European Study on Trail Sustainability Gives New Insight on Mountain Biker Motivations, Illegal Trail Use, & More

Jan 16, 2022 at 16:40
by Alicia Leggett  
Photo: Ross Bell

It's no secret that mountain bikers sometimes face conflict with other user groups and can be portrayed as reckless, inconsiderate, and hedonistic, but a recent study found, in contrast, that mountain bikers are largely driven by affective motives like appreciation for nature, and the vast majority say the sport has caused them to change their behavior to better take care of their environment.

The study, led by Tom Campbell of the Edinburgh Napier University and the Mountain Bike Centre of Scotland and available in full here, surveyed 3,780 European mountain bikers in several areas: demographics, riding styles, trail use and preferences, motivations for mountain bike participation, opinions and understandings around trail access, attitudes toward sustainable trails, and environmental behaviors. For the first time, a large-scale study assessed the myths about mountain bikers' attitudes and behaviors and pitted those myths against what those mountain bikers actually said.

The other authors behind the study are Lewis Kirkwood of the Edinburgh Napier University and The Mountain Bike Centre of Scotland, Graeme MacLean of Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland (DMBinS), Mark Torsius of IMBA, and Geraint Florida-James of the Edinburgh Napier University and The Moutain Bike Centre of Scotland.

The survey included questions like, for example, the following:

bigquotesThinking about your own use of trails and personal attitude towards nature, please indicate to what extent the following statements apply to you: My use of and access to trails has led me to change my behaviours to reduce my environmental impact—strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree.

Results

Demographics & Rider Characteristics

The respondents were European residents over the age of 16 and 60% male, 16% female, and 24% undisclosed gender. Most self-described as intermediate (50.2%) or advanced (43.2%), with 3.7% beginners and 2.9% professionals.

The largest age bracket was 36-45 (33.8%), followed by 26-35 (25.6%) and 46-55 (23%). 9.9% of respondents were under 25, with the remaining 7.8% over 55. The countries with the most respondents, with more than 300 each, were Denmark, Italy, Norway, Switzerland, and the UK. France, Germany, and the Netherlands were the next most-represented, with between 100 and 300 respondents each.


Riding Styles

Trail (31.2%) and enduro (25.7%) riders unsurprisingly made up the bulk of the respondents, followed by cross country (15.1%), freeride/downhill (12.9%), pump track (8.2%), miscellaneous (4.1%), and dirt jump (2.8%).

When broken down by country, a few statistics stand out: The Netherlands and Denmark have significantly more cross country riders when compared with the rest of the countries, while France and Italy dominate in terms of enduro (unsurprising, considering the terrain of those countries). Switzerland and Italy have the most downhill and freeride enthusiasts, with Norway and Germany close behind.

Photo: Scotty McLaughland

Motivations

The largest group of participants indicated exercise/health as their primary motivation (20.2%), closely followed by connection with nature (19.2%). Next on the list were play (17.4%) and challenge (17.3%), essentially tied, and escape/solitude (16.7%). Risk, accomplishment, culture, each received less than 3% of the responses.

Germans mountain bike for escape and solitude nearly four percentage points more than average, and the Danish don't ride for play nearly as much as most other countries - 12.8% compared with 17.4%. Brits seem less interested in connecting with nature than average (15.2% compared with 19.2%) and are more drawn to risk than most (5.5% compared with 3.5%).


Attitudes Toward Trail Access

70.6% of mountain bikers surveyed believe they are clear on where they are allowed to ride, while nearly half (46.5%) believe mountain bike trails should be reserved for mountain bikers only. Fewer than 20% of respondents feel that mountain bikers should be limited to bike-specific trails, and 80% believe mountain bikers should have access to all trails including hiking and equestrian trails.


Unauthorized Trail Use & Social Conflict

Most riders surveyed ride unauthorized trails from time to time, at least. 21.3% said they ride unauthorized trails often, 36.7% said they ride unauthorized trails occasionally, 26.3% said they never ride illegal trails, and the remaining 15.7% were unsure.

The most common rationale for riding unauthorized trails was insufficiency of legal trails (25.7%), followed closely by "it's harmless if done at quiet times" (24.8%). The desire for freedom and adventure ranked third with 18.2%, legal trails being unappealing ranked fourth with 15.5%, 'other' ranked fifth with 13.6%, and convenience took the remaining 2% of the vote.


Now, a few outliers: Germany, by far, had the most riders who ride unauthorized trails, with 53.6% riding them often and 34.1% riding them occasionally. Just 7.7% of German respondents stick only to the legal trails. Denmark riders, on the other end of the spectrum, tend to abide by the rules, with 44.9% never riding unsanctioned trails, 42.1% riding them occasionally, 7.2% unsure, and just 5.8% riding them often.

In terms of rationale, Germans were most likely to say there were insufficient legal trails with 35.8% of the responses. Norwegians were least likely to answer that their legal trails were unappealing, with just 3.5% of the responses - barely over one-fifth of the average. France ranked highest in wanting freedom or adventure, with 24.9%, beating the average by 6 percentage points.

The majority of respondents had experienced some social conflicts while riding unauthorized trails, with the most frequent form of conflict being other trail users making negative comments (64.5%). Over 60% who experienced those comments said those experiences happened either "very infrequently" or "now and again," as opposed to more frequently.


Environmental Attitudes & Behaviors

Nearly 90% of riders surveyed ride on wet trails, particularly in the UK, where riders largely feel they don't have other options and where riders were also more likely than in other countries that they ride wet trails for enjoyment.


About 95% say that mountain biking has increased their appreciation of nature, while nearly that many say the sport has increased their willingness to protect trails. 90% have also taken direct action to protect nature.


98% of respondents said the sustainability of mountain bike trails is important to them and 75% said they believe they have a good understanding of what makes a trail sustainable. 60% of the riders said they feel a sense of ownership to their local trails, with just 10% answering that trail maintenance is the responsibility of the landowner. 91% of respondents believe mountain bikers should volunteer to maintain the trails.


