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Re: Mt bikes on trails

I can only say "Hear, Hear" to your letter.  I live in San Diego county and
much of what you face there we also face.  I belong to a group called RTA. 
Ramona Trails Association.  We are a group of hikers, bikers, and
equestrians.   Our motto is "Trails are for Everyone" but that doesn't mean
we believe ALL trails are for EVERYBODY.  We are working to preserve trails
and educate potential users on proper etiquette.  Linda the Lurker  

From: connie B Berto <>
Subject: Mt bikes on trails
Date: Thursday, December 31, 1998 12:47 PM

Linda, I hadn't responded to recent posts on mt bikes but I really have
to speak up now because only half of the situation is being aired.  We've
lived in Marin County (CA) for 40+ years; this is where the mt. bike was
invented.  All mt. bikers wanted to come to our county to ride dirt on
"the mountain,"  which is Mt. Tamalpais.  They came (and still come) with
 widely varying levels of skill,  didn't know the rules or agency
regulations and didn't care. 
   Part of the confusion is the definition of "trail," which is almost
NEVER done when discussing the sharing of trails.    A "trail" can be six
feet wide and more, or 18 inches wide.    Locally, we have learned to
describe paths as "fire roads", dirt roads wide enough to accommodate
4-wheel vehicles, or  "single track," which is anything less than four
feet wide.   All "fire roads" in public lands (about 70% of our county is
public) are open to multiple use, and I SUPPORT that shared usage.  
Almost all of our local single tracks are 18 to 24 inches wide; bicycles
are restricted from these narrow trails in almost all agencies.  For many
reasons horses have historically been restricted from many of  our narrow
steeper hiking trails,  and I support that too.  Most all of our
singletracks wind up & down  through rocky,  hilly terrain, with steep
sideslopes, lots of side vegetation and trees,  very short sight lines
and lots of blind corners.   You wanna meet mt. bikers coming downhill at
you  on a trail like this?   And please, don't tell me that bicycles "go
slower" on such trails, every manual on riding dirt stresses that speed
is necessary to navigate roots and rocks.  
   In the early 1980's when mt bikes became really popular, the macho
bicycle types succeeded in ruining whatever chance there was of
acceptance of this new sport.  Every land agency manager around has thick
files of letters of complaint of agressive behavior, speed,
confrontations, accidents.  Yes, even deaths (both horse and human) have
been caused.  I could go on  about how many friends of mine have been
dumped from horses  by bikes suddenly popping out in front or behind; 
bikes skidding out of control; bikes winding up underneath their horses;
hospitalizations; hikers hit, some requiring extensive repair surgery;
etc.  I came with inches of being smashed into from the rear  by a
high-speed mt. biker, and I was only hand-walking my horse.  In one year
in the early 1990's our local Open Space Dept. got over 300 unsolicited
letters of complaints against mt. bikers.   One entrepreneur advertised
that he would transport you and your mt. bike up Mt. Tam so you could
have the thrill of blasting down the trails!  Right now there is a
pending lawsuit because of continued trespass on private property by mt
bikers seeking shortcuts, unfortunately  this case has already involved
vandalism,  physical violence and phoned threats to the property owners. 
Even rangers have been assaulted by mt. bikers.
   The problems are speed, safety hazards, and the ruination of  "quality
of experience."   Other users quietly go elsewhere when mt. bikers are
introduced in an area.  They are displaced, and when land managers  get
letters from the displaced elderly, the displaced families with young
children,  then something has gone wrong. Horses can be trained to accept
just about anything,  including warfare.  In fast bicycle confrontations,
though, the fright-and-flight instinct takes over and what happens then
is largely a matter of training, rider skill, and just plain luck.
    Are equestrians perfect?  Heck no, but never have we accounted for
the extreme limits of vandalism, personal abuse and safety hazards that
have been racked up by the mt. bikers.  Horses are not seen as a threat
by land managers nor by recreationalists; in fact, families love to see
the "horsie."  But in our water district alone, three-quarters of medical
calls responded to by rangers are bicycle-related, mostly caused by
excessive speed.  30% of the maintenance budget is spent on bicycle
issues and trying to repair illegal trails built by bicyclists.  Such
illegal routes are not only here in Marin but are rife in Sonoma County. 
One state park there had to be closed for a while to  repair damage from
hundreds of these "social" trails.
    I read about other areas in the US where bicyclists are polite,
law-abiding, courteous, and cooperate with hikers and equestrians. You
guys are lucky.  How wide, and how steep and curvy, are your trails?  I
wish you all well.   For sure, we need to cooperate on trail maintenance
and share the expenses of trail building.   I'll be honest and say that a
lot of mt. bikers in Marin have wised up and have backed off on the
confrontation stuff.  Maybe more of  the mt. bikers in Marin will decide
to obey the rules instead of flaunting the "in your face" stuff.   When
no less a person than Gary Fisher (who first marketed the Mt. Bicycle) 
gets up at a public meeting I attended and brags to the rangers that he
rides single-track illegally where-ever and  whenever he feels like it,
what sort of a message does that send?   
   One final personal note.  I have a road bike and have done five
"centuries" on it.  My husband, Frank,  is an internationally-known
expert (including court cases) on bicycle gearing and components and
pedals several thousand miles each year.  He's published two books on
bicycles and a third is almost ready for printing.  Our middle son is a
Category 2 road racer.  I am NOT "anti-bicycle."   But some times a line
has to be drawn and someone has to say "it is simply not appropriate to
have vehicles such as bicycles on this trail or that trail."   I realize
only too well that we equestrians are also close to the red line in being
banned from trails in many areas.  Apparently some people have no idea of
why many of us are against having bicycles on the narrow single-track
trails, or are inclined to dismiss our concerns,  and I hope this will
help them understand the problems we equestrians and hikers  face.  
Peace!    Connie B.

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