The most controversial pastime I do.. Look at the faithful UKC or singletrack world and you will find hundreds of pages of forum space taken up with folks arguing over whether we should be in the hills on two wheels.
As an outdoor educator and conservationist the last thing I want to do is destroy an irreplaceable part of our environment. So heres my reply to all the angry folks out there ( yes, i know im a grump too!)
Firstly, Everything we do, as humans, has an environmental impact. Mine is currently much much smaller than the average uk citizen. On the grand scale of things, riding a bike down a path on the hill is an awful lot less damaging than some peoples daily commute, or their exotic expensive diet, or their disposable clothing fetish.
But looking much smaller scale, at other hill users. On average every year, apart from a few honey pot areas that might have been slightly unwisely publicized, the volume of bikers going up any given mountain is extremely small. In some cases id be willing to bet less in a year than the same number of walkers per day. Simply, its too much hard work for the majority and that’s what trail centres are for.
A bike tyre helps spread the weight across a wider surface area, and especially on the higher volume tyres its very noticeable how small a mark is left. A boot by contrast sinks much further and leaves a more distinct imprint. A pony hoof cuts even deeper and all those walking poles leave a nice little border on either side of the path. If an area is particularly vulnerable or squishy I will avoid it or walk.
Crampon scratches scar many of the rocks and these marks will last for years. A tyre print will last till the next rain. All our rotting climbing tat and crusty pegs dominate many of the mountain crags, but that’s a whole other argument!
And people litter, so much rubbish gets dropped in our mountains, maybe by accident, who knows. But between myself and Huw, we seem to end up carrying out big piles from every trip. And those people that wee, and then put a little rock on their tissue, in case it blows away and *gasp* causes litter!
Our wonderful land owners, so quick to tell us lowly ramblers how to behave so as not to affect the wildlife, think nothing of bulldozing a track right to the top of the mountain. They are also happy to enforce a monoculture upon our hills and then argue that it adds wildness to Scotland. They farm much higher numbers of certain species whilst happily disposing of any other that might possibly munch one of said species before someone in tweed gets to shoot it. Often they actively discourage any forest regeneration as it reduces the habitat for the one bird they want to blast. And its my tyre track that is destroying the hills?
As a biker, i stick to the path. That track that has been eroded and only exists by thousands of footfalls. Walkers go everywhere, often trying to escape the path and find solitude. I know, im also one of them. Im not sure that you can argue a bike on an already existing track is going to do noticeable harm. If there were hundreds of us I might say differently.
But, I understand that their are some rude and arrogant bikers, who go to “destroy the trail”, “shred the gnarr” and leave “sick skidz”. I wish I could do skids 😉 But then there are also the dog owners who let their trusted companion roam loose to terrify the dotterel, the fire pit fiends and the poo on the bothy porch idiots.
In short, in order to protect our landscape, we should ALL be banned. But then maybe we would not value it to wish to protect it in the first place..
Or we could take a lesson from Terry Pratchetts Science of the Discworld ” Compared to what nature has already done, and will do again, our activities barely show up.” And all calm down a little.
"Who owns this landscape? – The millionaire who bought it or the poacher staggering downhill in the early morning with a deer on his back? Who possesses this landscape? – The man who bought it or I who am possessed by it?" -A man in assynt. Norman MacCaig http://www.oocities.org/william_brodie/maccaig/assynt.html