Perceptions of Sustainable Trail Characteristics

1552 respondents provided a free text response to the question of what they consider to be a sustainable trail, then those responses were analyzed and broken down by theme. The responses, in general, fell in two categories: sustainability of the trails themselves and their broader impact on their environments. The broader themes around the trails themselves were good drainage, little need for maintenance, natural materials, long-term durability, and all-weather durability. The themes that emerged from the broader environmental responses focused on minimizing the trails' impacts on the broader environment, minimizing erosion, and preventing damage to local flora and fauna. "We also learnt that mountain bikers consider a sustainable trail to encompass a range of social, economic and wider environmental elements which extend well beyond the construction and maintenance of the trail itself," Campbell wrote.

Photo: Innes Graham

Conclusions
The researchers concluded that mountain bikers, as a whole, care more about the natural environment and the sustainability of their trails than is often stereotyped. Similarly, they found that mountain bikers are motivated largely by the same factors as hikers and other trail users, rather than by "risk," despite mountain biking being often categorized as an "adrenaline sport."

bigquotesEven more interesting is that most riders believe that mountain biking has increased their appreciation of nature and their willingness to protect it. In fact, most riders claim to have taken direct action to protect nature and have also changed their behaviour to reduce their environmental impact because of their participation in mountain biking. So, we have some initial evidence of a positive causal relationship between mountain biking and environmental conscience.Dr. Tom Campbell

Riders' self-reported attitudes and behaviors toward trail stewardship indicate that governing bodies and stakeholders can capitalize on this "goodwill," the researchers suggest, by providing more avenues for mountain bikers to support their trails, both financially and through volunteering.

The authors also concluded that there's a need for more research regarding illegal trail use and its impact on the environment. Thanks to a lack of systematic information, the article read, the sustainability implications of riding illegal trails remain unclear, and more research could be used to better inform decisions about trail advocacy and mountain bike access in the future.

bigquotesUnderstanding how and why mountain bikers are using certain types of trails should help to inform planners, landowners, and trail builders when making decisions about future trail provision and also ongoing maintenance. The fact that mountain bikers are willing to contribute to trail maintenance provides an excellent opportunity to harness social and financial capital to benefit our trail networks and the wider natural environment. However, mechanisms need to be created to ensure that these willing attitudes can be easily turned into actions.Dr. Tom Campbell



208 Comments

  • 383 16
 Get the f**k off Strava and keep you're damn mouth shut.
  • 30 0
 louder plz
  • 70 2
 You forgott Trailforks....
  • 76 12
 Only slow riders use Strava. Fight me.
  • 3 2
 @coloradohaze: haha well done,
  • 8 3
 looks ore to me like 55% of respondents lied... lol
  • 2 0
 just quit it
  • 34 0
 I hate people who put someone else's trail on Strava. And this happens all the time over here. The bike community is too big now and everybody takes the trails for granted
  • 26 0
 The first rule of Fight Club...
  • 12 0
 @bashhard: In my experience it's mainly new riders who aren't yet familiar with "the rules".
  • 19 1
 *your
  • 5 1
 And when your trails get shut down don’t get all indignant…
  • 8 0
 Strava has helped some of the illegal trails in the UK. Watch Manon Carpenters Trails on Trials video.
  • 11 1
 When I build a trail I don't tell anyone where it is except my grandmother, because she is my inspiration
  • 11 0
 @bashhard: As a Californian living here in Bavaria for the last 8 years i could not agree more with you!! We have such an issue here with trails because most of our forests here are privately owned, hence the reason we build or ride more illegal trails, or go 45min south into Austria. Its a shame really when you invite friends to ride your secret trails and they want to track it, add it to their TF app or Strava,,,, As cool as these apps may have sounded in the beggining(to some) they really have had a shit storm effect on the Sport... Rant over,,,, Carry on... hahah BTW,,, first comment wins and should be elected PB Comment Regulator!!
  • 8 0
 @bashhard: thats the downside of the internet...remember when you had to go out and scout for trails instead of just following your phone?
  • 15 1
 I think it quite funny how many here complain about people breaking the rules concerning people who break the rules.
  • 1 0
 Preach!
  • 3 0
 @coloradohaze: - and people that cut the trails to get KOMs
  • 7 0
 Strava and Trailforks can be used strategically, at least in the US. When I ride trails on public land that need to see some more riders, I will put them on Strava publicly and/or update Trailforks conditions. I have a few trails near me that genuinely need some more riders on them, before they get overgrown, and are only 15 minutes away from some trails that are much more heavily used.

the flipside is when I ride something on the "down low", I don't put it on the internet. If you really want, you ccan use your "internet footprint" to direct out of town riders to certain trails over others by doing simply things like updating Trailforks ride logs for some trails and having radio silence on others.
  • 4 0
 @Muscovir: Yeah definitely. Especially since covid the number of new bikers who don't know or care about about trail etiquette rose extremely. These are also the kind of bikers who cut every f*cking corner
  • 3 0
 @MSB-27: Yes that is so true. At least they could switch the routes with secret trails to private so no one else sees their rides.

@sailor74 Yes I remember that even though I'm not that old. It was such an amazing feeling when you finally found a trail after following every small footpath you saw
  • 2 0
 @bashhard: oh and then they think that they get to name it too.
Also bad when mt bikers are anti moto when many many trails were moto 1st.
Same thing hikers on mtb made trails.
Very rare to see a hiker working on trail drainage before it during rain.
  • 2 0
 First rule of pirate trail club is…
  • 1 0
 @hammercycle88: Damnit. lol....thanks.
  • 1 0
 @Hamburgi: You know...I hadn't even thought of that until I deleted my Strava account. After I did, I got an email from TF asking if I wanted to delete all my rides on there too.
  • 96 1
 Wait...there are legal trails?
  • 32 18
 The whole Switzerland is 100% legal.
Of course, except of some small private parts or protected areas.
So, if it can be done here, with just a little bit of willingness and common sense (shared trails between hikers and mtbikers) it can be done everywhere
  • 47 2
 @pakleni: in which Switzerland do you live in?
  • 10 0
 @pakleni: In ZH and many mor cantons its official forbidden to ride offside forest roads
  • 12 0
 Meanwhile we are definitely not building huge dirt jumps on unauthorized land for the last 3 decades.
  • 3 0
 @ron101: Are you sure about that? I have spent 5 years in canton ZH and all the hiking trails were open to mtb unless specified otherwise.
  • 4 0
 @pakleni: I don't know which country you live in, but it sure as heck isn't the Switzerland I know.
  • 1 0
 @ReeferSouthrland: yeah, definitely not. Smile
  • 2 0
 @pakleni: What?
  • 2 0
 @pakleni: Not true. All the « bisse » (historic irrigation channels) are only for pedestrians.
  • 1 0
 @buckow: Wherever I went I had never end up in a no bikes zone. Some trails maybe but not that much.
  • 1 0
 @ron101: This is apparently not 100% clear, it was discussed e.g here

