Snow Bike Controversies

Photo by Josh Spice

Photo by Josh Spice

Steve Lipsher in an op-ed in the Denver Post..

And the fiercest debate today is over whether the new breed of winter bikes — which rely on bulbous, low-pressure tires to float over the snow — belong on the trails. The fear is they will gouge out ruts in soft snow, making the skiing treacherous.

On MTBR, a popular mountain-biking chat site, writers discussed whether fat bikes should be allowed on specifically groomed cross-country ski trails, which already prohibit hikers for the sake of keeping the track smooth.

“I tried to ride on a groomed trail once in Wyoming,” wrote one biker. “It was on public open space land, and the trail was probably 40 inches wide. I actually thought I was going to be lynched. I got on my bike in the parking lot and was surrounded by a bunch of XC skiers. They were actually shouting two inches from my face.”

“Skiers are a testy, testy bunch. Avoid them at all costs,” wrote another.

But even in sticking to multi-use trails on public lands that officially are open to all users, “fat bikers” are encountering hostility from unsuspecting snowshoers and skiers, similar to the complaints that hikers have expressed in the summer when bikers swarm past on their favorite treks.

Communities, public-lands agencies and user groups now are grappling with how to keep peace among the different interests. In Aspen, fat bikes for the first time this winter are being allowed on Pitkin County open space groomed by the Aspen Snowmass Nordic Council as a trial run. Two years ago, Idaho started hosting a “fat bike summit” that brings land managers and bikers together to discuss ways of alleviating conflicts. And the International Mountain Biking Association is imploring its members to be sure that fat bikes are permitted on the lands where they want to ride.

Because the number of fat bikes is doubling every year, doing nothing is no longer an option, and some regulation is needed. The problem is that land managers have been unable to keep up with the evolving uses and demands.

The U.S. Forest Service was slow to recognize the explosion of summertime mountain biking in the 1980s, and the ensuing user conflicts and braids of illegal, poorly designed user-created trails created a management nightmare. Similarly, ATVs have intruded into untrammeled places, forever altering their character.

Many of those routes have grown so popular that forest managers begrudgingly have been forced to include them in their updated trail networks.

Another issue is that bikers, as well as many other groups, always are looking to expand their territory, threatening to change the nature of … well, nature.

This time, it’s fat bikes. Next, powered bikes. Before that, mountain boards. Every new fad and craze competes for more space, resources, management on the trail, and each creates its own bitter divisions on who belongs.

Is there an answer?

I particularly noted this:

The U.S. Forest Service was slow to recognize the explosion of summertime mountain biking in the 1980s, and the ensuing user conflicts and braids of illegal, poorly designed user-created trails created a management nightmare. Similarly, ATVs have intruded into untrammeled places, forever altering their character.

It sounds like Lipsher thinks there wouldn’t have been user conflicts and illegal trails if the FS had… ??? developed a separate system? Had more folks out there giving citations??

Which is important, because as he says, there seems like there will always be conflicts.

Also, “forever” is a long time as in ATV’s “ATVs have intruded into untrammeled places, forever altering their character.” But I am growing accustomed to op-ed adjectives and adverbs which seem to respect no boundaries of definition or common usage ;).

One Comment

  1. But even in sticking to multi-use trails on public lands that officially are open to all users, “fat bikers” are encountering hostility from unsuspecting snowshoers and skiers, similar to the complaints that hikers have expressed in the summer when bikers swarm past on their favorite treks.

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