In the birthplace of mountain biking more trails need to be opened for mountain bikers

Sterling Lazarus

Art by Sterling Lazarus

50 years ago, an inconspicuous group of Marin County teenagers began to use the beautiful local landscape for more than just hiking. The Larkspur Canyon Gang, as they became known, used their single-speed balloon tire bicycles to ride all over Mount Tamalpais and through Baltimore Canyon. Soon their actions began to inspire others in the area, and mountain biking was born.

Not only did the sport gain steam in Marin, it soon began to spread to other mountainous places, like Colorado and Utah. Despite mountain biking’s popularity today, the sport continues to face competition and contradiction from outside groups. In Marin, opening more trails for bikers would be beneficial because mountain bikers are plentiful, the sport is a healthy way to explore the beauty of Marin, and the ecological impacts are greatly exaggerated by conservation advocates who often oppose the sport. 

 In the 1990s, double track, a type of trail where two bikers can ride next to each other, and wider trails were available, but for hardcore enthusiasts, single track continued to stay illegal because of pushback from local conservation groups. In fact, that same hostility toward mountain bikers still exists today. Mountain bikers make up 10 to 45 percent of trail users, according to visitor use data collected on Marin County Trails. Despite the large biking population, David Carbonell, co-founder of New Paradigm Trail Group, stated in a SFGATE article that mountain bikers only have access to 10 percent of the trails in Marin. That 10 percent of open trails include single track, double track and fire roads, meaning the hardcore single track community has access to even fewer trails. Taking into account Carbonell’s estimate that 45 percent of trail users are mountain bikers, his other estimate that 10 percent of trails are open to mountain bikers looks dismally small. 

Not only are the number of accessible trails open for mountain bikers not equivalent to the number of bikers in Marin, mountain biking also has various health benefits that should be taken into account when considering opening new trails. Mountain biking not only improves physical health in terms of building and maintaining muscle and healthy exercise habits, there is also a connection between physical activity and improved mental health, as stated in an article from Mind. Physical activity, like mountain biking, is an exceptional way to stay in good shape, and can be done at virtually any age. For people who prefer to exercise alone, mountain biking is a decent option. In addition to benefiting physical health, mountain biking can reduce stress, improve moods, and allow for better sleep. Ecotherapy is a program that attempts to improve mental and physical health through the outdoors. While there are specific programs centered around ecotherapy, simply being outdoors can improve anyone’s well being.

Despite the benefits to bikers, nature conservatives claim that allowing mountain bikers on trails has negative ecological impacts. However, mountain biking is no more harmful to the environment than other trail-based activities like hiking and horseback riding. A 2010 study conducted by Miistakis Institute, Michall Quinn, and Greg Chernoff found that it is difficult to determine which trail-based activity—mountain biking, hiking and horseback riding—was more damaging to the environment, with respect to the fact all three have different ecological impacts.

Allowing mountain bikers access to more trails around Marin would be beneficial to bikers’ physical fitness and mental health. Additionally, they would be able to appreciate everything the county has to offer. Mountain bikers have been an important part of Marin history, and hopefully the Marin community will continue to embrace and expand the mountain biking community.