www.bernerzeitung.ch/schlammschlacht-auf-berner-wanderwegen-841345496679

One party interprets the law as it’s allowed everywhere in CH where not explicitely forbidden, the others say another law regulates this…
  • 1 0
 ..where I'm from, that's an oxymoron
  • 3 0
 @ice29:
The law is a different sight. Then you can read the law's in the swiss canton of aargau and its official forbidden to ride, see here.. www.ag.ch/de/bvu/wald/erholungsraum_wald/reiten_und_biken_im_wald/reiten_und_biken_im_wald_1.jsp

In Switzerland its everywhere different. In Valais there is a strong corporation between the swiss hiking association and the MTBer's like Graubünden.

And for an example in Basel. Before the trail was build in Sissach, there was no problem to ride all the hiking trails that exist there... And know, you've got a flowline, one official Trail to ride, and everything around is now forbidden. Just saying...
  • 1 0
 @ice29: Every canton has its own rules so its permitted as example in GR (they know the earn monney with that :-)
but not in ZH SG AI AR etc.
  • 1 0
 @ron101: it is such a big country it needs different rules for each street.
  • 74 0
 Takes a Land manager years to even consider approving a trail and when it is approved they allow a green flow trail to be built. No wonder pirate trails are everywhere. If you had trails that people wanted I'd bet you would see less pirate stuff in a lot of areas.
  • 27 0
 This is exactly the issue up in my neck of the woods. Any new trail area built legally focuses on machine built IMBA flow highways with no variety. We got fed up and started building some gnarly downhill trails on a closed portion of a ski hill. Fast forward a few years and Strava basically outed us to the rest of the province. The added volume has forced the local trail stewards to consider legalizing our trails and adding them to the local network so as to not lose them to real estate speculators.
  • 19 0
 @wilsonians THIS!!!! I've said for years, "if they'd let us build legal trails that suit our needs, we wouldn't have anywhere near as many illegal DH/FR trails"
  • 6 0
 @m47h13u: Colorado can't even build fun flow trails outside of resort riding, everything is dumbed down to the green level.
  • 4 0
 @pbfan08: Yeah, I'm aware.... I've spent a fair amount of time in CO. Arizona seems to be the same way. Very, very few trails get built with bikes in mind at all. What we mostly get are janky hiking trails, with grumpy hikers and equestrians.
  • 1 0
 @tmwjr777: Southern California is the same. Mountain bikes are an afterthought.
  • 2 1
 @tmwjr777: forreal. While I'm thankful for the counties' and parks' dedication to providing us trails, they're all pretty mellow. They're too sissy to build the rad shit bc of ppl hurting themselves and suing.
  • 3 0
 After reading these comments, I realize how blessed and fortunate I am to live within 30 min of 6 ski resorts—MTB-approved trails abound. We also have several city-maintained (and partially built) bike parks and trail systems nearby.
  • 2 0
 @gnarlysipes: where is this? Park city?
  • 2 0
 The timberline bike park at mt hood is a good example of this. talking to the guys who work there this past summer, it sounded like they can barely get permission to displace and move dirt to make jumps/technical features, however they have been allowed to make multiple 6 foot wide green/blue-rated highway trails covered in break bumps swerving all over the mountain. such a contradiction
  • 1 0
 @Ososmash: maybe Salt Lake City?
  • 2 0
 @Ososmash: I'm in the greater SLC area. I'm about 45 min from PC. We have a fair number of trail miles on private land, but the ones closer to me in the south part of the valley haven't had issues (yet; crossing fingers). My former boss bought 700 acres on the Utah County side of Draper (Corner Canyon trail area) and he said he's working with the city to maintain access to some of these trails. I don't think anything significant will change in the next few years.
  • 64 0
 Arthur: How do you do, good lady. I am Arthur, king of the Britons. Whose *TRAIL* is that?
Woman: King of the 'oo?
Arthur: King of the Britons.
Woman: 'Oo are the Britons?
Arthur: Well we all are! We are all Britons! And I am your king.
Woman: I didn't know we 'ad a king! I thought we were autonomous collective.
Man: (mad) You're fooling yourself! We're living in a dictatorship! A self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working classes--
Woman: There you go, bringing class into it again...
Man: That's what it's all about! If only people would--
Arthur: Please, *please*, good people, I am in haste! *Whose TRAIL is that?*
  • 13 0
 your not a pinkbiker, your a very mucky boy
  • 58 1
 Because most legal trails suck
  • 18 1
 @butthed: Well spoken
  • 5 1
 @butthed: nailed it
  • 3 1
 @butthed: Care to explain the joke? I think I missed something.
  • 7 0
 @SimonJaeger: You didn't miss anything.
  • 44 0
 If we had to ride only legal trails built by or OK'd by the owner/land manager or governing body - we'd have very little to ride. I'm not for a free for all building attitude, and I don't like seeing trails built like it were a bike park, but if we didn't dig ourselves, the popularity in mountain biking wouldn't be what it is today.
  • 16 0
 Where I live, if you want to ride anything beyond extremely dumbed down beginner trails you have to ride illegal trails. Everyone is too concerned with liability to allow anything interesting to be built
  • 4 1
 @nfontanella: I don't understand the liability thing, biking on the street is far more dangerous and nobody is restricting street cycling that ive heard of. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3672442
  • 5 0
 @bneall: From a lawyer: Liability is an issue if man-made structures are built - all wooden features - they would have to be maintained in good repair and be shown not to contribute to any accident if it occurred. The owner would need to carry insurance and the builder can be held accountable as well - ALL structures consisting of natural materials are OK (dirt,rock,logs) that are not bound be any man-made materials are deemed as natural and susceptible to the wears of Mother Nature - natural erosion and degradation. This is Why public lands and land mangers tear down wooden jumps, drops, bers etc. So always go au-natur-al.
  • 37 3
 Nearly all bikers are more than willing to pick up a shovel and help build/maintain a trail. Far fewer bikers are willing to attend city council meetings and work with land owners, forest service, etc to get permission to build or legalized already built trails. That's what we really need: bikers to wade into local politics. That's how it seems to me here in the US anyhow.
  • 34 0
 As someone who is on the board of their local MTB chapter and trying to do the paper pushing... it is a huge pain in the ass. I would much rather be digging than typing (especially because I type for work), but it pays off if you are willing to suffer through some meetings and be bored. We just gained legal access to around 2,500 acres of land to build a new zone on (after a year of negotiations). So not a bad return on investment.
  • 37 2
 "Nearly all bikers are more than willing to pick up a shovel and help build/maintain a trail" has me laughing, have you seen how many people show up to trail work days? It's the same half dozen folks every time.
  • 17 1
 Nearly .0025% of all bikers pick up tools and do trail maintenance and building
  • 3 0
 @bonkmasterflex: Nice work! Quick too!
@CT-MTB Ha, you're right, that was an exaggeration. But still far more are willing to do trail work than advocacy was my point.
  • 9 1
 @CT-MTB: I love when my local Trail Stewardship post work days.... Wednesday at 11:00 AM. Like WTF, people got jobs man. And this is not a one off, I don't get it.

