"Illegal" trails (editorial)

Those of us who ride in Marin suffer from trail paranoia. And rightly so. There are people trying to mischaracterize mountain bikers as destroyers of the environment. They are all over the blogs and forums, and I'm sure this site will be next. All three of these horseback-riding assholes try their best to make it look like mountain bikers are some fringe element. They are the fringe element.

The whole notion of illegal trails is absurd.

"But erosion caused by illegal mountain biking could hurt the ecosystem."

Bullshit. Deer hooves cause more erosion than mountain bike tires. The "illegal" trails in question were probably created by deer in the first place, not mountain bikers, and in my 20+ years of mountain biking in Marin, it's plain to see the two factors that cause most erosion are: (1) horses and (2) fire roads [addendum: any other poorly-laid out trail is susceptible to erosion].

Regardless of the trail conditions, horses will destroy the trails and cause erosion.

"But horses are animals and bikes are man-made."

Bullshit. Your horse has at least as much man-made equipment on it, if not more (by weight), as my mountain bike when you think about the saddle, bridle and horseshoes. Factor in the environmental resources required to sustain a horse (food, boarding, transportation), and there is no question which has less impact on the environment:

A MOUNTAIN BIKER HAS A LOWER ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT THAN A HORSEBACK RIDER, BY FAR.

Am I against horseback riders? Well, I suppose it depends on whether or not they want to share the trails. We are greater in number, and our taxes fund the maintenance for the trails their horses are destroying. They can at least let us ride the trails we are paying to maintain for them.

Moving on to fire roads. These are scars on the hillsides and turn into rivers when it rains. As a result of the rain run-off, the fire roads get ruts in them and must be graded with bulldozers every few years. They also routinely lead to hill slides when the edges of the fire roads give way. I'm not saying we should get rid of fire roads, but to characterize singletrack as "bad for the environment" is simply ridiculous [addendum: all trails that follow the fall line contribute to erosion when it rains]. Then there's the misguided notion,

"Fire roads are safer than singletrack."

I would argue that a rider going down a fire road at 15MPH is more dangerous than the same rider on singletrack. Why? Because we ride faster on wide-open fire roads, and are more likely to have a confrontation with another trail user (or their off-leash dog) when rounding a corner.

When we ride singletrack, we ride slower, but feel like we're riding faster. As a result of riding slower, we can stop more quickly on singletrack than on fire roads. The logical conclusion is that bikes should be allowed on singletrack. But this isn't about logic. It's about people who, simply put, are threatened by bikes. There is no data from the many areas that do allow bikes on multi-use singletrack to indicate that there is any conflict between equestrians, hikers and bikers. I see hikers on the few legal singletrack trails around Marin all the time, always with a smile and a greeting, and wonder why it can't be like this everywhere in Marin.

It's only a matter of time before we look back on Marin's early days as temporary insanity. Bikes will save this planet in some small way, if we let them, if we give them some respect. They are good for the rider and good for the communities we ride in. Bike fear is irrational and ridiculous. Or is it bike disdain? Who knows. I don't get it. I think bikes are fantastic, whether to roll to the store for groceries, to cut some greenhouse gases from your commute, to get an adrenalin fix, or just to spin around the block.

Bikes empower us as individuals. Is that why they are so fearsome? I don't know. I just love the feeling when I'm riding one. A lightness of being, untethered freedom, bringing back memories of my first childhood tastes of independence and adventure.

Is this website a crime against mountain bikers, the environment, hikers, horseback riders, THE MAN? Should I be paranoid? Should I shut it all down before the anti-bike Nazis find us?What do you think?

Addendum: As the rainy season has just hit us full force, it would be a lie to say that bike trails don't erode. I saw it first-hand once again on a ride this morning. That said, the point of this article is to say that existing trails are not being eroded by bike tires, but by rain run-off. The effects of erosion are mitigated by proper trail design, and the majority of fire roads are about as far as you can get from that. The worst, most erosion-prone trail that I ride regularly runs parallel to a fire road, straight down a hill along a fall line, turning into a riverbed when it rains. The least erosion-prone trails are the so-called "illegal" ones that traverse the mountains instead of going straight up and down, as do fire roads, designed to get trucks up the hills quickly to combat grass fires. In conclusion, the opening of trails like Bill's Trail in Samuel P. Taylor Park to mountain bikes would cause no noticeable impact on the local ecosystem.