Bicycling gets leg up from US Forest Service

Policies getting facelift for cyclists

The U.S. Forest Service is taking important steps to differentiate mountain biking from motorized use. Fresh revisions to administrative directives include important new language clarifying bicycling as a non-motorized activity. This comes on the heels of a landmark internal memo on the same topic, announced at the International Mountain Bicycle Association (IMBA) World Summit in June.

With more than 130,000 miles of trails, the Forest Service provides some of the best riding on both coasts, and nearly everywhere in between. 

"Mountain biking is incredibly popular in national forests and we believe it's appropriate to clarify the distinction between mountain biking and motorized use. Better policies will foster improved partnerships and riding experiences," says IMBA Executive Director Mike Van Abel.

For several years, IMBA has asked the Forest Service to further document its mountain biking policies. While most national forests understand bicycling is a quiet, non-motorized activity, a few have implemented rules rendering bicycles akin to motorized travel. IMBA believes the new revisions to the Forest Service Handbook and Manual-the primary basis for control and management of agency programs-represent an important step in standardizing mountain biking management at the field level.

"We're extremely pleased the Forest Service is taking these steps to formally recognize bicycling as low-impact and human-powered. Embedding this information in their employee handbooks will promote better understanding and practices in all 175 national forests and grasslands," says Van Abel.

Trail construction standards also improved

Updated construction standards will assist Forest Service staff when building new routes and determining appropriate uses on existing trails. Notably, bicycling joins hiking as a potentially suitable use on all trail classes, from the most primitive of designated routes to more developed paths. While decisions regarding bicycle access remain at the local level, this national change is further recognition that the environmental impacts of bicycling are similar to hiking and less than other uses.

Scott Linnenburger, IMBA's director of field programs, says the revised directives also provide valuable information for national forests faced with difficult trail maintenance decisions. "It's a positive step forward in actively, responsibly managing recreation on the 193 million acres of Forest Service land," says Linnenburger.

IMBA and the Forest Service have been formal partners since 1994, and have renewed their third consecutive memorandum of understanding through 2010. Mountain bikers are an important volunteer constituency on many national forests and the volunteer National Mountain Bike Patrol works to inform, assist, and educate mountain bikers and other trail users on Forest Service lands across the country.

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