And I've seen it more than once that you really don't want too many people showing up to actually dig. Some people don't want to listen, start doing their own thing, butt heads.

Spring trimming and post-storm cleanup, the more bodies the more better.
  • 4 3
 @krka73: Sounds like you need to get more involved with your local trail stewards that way you can work with them about getting work days that work for everyone, prove you're responsible and can work within the land owners guidelines, and get trained so you can go out when its convenient for you and you can lead other volunteers that way your local trail stewards can have public work days that work for everyone. I hope it works out for you.
  • 2 1
 @CT-MTB: That's the way they want it, it's working out for them.

This is my experience from you know, actually participating.

Not all Trail Stewardship's are created equal. Some are collaborative, some are fiefdoms.
  • 5 4
 @krka73: this is my biggest gripe with the "no dig no ride" attitude. I'll probably be downvoted for this, but for some of us adults with full time jobs we don't have enough time to ride let alone help you dig. I'm very thankful for the builders but what do they expect.
  • 7 0
 @yoimaninja: I similarly cannot donate much if any time to my local chapter. So I donate money.
  • 2 1
 @krka73: Fair, working with individuals can be challenging at your real job and with volunteers. Chances are they are volunteers doing their best to work with others and it's not easy. I'd bet many want more people to participate but get frustrated with all of the overhead and logistics which is a bummer.

@yoimaninja: It is all about what you prioritize in your life, you can have a full time job and give up 4 hours on your weekend once a year to dig. The "I don't have time excuse" is just silly.
  • 2 0
 @CT-MTB: You're not wrong and I mean ya 4 hours once a year sure that's nothing. But like @Stoaks said I think I'd rather donate money than my time.
  • 2 0
 Easier to ask for forgiveness then for permission.
  • 3 0
 @CT-MTB: I'm gonna push back on 4 hours. If digging only took four hours out of one's day, this is what it would (generously) look like for a parent on a weekend

T = 0.00 hrs -- load gear into car
T = 0.50 hrs -- arrive at trailhead
T = 0.75 hrs -- safety & planning talk
T = 1.00 hrs -- break into groups, hike to work zone
T = 1.50 hrs -- arrive at work site, plan work
T = 1.75 hrs -- start working
T = 2.50 hrs -- wrap up work
T = 3.00 hrs -- arrive back at car, change clothes, socialize with folks
T = 3.25 hrs -- change out of muddy cloths, drive home
T = 3.75 hrs -- arrive home, unload gear
T = 4.00 hrs -- out of the shower, resume child care duties

So that's 45 minutes of digging if you're going to dedicate 4 hours
  • 1 1
 @pmhobson: Dude, I'm a parent and I think your approach is off a bit.
You can leave early for the trails and don't count the drive there. Get your tools and all up the trail and start work. Maybe even plan on stashing a couple of tools so when you're riding the same trail you can put in a few minutes of work. No real need to change clothes unless you're working in the rain and no reason to socialize if you are pressed for time. Zip home, crack a cold one and be proud of yourself.
  • 3 0
 @CT-MTB: I stopped showing up to do trail work because all they do is remove any feature that could be a jump, or anything fun. Then we would spend half of a day to make more switchbacks to make it easier to climb the hills. Now i just do trail work alone in sundays to cut up fallen trees and fix berms
  • 1 1
 @pmhobson: Typical excuses. Please only stay on public maintained and mapped trails that don't need any private digging. Blame it on whatever you want, but you can find a way out of anything. By the way, don't ever take any of your kids on any unsanctioned trails since you are using them as an excuse to help maintain.
  • 2 0
 @Carbonhabit: You live by me? I swear this past year my local trail stewards have just made all the pre-existing trails more lame, taking out any and all features. That was another good discussion on this topic on why so many pirate trails exists. Its because the legal ones are lame af.
  • 1 0
 @bonkmasterflex: Found the IMBA guy!
  • 1 0
 @skelldify: Nope! haha I'm not in IMBA territory.
  • 1 0
 We dit it here (speaking with politics) it works surprisingly easily! It can be seen as a win. The counter part is you are then known and really cannot ride illegal trails and must even persuade others not to ride them as you are kind of a representative (even if you are truly really not). Not motivating for everyone.
  • 2 0
 @Tallboy97: I do plenty of trail work. My point is that it takes up more than 4 hours of my day. 8 - 9 hours is more likely, considering how far I have to drive, and the fact that I get there early to help organize tools for the different crews and help folks get signed in
  • 31 0
 Scrolling to find some Austrian comments but there's nobody?

