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View From The Overlook: Mountain-Biker-In-Chief


Is single-track mountain biking in national parks a good idea? Photo courtesy of

Editor's note: Mountain biking in national parks has come up from time to time in recent years, specifically concerning desires to either cut new trails with bikes in mind or to allow mountain bikes to ride off into wilderness areas, or both. The recent dust-up at Big Bend National Park over a "multi-use" trail has Contributing Writer PJ Ryan recalling a certain "Mountain-Biker-in-Chief." We at the Traveler would like to offer IMBA officials a chance to present their position on biking in the parks. For more of PJ's thoughts, be sure to read Thunderbear on a regular basis.

There has been considerable debate about the wisdom of allowing mountain biking in the National Parks in general and Big Bend National Park in particular; that park becoming the poster child and cause celebre of mountain biking.

Mountain bikes are sturdy tools with hardy frames and parts that can stand the incessant pounding of off road use. They can go almost anywhere: That’s why their admirers love them and their detractors hate them.

Now, like most tools, mountain bikes are not inherently good or evil; everything depends upon use, such as the use of an axe depends on whether you are Abe Lincoln or Lizzie Borden.

The “Developing World” variant of the mountain bike is a prime tool for progress, even survival, in the more desperate parts of what used to be called “The Third World.” Mountain bikes provide goods transport as well as communication, carrying crops, chickens, pigs and other livestock to market.

It is truly amazing how much stuff you can pile on these stalwart mechanical mules. The U.S. military did not believe the Viet Cong could support their logistics using mountain bikes. The U.S. military was mistaken.

In the “Developed” or “First” World, the mountain bike carries only one thing; a very determined person devoted to expanding the “opportunities” for mountain biking. They are represented by the International Mountain Bike Association, (IMBA) an organization not too far behind the Viet Cong in enthusiasm and dedication to its cause.

Now I exaggerate, but not by much. It is true that many members of NPS, US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management as well as the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations are avid mountain bikers. However, they generally place limitations on themselves as mountain bikers.

The mountain bike is an excellent solution for park or other public lands that have many miles of jeep roads such as Death Valley National Park, Canyonlands National Park, or Mohave National Preserve. Thus the taxpayer who is not wealthy enough to afford a four wheel drive as a second vehicle (or who doesn’t want the additional pollution) can explore these primitive roads with a mountain bike.

However, there is an element of IMBA with more expansive dreams and demands. (I would suspect that their Nirvana would be a rim to rim mountain bike race across Grand Canyon; they have not requested it and it is not likely to happen anytime soon.)

They have however, made some requests for a “Multi-Use” Trail at Big Bend National Park.

The Park Superintendent, who is shortly to be retiring, said that he and his staff would investigate “Mountain biking opportunities in Big Bend”, a rather unfortunate choice of phrasing, implying that such use would be a favorable outcome, if not a done deal: Unfortunate in that this evokes the environmental memory of a Yellowstone superintendent of long ago, who believed he could “open” winter Yellowstone by allowing snowmobiles. The superintendent was unfortunately correct.

Now the problem with a multi-use mountain biker-hiker trail at Big Bend, aside from the legal and aesthetic (The park “forgot” to do the environmental paper work) is one of safety. The advantages of the double track (jeep road) are that the hiker can proceed on one of the tracks or jump to safety if he/she encounters a biker. Danger is increased if bikers and hikers share a single track.

Make no mistake, collisions between mountain biker and pedestrian can result in serious injury.

Consider the case of The Mountain Biker in Chief, George W. Bush, President of the United States and member of the IMBA.

President Bush was in Scotland attending the 2005 conference of the G-8 Economic Summit. He had brought along his beloved mountain bike.

The following police report was “obtained” by THE SCOTSMAN, a left wing Scottish newspaper:

“About 1800 hours on Wednesday, July 6, a detachment of Strathclyde constables in anti-riot gear formed a protective line at the rear entrance of the hotel where George Bush was staying.

The Unit was covering the road junction at Braco Road where the President was cycling through. As the President passed the junction at speed. He raised his left arm from the handle bar of his mountain bike to wave to the police while shouting “Thank you guys for coming! “

The President lost control and fell to the ground.”

