There’s been a lot of chatter on the web this week about the possibility of bikes being allowed on the Pacific Crest Trail. As it stands, the trail is for the use of hikers and equestrians only. Apparently the US Forestry Service has been approached asking to review its regulation of not allowing bikes on the trail.
Firstly, the USFS, whatever decision they make, is never going to be able to pander to the masses. Whether they do allow bikes or not, someone will be unhappy and others will have issues. Compare them to politicians, does everyone always agree to everything they say? However, it needs to be discussed.
I hike and I ride also so I see things both perspectives. The reasons not to allow bikes on the PCT are numerous but there are two that cause the most concern. The primary one that bothers most people is the danger element. Take a look on Facebook this week and there have been numerous YouTube videos posted showing Kamikaze mountain bike riders launching themselves over blind bumps with a celebratory ‘Yeehaw!’ only to be faced, as their landing spot merges into view, of a hiker about to be impaled onto their rear mech. Snigger at will but this is serious stuff. Most amateur riders can quite easily reach 40 mph downhill and even if they did spot someone coming their way, the chances of stopping a mountain bike at that sort of velocity, even with the best disc brakes on the market, are slim. It is an accident waiting to happen.
In England our outdoor paths are usually ‘Footpaths’ or ‘Bridleways’. It’s hiking boots only on the footpaths whereas horses, bikers and hikers are allowed on a bridleway. Contrary to the paragraph above, the system works very well. Bikers are courteous to walkers, and visa versa. Riders either shout to warn of their approach or use a small bell when approaching an equestrian or walker. Bells, by law in the UK, have to be supplied with every new bike purchase but ironically are not required to be actually used by law. Many riders do, however use them. Horses rarely enter the equation because they do not, generally, reach speeds to warrant any alarm to walkers. My point is that bike riders can share outdoor trails with hikers but both need to exercise caution.
The second reason for not allowing bikes is the erosion issue. This argument has been raging for years. What causes the most trail damage, a horse, a walker, or a biker? Sounds like the beginning of a joke doesn’t it? In my opinion, it really doesn’t matter. No one to my knowledge has ever proved who does the most damage and it is irrelevant. Look at the web this week and again, and you will see posts with photos of bike tire erosion by those not wanting bikes on the PCT. The truth is we all cause damage to the trail, this is an irrefutable fact, we cannot escape it. I realise erosion is a problem but I would rather see the trail being well used by everyone, regardless of their chosen choice of transport, because it means people are getting out into the great wide open spaces that we have. We should, in fact, be embracing it. Trail crews will always be needed, whether bikes are allowed or not, and a fantastic job they do.
The cutting of the PCT in the first place could be classed as the biggest damage in itself. 2,650 miles of damage through one of the greatest unspoilt outdoor areas in the world. But, it was done for a greater cause, to allow people access and to get people out into the great outdoors. Damage may seem a strong word but that is what it was. Trails meander through our outdoor spaces all over the world, they are necessary to allow us access and far from being ugly, I like nothing better than to see a little wiggly line running up the side of a Scottish mountain, or a little line running through a Washington forest. Erosion is inescapable, damage is to expected and neither needs to be unsightly.
My own view? I think bikes should be allowed on the Pacific Crest Trail. We have shown in England that riders and walkers can exist on the same trail in harmony. The erosion argument holds little water. And let’s face it; there is a lot of the PCT where it is physically impossible to ride a bike anyway. I would suggest opening a section of trail where riders are allowed and let the USFS, the PCTA and whoever else monitor the results. Let that run for a couple of years and then make a decision whether it is working or not and whether it should be extended to most of the trail, or all of it.
You can never please the masses . . .