How do you know you're on a legal bike trail in Tirol (outside of a bikepark )?
There are cars driving on it
  • 1 1
 So true
  • 5 0
 The sad truth is, that there are multiple forest roads, where it is allowed to drive by car but forbidden to ride by bike.
  • 3 0
 @Moeington: That's big brain time right there... So unfortunate because you have such a beautiful country
  • 31 0
 I used to look down on illegal trail builders and then I got better at mountain biking.
  • 21 0
 It is true. In Germany, we mostly ride illegal trails because the offerings of officially sanctioned trails are just completely insufficient. I've been riding bikes for nearly 20 years and this has always been the case.

The problem basically begins with advocacy (or rather the lack thereof) and the mis- or under-representation of mountainbiking as a sport in municipal politics. This issue also isn't helped by the public perception of the sport. Mountainbiking in the public opinion has historically always been regarded as a rather rowdy activity and definitley not a sport to be taken serious. As such, there has always been a lot of NIMBY-ism going on in politics trying to limit bike access to public trail systems. Unfortunately, the legal situation to trail access and public land access for mountainbiking has developed accordingly.

The legal situation is very complicated and slightly varies from one state to another. I don't want to bore you to death with a lecture in German public law, so I'm not going to go into detail. But to put it short: Right now, in most German states, it's basically illegal to ride your mountainbike offroad anywhere where doing so is not specifically permitted (via a signpost). The question of liability on public trails does its part in further complicating the matter regarding the legal situation.

In the last couple of years, at least the representation issue has slowly been getting better. There's now advocacy groups and biking clubs forming everywhere and there have been some officially sanctioned trails built that you'd actually find appealing as a mountainbiker. But it's happening very slowly and not there are nowhere near enough trails in most places. The the legal situation is, like I said, also still far from ideal. Trail access is still legally prohibited in most places with special permits required to build and maintain trails. Even as a club, you'd have to jump through a lot of bureaucratic hoops.

On top of that, the objectors and adversaries have been getting more and more militant in their efforts to keep hiking trails, forests and open land mountainbike free. The most radical adversaries of trail access for mountainbikes are often times not even the hiking clubs or horseback riders, but ecologists, conservationists and other Greens - if you can believe the irony.

There's still hope for the future but right now Germany really isn't a good place to live as a mountainbiker.
  • 7 0
 Ya that blows and I'd guess that's the case in a lot of areas. Marin county, California being one example. From my perspective it takes a cultural shift which seems greatly influenced by more mtb advocacy.

Here in Utah it seems that once trails were realized as an economic stimulator, they started springing up everywhere. And the newer trails (~last 5 years or so) are very entertaining.

I don't pretend to know German culture and Utah may be a bit "wild west", so I hope this helps?

That and patience....
  • 13 0
 Since you mentioned the NIMBYs getting increasingly militant: www.badische-zeitung.de/unbekannte-stellen-erneut-fallen-auf-freiburger-mountainbike-strecken--201971409.html

Stuff like this happens in Freiburg all the time. I don't know about other places, but here the NIMBYs even attack official and legal trails. As you said, by far the largest problem is that mountainbiking has had a rather unfavourable public image. Basically the same thing that happened to the skater scene in the 90s. People finally need to accept that riding a mountainbike is as much of a legitimate hobby as hiking or playing football.
  • 6 0
 Shit really do be the same everywhere. The one place I've seen that had real success not only expanding trails, but building badass legal trails is Vermont. They have a really impressive state-wide advocacy umbrella group, with a bunch of dues paying local chapters. And they have local businesses and bike parks on board. So they advocate for friendly laws on state-wide level, and then the local chapters work with landmanagers to build up and get approved the trails in under their jurisdiction. It's just massively impressive. vmba.org
  • 4 0
 @IamZOSO: Strangely enough, the thing you said about the public administration jumping on mountainbiking as a factor of economic stimulation for the tourism industry hasn't happened yet - which is highly uncharacteristic for Germany. "The economy" is basically the first argument we find in any debate.

That cultural shift is probably what needs to happen for things to get better. Like I said, there's hope for the future, but it's going to take a lot of time.

It's good to hear that, biking wise, things are going in the right direction in Utah. And what a fantastic place to go for a hike or bike ride. So much awesome scenery...
  • 5 0
 @SimonJaeger: Paywall on that article. But you really only have to read the headline to get the point. I honestly don't understand those people. It such a horrible contrast, on the one hand there's people peacefully enjoying their hobby, having fun and on the other hand you got fanatics digging spiked trap holes or installing wire traps as if it were the war. I get the chills just thinking about it.
  • 5 0
 You have said enough.. that is so true and sad at the same time.. we have a lot of kids which coming up biking and there are more kids which are interested in biking as in playing football or stuff like that, but every little village has a soccer field which costs a huge amount of money but there is no chance of building a legal trail cause its to expensive and so on.. Also there are a few ideas of building pumptracks around my home but they are too expensive in their eyes.. and also we built a few legal trails but the bureaucratic and all that stuff has taken 4-7 years from trail to trail..
  • 1 0
 Haha yeah in parts Utah people poor AF compared to Marin. People will take what they can get @IamZOSO:
  • 1 0
 @IamZOSO: everywhere except Salt Lake City. Thanks Mayor Mendenhall!
  • 4 0
 @JimmyDH920: 7 years worth of bureaucratic roadblocks just to build one single mountainbike trail. You can't make that shit up. Only in Germany...
  • 1 0
 @Muscovir: check Spain, Germany is heaven in comparison (I live in Ireland now, but lived 14 years in Spain)
  • 5 0
 I've been to Germany 3 times to ride mtb,2 of them in Harz- so there are at least one place in Germany for mountainbikers. A bit funny/ sad,it is like that,with all those mountains and forests in Germany..here in little flat Denmark we have tons of official marked mtb trails.. in Sweden and Norway you can ride and sleep in tent almost where ever you like. What's wrong with you southerners?
  • 1 0
 @lenniDK: Norway must have some incredible mtb trails.
  • 4 0
 @withdignityifnotalacrity: yes, we have incredible trails - but not that many mtb trails. There is no such thing as "unauthorized trails" here, as we can, by law, ride whereever we want. There are very few off-limit areas, some nature reservations etc.