According to the report, one of the constables was struck by a “Moving and Falling Object” (That would be the 43rd President of the United States, which, when you think about it, is not a bad description of George W. Bush)

The police report goes on to say “The officer fell to the ground, striking his head. After striking the constable, President Bush continued to bounce along the pavement for an additional five meters before coming to a stop”.

Like most mountain bikers, President Bush is tough as titanium and was not injured in the incident; not so in the case of the constable. According to THE SCOTSMAN, the constable was taken to hospital and was off duty for some 14 weeks due to injuries to ankle ligaments.

The President, a good-hearted soul, was most contrite and visited the constable in hospital.

Now neighbors, lets consider the implications of this incident and hiking on a “multi-use” trail in Big Bend National Park. Recall that the constable was in full riot gear, including helmet, face shield, and flak jacket and that STILL didn’t save him from a flying mountain biker! (Though the helmet may have prevented a concussion.)

It is unlikely that you will be wearing a helmet and flak jacket while hiking in Big Bend, but as “Dubya” has retired to his ranch in West Texas, you might consider it as a safety option.

He just might be comin’ around the next bend in the trail!!

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I should have piped up a month and a half ago when this article was first posted, but better late than never. Make that 12 comments in support of your article, Thunderbear -- though it's pointless to try to count a silent majority.

This attempt at humor doesn't upset me, even though I'm a dedicated mountain bike access advocate and regularly spar with Kurt and others over what I see as an overcautious attitude toward bicycles on trails. We need more humor. In fact I regret that Kurt censored himself when he made his own attempt at humor some months ago and it caused such a firestorm that he removed his article. I would have left it in place.

Not that I agree that we should be relegated to dreary dirt roads, of course. Or that there are two categories of mountain bikers: the "responsible" ones who also belong to the Sierra Club or similar stodgy organizations, vis-à-vis the "irresponsible" ones who may be likened to the Viet Cong. (In fact I can't think of a single decent mountain biker who's also a Sierra Club member; that organization has alienated almost all trail cyclists except for some duffers who consider toodling along a flat dirt road to constitute mountain biking.) However, the Viet Cong reference is in fact complimentary of IMBA, whether the author meant it or not. The Viet Cong were the enemy, but I suspect the U.S. armed forces respected their tenacity and their ability to engage forces that on paper were much stronger than they. I'd like to think that similar things are true of mountain bike access advocates.

The article wasn't funny. One thing is clear: PJ doesn't get mountain biking. Jeep roads are not something that cyclists are interested in. We want the same experience as other human powered (or horse powered) users: getting close to nature on narrow trails. I rode some sweet single track yesterday in the Sierras, and interestingly all hikers were just fine.

I'm pretty sure PJ is pulling your chain. Very successfully pulling your chain. Chill out.

Reading through some of these comments, it's apparent that at least some folks either need to slow down and get their hyperventilation under control -- or need some remedial work in reading comprehension -- or both.

what is humorous about this article? is comparing someone to the vietcong supposed to be funny? if you think it is you have apparantly forgot what the vietcong was and what they did. after reading this i went and checked out a few pro hiking and equestrian trails sites, none of the ones i saw were fighting for multi use trails just trails for themselves. the imba website was the only one that i saw that was trying to improve overall trail use for everyone not just the mountain biking community. of course there is always going to be a risk factor in multi use trails thats why all users need to be educated on how to be safe. in the long run we would get the most benefit if we all unified for the same cause. how can we provide a good argument to maintain environmental funding for state parks and the such if all we do is argue amongst ourselves?

As Old Ranger says, courtesy counts. I hike and mountain bike, and whenever I bike on shared trails I slow down and/or stop for hikers. They invariably yell at me because a biker just ahead ran them off the trail. That wasn't me! I didn't even know the guy! And I did the right thing!

I am with Lee Dalton and Old Ranger...after having read PJ Ryan's articles you have to see the humor in it or go through life as a sad sack. If the humor is thought provoking so be it, if its not, maybe the next PJ article will be. I at least have a sense of humor and an imagination of watching a President and his secret service guys run to his aid when he goofs up. PJ says that Bush Visited the guy in the hospital. That is respectable.

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