountain bikes in wilderness areas - Singletrack.com
February 9, 2016 - Peddling in the Wild - California Adventure Sports Journal
February 9, 2016 - The Questions Wilderness Advocates Are Not Answering
February 8, 2016 - Taking the Wilderness Debate to Washington D.C. - Bike
February 8, 2016 - Group seeks to allow biking in wilderness - Idaho Mountain Express
February 4, 2016 - Family Feud: Is There Only One Wilderness Strategy? - Mountain Flyer Magazine
January 31, 2016 - room for two? - Bike
January 27, 2016 - Spandex and Leather Working Together - Montana Wilderness Association
January 22, 2016 - Aspen cyclists opposed to national group's push for bikes in wilderness - Aspen Times
January 6, 2016 - New Bill May Allow Mountain Biking in Wilderness Areas - Boise Weekly
December 28, 2015 - New Group Fighting For Bikes In Wilderness Areas - The Transylvania Times
December 14, 2015 - Podcast: The STC's Plan to Get Mountain Bikes into Wilderness - Part 2 - on Singletracks.com
December 11, 2015 - Podcast: The STC's Plan to Get Mountain Bikes into Wilderness - Part 1 - on Singletracks.com
December 8, 2015 - The Problem of Wilderness - Save Montana Trails
December 7, 2015 - Open Letter to IMBA About Wilderness, STC and E-MTBs - Nemba.org
December 6, 2015 - Screw Apathy - Bike magazine
December 3, 2015 - Blast from the Past: By Law, Mountain Bikes in Wilderness in Dirt Rag Magazine
December 3, 2015 - Lobbying for a Reasoned Review of Wilderness Bike Access on BikeRumor.com
December 2, 2015 - Advocacy: Marginalized in Idaho in Mountain Flyer Magazine
December 1, 2015 - Opinions vary on wilderness expansion - Watauga Democrat is published in Boone, N.C.
November 30, 2015 - Are Mountain Bikers About to Get Their Day in Wilderness? by Vernon Felton on Outside.com
November 30, 2015 - Wilderness Designation Could Ban Bikes on Wasatch Crest - Park City Mountain Bike.com
November 22, 2015 - Sucker Punched by Vernon Felton in Bike Magazine
November 2, 2015 - Banning Bikes is Un-American by Jackson Ratcliffe in Enduro Mountainbike Magazine
October 19, 2015 - Mountain Biking Fourteeners is Creating a Rift in the Outdoor Community - Bicycling
September 14, 2015 - Green on Green Violence: Environmentalists Take On Bike Riders by ColoradoPeakPolitics
September 11, 2015 - Mountain Bikers Summiting Colorado 14ers Raise Questions - Denver Post
September 4, 2015 - The Sustainable Trails Coalition is Heading to Capitol Hill - Singletracks
August 31, 2015 - Mountain Bikers Challenge Wilderness Ban - Reno Gazette-Journal
August 26, 2015 - Mountain Bikers Challenge Wilderness Ban - Benjamin Spillman
August 21, 2015 - We just lost some of the best trails in America: Thank you, Wilderness Act by Greg Heil
August 20, 2015 - Gathering Storm by Vernon Felton
August 19, 2015 - The Mountain Biker and Wilderness Relationship: It’s Complicated by Grayson Schaffer
August 10, 2015 - Opinion: Opening Wilderness to Mountain Bikes Is the Most Important Advocacy Effort in History – And STC needs your help - Singletracks.com
August 7, 2015 - The Angry Singlespeeder: Stop the bleeding of mountain bike access by Kirt Gensheimer
June 16, 2015 - Sierra Club Weighs in on Bikes and Wilderness by Vernon Felton
May 25, 2015 - Mountain bikes have their place on trails by Seabury Blair
May 19, 2015 - A Look at Why Bikes Are Banned in Wilderness by Vernon Felton
April 2015 - The Bigotry of Wilderness by Vernon Felton
August 26, 2010 - Aw, Wilderness by Ted Stroll
February 16, 2010 - Mountain Bikes Should Be Allowed in Wilderness Areas by John Bradley
March 18, 2007 - Mountain Bike Recreation and Designated Wilderness: A Case for Reconsideration by Jim Hasenauer
February, 2005 - By Law, Mountain Bikes in Wilderness by Phillip Keyes
August, 2000 - Wilderness Use in the Next 100 Years by WILLIAM E. HAMMITT and RUDY M. SCHUSTER