I find it difficult to define trails, as the concept varies so much. I'd like to split them into "tracks" - purpose built for riding, whereas "trails" is something created by multi-use, including wildlife. "Natural trails" sounds weird over here, at least in my head.
  • 2 0
 @knutspeed: I think around here the distinction is "mtb specific" and "multi-use", but I get what you're saying. As long as the multi-use trails are not particularly crowded, I like the natural riding anyway. Lets you get creative with the lines. Need to get out to Norway for sure.
  • 20 0
 I ride legal trails that the local land management hate and like to find ways to reroute logging operations through them. Even though thier main complaint is MTB riders disturb wild life. Chainsaws and tractors are fine though.
  • 6 0
 It's the same where I live. Even in the countryside, most forest we've got here has more or less been "urbanized". There's gravel access roads everywhere that people use for hiking and walking their dogs and large logging operations take place frequently with heavy equipment.

But heaven forbid if you rode your mountainbike on a singletrail through the forest, because THAT would surely disturb the wildlife.
  • 1 0
 Isartrails?
  • 25 2
 Study: nearly 50% of trails are boring
  • 12 1
 50% of legal bike trails are poached by hikers, off leash dog walkers, and horses dropping terds every 50 meters
  • 17 0
 Technically no trail is illegal in Scotland, as long as you're riding responsibly, and there's a code of conduct which reflects the legislation (Scottish Outdoor Access Code). What is illegal is building new trails/features if the landowner has told you not to, but otherwise you're all good - you cannot cut down trees which aren't yours though, that's a huge no-no and is often prosecuted.

There's also a big difference between "unauthorized" and actually illegal. Unauthorized simply means it isn't formalised in any way, and any liability lies solely with the rider (usually). Whereas if you own/lease/have permission to use the land, build a trail, grade it, sign it, and encourage people to use it then it's on you to maintain it to a safe standard.
  • 16 0
 Finland: ”everyman’s rights” permit to ride on existing trail/forest path on public or private land. For making a new trail you need the permission from the owner. Can’t cause damage, cut trees/branches etc but owner can’t deny riding a bike.
  • 10 0
 Yeah, same in sweden and I'm so happy about that.

There might be some local rules that prohibits biking in some areas though. And also it might not be great riding everywhere just because you are allowed (high speed on shared gravel paths as some like to do...)
  • 4 0
 @joeldevahl: Ditto Norway.
  • 9 0
 Same in Scotland. Wish we could saw ourselves off England and float over to Scandinavia (I know Finland isn't in Scandinavia).
  • 1 7
flag harrybel (Jan 20, 2022 at 11:17) (Below Threshold)
 @redrook: Err, so where do you think it is then?
  • 6 0
 @harrybel: Finland is part of Fennoscandia, includes Scandinavia, Finland and parts of Russia.
  • 6 0
 @kiisseli: Exactly, it isn't part of Scandinavia. It's part of a larger area which includes Scandinavia.

Saying Finland is in Scandinavia is like saying Belgium is part of France.
  • 5 0
 @harrybel: I think it's not in Scandinavia because it isn't Wink

Belgium and France are both in Europe, but that doesn't mean Belgium is in France. You understand?
  • 1 0
 @redrook: Ha ha.
  • 1 0
 @kiisseli: I stand corrected. Seems people sometimes include it, sometimes don’t.
  • 19 0
 I rode a legal trail once. It was awful
  • 15 2
 Yeah well most new trails being built around the world follow that stupid overly sustainable (yes, the overly part is important) trail building technique and things end up with too many grade reversals, crappy berms, etc. The best trails in my area are rogue trails.
  • 1 1
 I agree but I don't like it when people call my trails rogue. That's a very negative description and a trail cant be rogue anyway. check the definition.
  • 3 0
 That's down to the incompetence of people building them. You shouldn't have crappy berms because flat corners cause braking and erosion. I think the problem is that too many people building sanctioned/official/whatever-you-want-to-call-it trails haven't got the skill/time/resources to do it better.
  • 3 0
 I would like to remind everyone that its not water on trails that causes damage, but fast flowing water that is able to carry sediment that causes trail damage
  • 1 3
 @redrook: not necessarily. the forest floor keeps erosion at bay, digging up the floor to expose and move dirt causes more erosion in most cases.
  • 3 0
 @gmoss: Who said anything about digging to expose more dirt?
If you build your trail properly you will do all the earth moving required to create the trail you want without causing too much impact. Erosion is caused when a trail is not supported and/or properly drained, causing trail widening and collapse. These are all extremely common on more natural trails, particularly in forests where the ground is more wet.
A supportive berm (supportive, not necessarily big), for example, prevents people from skidding, going off the trail, taking the trail too wide etc. and as long as it's drained properly the trail shouldn't change. It takes a day in Squamish to know this, the trails there are excellent, don't involve bringing in material, and don't erode (all trails require some maintenance).
Your trail design needs to work with the terrain you're using. I've done plenty of erosion correcting work in the forest.
  • 2 0
 @redrook: Gotta agree, the worst places I know for trail erosion are all in the woods, where people have done the minimal amount of digging or prep work and have just ridden.
  • 2 2
 @vtracer: Only if you remove the human factor. With people involved wetter ground is much more easily eroded by walking/cycling. You get plenty of erosion on high mountain trails with no flowing water around at all simply because the trail is not designed for the traffic it is experiencing. People also avoid standing water and deviate from the trail, which also causes erosion.
  • 1 3
 @redrook: i cannot speak to other locations, just here. Where does the dirt come from to build berms? They dig up the floor, removing topsoil, and exposing the dirt below, they take mini dozers thru the woods. I commented on your mention of building berms, not goinf to carry that dirt in, so it comes from digging up the dirt. In some places, if done right, it is necessary and helpful. Here, it is becoming something that is just done, without thinking. There are berms built in uphill slight corners that are not even needed. It is silly what is happening to existing trails here.
  • 3 0
 @gmoss: You might also dig down to create a berm. Removing topsoil does not constitute erosion, particularly if that spot isn't going to be walk/ridden on. No mini dozers here, all done by hand, but in Whistler they do a LOT of dozer digging and they do not suffer from erosion because they know how to build/grade/drain trails properly.
You are right in that a lot of trails are made without people thinking, but as I say that's about incompetence and not doing something which is appropriate to the situation. There is not one single correct method for everywhere.
  • 1 0
 @Jackaboo: Good trail drainage is draining the water off the trail with minimal impact to the trail and surrounding environment, i.e. is able to run off without being concentrated and slowly enough as to not carry sediment
  • 1 1
 @vtracer: Correct, that is what good drainage is. Flowing water can cause erosion, but so can other things - e.g. people walking/riding off the trail.
  • 14 0
 Not such a big surprise most german riders ride illegal trails - in most areas there are no legal trails.
  • 7 0
 The legal "trails" I ride in Madrid are the pumptrack and the bike lane,anything else is floating over there in an illegal/legal limbo. There are a few trails marked but those you could do with your kids,nothing interesting for real bikers.
  • 6 0
 If we didn't have illegal trails riding would be super boring. The city/county/state doesn't seem to understand that super safe and dumbed down trails green and blue trails aren't any fun. All of the illegal trails here just so happen to be all of the hardest ones. Just one of those trails is faster, has larger jumps, and has more rocks and tech sections than everything the city/county/state has built combined. They're just in general way more fun.
  • 5 0
 There's a LOT of interesting data here but it is very influenced by the locale. And I think this is true if it was done strictly in the US.

