MBOSC Releases MTB Impact Review

Comprehensive survey of research looks at the environmental and social impacts of trail building and mountain biking.

In a comprehensive review of independent research, the Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz (MBOSC) Science Committee found that the social and environmental impact of mountain biking is far less than is often perceived and that additional studies are warranted.

The “Mountain Bike Impact Report, Frequently Asked Questions,” looks at wide-ranging research into the impact of mountain biking on trails, wilderness, and other trail users. It can be found at www.mbosc.org/mtb-impact-faq

“These questions are relevant wherever mountain biking is popular,” said Science Committee member Emma Kelsey, a wildlife biologist. “We believe the questions we addressed provide explanations for the most common concerns regarding the social and environmental impacts of mountain biking and trail construction.”


“We have heard a wide variety of opinions on the impacts of mountain biking over the years ranging from mountain bikes being benign to mountain bikes being the scourge of the earth. We felt the need to become the experts on the subject which has led us to this review,” said MBOSC Executive Director, Matt De Young. “We believe MBOSC members and the general public could benefit from a better understanding of the science behind trail construction and mountain biking environmental impacts.”


The Science Committee was founded in October 2017 after discussions among MBOSC members about how one member’s soils science research might inform responsible trail construction, maintenance, and stewardship. The committee members are scientists, mountain bikers, hikers, and environmentalists.


The committee spent more than a year undertaking a comprehensive search of published scientific studies of the relationships of trails and recreational trail users including hikers, equestrians, and mountain bikers. The survey focused on hydrology and geology, plants and wildlife, and social issues.


Among the findings:

  • In general, studies show no statistically significant difference in induced soil erosion, excavation, ruts, and trail widening between hiking and biking, and both are less impactful than horse riding.
  • On properly built and well-maintained trails, no measurable difference is seen between the relative impacts caused by mountain biker vs. hikers.
  • User-created trails are unplanned and don’t undergo the rigorous environmental review and design that modern, sanctioned official trails do.
  • Impacts on wildlife are similar whether the human interaction is by hikers, bikers, or equestrians. Some animals were found to be less likely to be disturbed by bikers than other types of trail users.
  • Birds tend to be more adversely affected when users make frequent stop along a trail or when they make more noise.  
  • Unsanctioned trails are not isolated to mountain bikers and are often a symptom of an unmet need for legitimate trail use options.


In addition, within each topic area, the review lists best practices for how riders can minimize impact on trails, wildlife, and other trail users.

About Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz: Since 1997, Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz (MBOSC) has worked to support, preserve, and expand trail access and responsible mountain biking in Santa Cruz County. The rapidly-growing non-profit organization is driven by passionate volunteers and high-caliber professional staff who promote legal and sustainable mountain bike access through trail building, races, events, and collaboration throughout the county. Strategic partnerships with land managers, other trail users, and the local bike industry help MBOSC build new trails and support sustainable mountain biking. www.mbosc.org


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