It would interesting to find out exactly how the number and use of rogue trails relates to local rules/access, government support, etc.

Thanks to those that did this study. It shows more needs to be done.
  • 5 0
 In my región is forbbiden ride on a road less than 3 meters wide or simply no bikes alowed in 22% of the territory ( Picos de Europa nacional park) escept for three open fireroads. Bikes are considered the same like cars in the law. Crazy. So we are all ecological terrorist and are prosecuted even by helicopters.
  • 1 0
 damn, that sucks.
  • 5 0
 Where I live a solid 80% of the trails are technically illegal, however, they are maintained by almost 100% mountain bikers.
I consider myself a frequent hiker too. When I do it through it's with trail building tools in hand Smile
  • 6 0
 By my knowledge there are no illegal trails in France. If you can walk them you can ride them. A biker or e-biker has the same rights as a hiker. Only exceptions are parks were also cars and dogs are forbidden.
  • 1 0
 I love France
  • 1 0
 You forget tons of trails that are supposed forbidden to hikers too but that are way more easily tolerated. Most often not the pirate dh single track, but the huge trail going up. Try to speak to landlords of forest exploitation and how they consider their big trails with the big money they spend to build them, you would be surprised. Your comment does not surprise me I was thinking the same a few years ago until everything turn to shit in our town. A lot of incomprehension between different worlds that never talk together and are both thinking different evidences such yours.
  • 7 0
 The servers this website is on are more destructive than any mountain bike trail.
  • 5 1
 What's all the fuzz with building legal trails and showing up with bulldozers insomuch as building a freeway inmidst of natures finest seems to be the only idea of the ill-educated Stakeholder. For Christ's sake, just grab a few poles, hammer them into the ground down some hill be it forest or whatever, send some 100 bikers down, and there you have your trail! Natural, raw, beasty, pure fun! Bulldozer-free = free of boredom.
  • 4 1
 I wonder how the "reasons to ride" was affected by language barriers. Either with questions translated or people answering in a second language.
For example I would never have checked "connect with nature" and seems Brits are low on that front. I do like the fact that my exercise, adreneline, and friends happen to be outside but its not in any way why I do it.
  • 7 0
 Whereas I would totally say I would have checked it as my primary motivator - and I'm British
  • 21 2
 Do they not speak English over there since Brexit? I heard things got kinda weird, but didn't know it was that bad.
  • 2 4
 @noapathy: we try to. For me "connect with nature" gives me visions of sniffing some flowers or looking at some nice mountaintop views (or digging mud out of various orifices again).
Not one of my motivators for riding, I definitely would not have ticked it.
But another language it may be just "joy of being outside", and maybe I would...
  • 7 0
 @AyJayDoubleyou: Interesting - I work at a conservation charity and we use 'connect with nature' a lot as a term, but this shows how dangerous that sort of terminology can be to understanding. We would consider it 'joy of being outside', but also feeling part of, and appreciating, the natural world we live in. I certainly feel that whenever I go out for a ride and escape the urban landscape, listen to bird song, see the trees and of course 'sniff the flowers' haha!
  • 2 1
 @AyJayDoubleyou: So did you understand the question as I asked it? Just curious. I can try to rephrase. Habla espanol?
  • 2 0
 @hambobet: Agreed, and I work for a nature sector funder. "Connect with nature" needs to be defined in any context you're going to use it. So does "nature" as a matter of fact, since there's barely an inch of the UK which isn't managed landscape in some way.
  • 4 0
 Grab yourself a book on Japanese Tree Bathing (being in a Forrest) you'd be surprised at the proven health benefits of hanging around trees. Your inner caveman loves all that stuff!
  • 5 1
 Dafuq you mean 50% ? Everyone rides illegal trails at some point! Unless you live in squamish or other places that have enough alternatives but for the rest of us illegal trails is all we got !
  • 3 0
 I see a few main issues on this topic:

-The provision of official trail capacity hasnt kept up with the demand and the growth of the sport - thats only going to get worse.
-Local authorities still lack the interest in investing in trails and facilities, despite the clear economic benefit.
-Mountain bikers like a range of trails, some natural. Trail centres are only just waking up to providing more of a mix.
-Not everyone lives near official trails

Personal I still find it amazing that I pay my taxes to fund the Forestry Commission and yet they then tell you where you can and cant ride on publicly owned land.
  • 5 0
 Imagine believing you need "authorization" to ride mountain bike trails on public land lol
  • 7 1
 And the other 50% don’t know where to find the unauthorized trails…
  • 2 0
 Where I live, all trails start as rogue trails. If they are on public land they have a great chance of being annexed and made official. Our official trail advocatacy groups and local government are pathetically inept at accomplishing anything other than annexing rogue trails.
  • 2 0
 "The most common rationale for riding unauthorized trails was insufficiency of legal trails (25.7%), followed closely by "it's harmless if done at quiet times" (24.8%)."

Note that in some regions, all trails are deemed legal unless signed otherwise. In other regions, trails are unsanctioned unless signed for biking. That also affects the numbers.
  • 3 1
 I am lucky that there are tons of legal trails to ride here. Never have to ride anything "illegal".

I know the picture above is meant to support this piece, but that type of trail building is not best for the environment, if we really want to get down to it. Locally, there has been a push to build flow trails with banked corners and clean smooth surface. These are not trials, they are tracks. I hate the word sustainable as used in current context. Sustainable only means high maintenance because we dug and exposed too much dirt to keep erosion to a minimum without constant maintenance. They take a mini dozer thru the woods, dig and push stumps and trees to the side and build these tracks. You can have flow without this. I enjoy minimally built trails that include roots and rocks and wish the current mindset on trail building would change. I guess the younger generation likes it. But, it is not making you a better rider...
  • 2 0
 I was stuck in rush hour waiting to get some big 35 inch tires for my Tacoma . When I thought god Damm it . Pave those trails with tar and gravel. Make them sustainable! And a huge parking lot for my truck . Can we stop cutting down trees with our tires and making landslides that destroy acres of land when we skid. Whole forest dissapear when we build trails . Stop it people!
  • 1 0
 Interesting that the 2nd largest demographic is Over-45 years old (30.8%). Mountain biking isn't getting younger, but instead, the demographic is maturing....how this will impact riders adopting e-assist ebikes for mountain biking is the mystery question, one that has a huge bearing on future access and participation in this sport. In the US of Aye, we are struggling with how to deal with the inevitable transition many riders will undoubtedly take toward e-assist mtb'ing......stay tuned, folks
  • 1 0
 The builders who do the most damage around our neck of the woods are free riders. They broad scale clear and smash the environment building their huge jump lines, step up and drops. Then the rains comes and its all rutted and trashed and washed as silt down the creeks.

Rest of us are far lower impact riding trails that survive for years. Survey looks to be way off. or perhaps we dont reflect the rest of the world? unlikely...
  • 1 0
 The research sure must have been done well and all, but just like with any scientific research it is important to mention how many of the researchers had an interest in the sport of mountainbiking and how many had conflicting interests. Even if the researchers have done it to best practices, it is still relevant. I won't be surprised if this comment drops me below threshold, but if a similar research (on the impact of mountainbikers) would have been performed by researchers of which a large portion has an interest in horseback riding and the conclusion would have been the other way around, people here would have been upset.
  • 5 2
 I'm sure this study will in no way be used against the mountain bike community...
  • 3 0
 "Danish don't ride for play nearly as much as most other countries." Not much fun if it is just flat earth ;-(
  • 1 0
 Tricky to trust these results really, in UK am guessing 50% of riders couldn't tell you the difference between country paths,country park, bridleways or tow paths, even on there own locals
  • 1 1
 Why would you answer that you ride unsanctioned trails in a survey? That is just setting you up to have the data used against you. Whether it is a survey or some random person asking, I'd never admit to riding illegal trails. Not that I ever would of course....
  • 2 0
 In Greece we ride only illegal trails , since there is no legal one yet. And we are talking about a country full of mountains. Go figure.
  • 1 0
 In other news, rain is wet, snow is cold....

No shit most of us ride unsactioned trails (particularly in Canada). They are just better in just about every way.

#renagdetrailsforever #guerillabuildersunite
  • 1 0
 How does one mountain bike in the Netherlands? Is that like "mountain" biking in Florida? Or do you guys just travel to countries that actually have topography resulting in more than a 200ft of elevation change?
  • 3 0
 I thought Germans were all about following rules? Surprised to see that so many of them were hitting the naughty trails.
  • 7 4
 bacause the normal trails are full of E-bikes
  • 2 1
 I'm surprised that risk scores so low. Except for tame xc or trail, I would have thought that the adrenaline buzz is what keeps a lot of us coming back for more.
  • 1 0
 The Problem with trailz in Europe is most of the land belongs to private persons and they want to keep out everybody of their property
  • 3 0
 Scandinavia disagrees.
  • 3 0
 Scotland disagrees (other than the ownership part, but owners don't have the power here that they have in other countries).
  • 1 0
 Portions of the Enchilada and gold bar single-track were ridden in long before any signs and shuttles appeared. Why do you think rockstacker is called that? T.B.T.A.I.
  • 2 0
 I read this really just hoping to learn where the 50%'s secret stash is so that I can hit them too!
  • 5 4
 This survey is deeply flawed. 100% of MTB’ers ride illegal trails. If you aren’t riding illegal trails at least a few times a year, you’re not a true MTB’er.
  • 1 0
 @barp: yes exactly. You get it.
  • 3 1
 Nearly 100% of trail developers are wankers who won't build new trails or challenging trails.
  • 1 1
 depends who you class as trail developers. In my trail organization 100% of people want to build new and/or challenging trails but there's a huge amount of red tape that gets in the way. In some cases there is room for fair criticism that you could create a better trail experience within that red tape but no doubting the intent.
There will be an announcement soon in your area that should make you happy. Bonus points for use of "wankers".
  • 3 0
 Legal trails should be illegalized!
  • 1 0
 Well, there are no official trails here, we have two locations with 3 trails (each +- 2km long) 30km from here, which is not good.
  • 1 0
 the only good things to ride in the state of Georgia at this moment are all illegal. Only come this spring will we finally get a lift park.
  • 1 0
 Rider in the photo has incorrect name in the caption, fyi. Scotty's last name is Laughland, not McLaughland.
  • 1 0
 I would say probably 75% of the trails in my area exist in a legal grey area.
  • 1 0
 The best trails are the ones that nobody has a name for, and no government official knows about. Wink
  • 2 0
 That headline is like from anti-MTB website. Can´t we have some secrets?
  • 2 0
 O no… That’s terrible! Where…?
  • 1 0
 who doesnt ride illegal trails. illegal trails are way better than sanctioned trails...at least around here
  • 2 1
 News from other planet lol.
  • 1 0
 Estonia: like 2-3 legal trails and hundreds of illegal ones
  • 1 0
 I guess its more like 80 percent or so.
  • 1 0
 first comment said it best!
  • 1 0
 I like to refer to them as "unmapped" trails.
  • 1 0
 there are also studies made to find out if water is actually wet.
  • 1 1
 Still haven’t gotten our local trails legal. Between the state and NEMBA I think glaciers move quicker…
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