Oregonian OpEd (2017)

This was submitted to The Oregonian on May 8th, resubmitted on May 15th and on May 24. After/if it goes 'Live', a link will appear here. — JM

A Case Against Mountain Biking in Natural Areas

Portland is creating a $350K Master Plan for a system of Off-Road Cycling paths, trails, and facilities, including flat, paved or dirt, bumpy-hilly riding areas for 'BMX' bikers of all ages. The city rightly considers these as healthy activities. The 'ORCMP' is also attempting to accommodate mountain biking in the urban area. This may be possible, but single track high-speed downhill flow trails for Mountain Bikes (MTBikes) don't belong in protected natural areas.

Who cares about nature in the city?

The Public may care about natural areas, but there is no unifying cause for non-Mountain-Bikers. Why would anyone fight to keep unseen natural areas natural? Unfortunately, people don't value wildlife habitat until it's too late. Some folks even think all urban land should be developed. One guy says once-logged-over land is dead, so we may as well write it off. Others want abused places re-wilded.

How can we go forward with a plan that protects the remaining sensitive areas of our metropolitan area? We agree that off-road trails, safe places to ride for families and cyclists of all skill levels, with connectivity between places and open spaces, are good things to have everywhere possible.

Eco-shuttles could transport MTBikers to forested hills and mountains, avoiding known wildlife corridors, where ten square miles might disperse the impact of their sport. These areas could be monitored and maintained by the bikers themselves, with oversight. Additionally, MTB parkour might be created in the city using urban landscape.

MTBiking can be done in urban areas like Boulder, Colorado with different soil on nearby blank hillsides, or places in Portland that have a good run that's not dedicated to protect wildlife and water resources. Examples: Unused Rights of Way, and gores alongside highways, such as Portland's 'Gateway Green' and the 'Green Grand Rapids' plan in Michigan.

MTB Industrial Complex and Corporate Sponsorship

Once the Plan is set, will the City allow companies to fund trails? If allowed, the mountain biking industry will pay to play. Professional mountain bikers and shop owners want to sell lessons, products, and services. They want access to nearby slopes. A while back, a bicycle part importer offered to bankroll the construction and maintenance of all trails in a natural area! What about a commercial shuttle repeatedly ferrying bikers back uphill using city streets?

Bikers claim that Portland could become a world class mountain biking destination. People would travel from all over, generating millions of tourist dollars. That sounds impactful!

Active vs Passive

Designated Natural Areas may only be used for passive recreation. In legal documents, mountain biking is not specifically prohibited, so MTBikers claim that MTBiking is not a sport — it's passive recreation, and therefore, they say, it's not prohibited, What do you think? These are examples of passive recreation: hiking, field trips, birding in small groups. Active recreation examples: running, cycling, noisy groups such as the Hash House Harriers. Have you ever heard the thumps, whoops, and screams of two MTBikers flying downhill?


I support planning for Off Road Cycling — safe trails throughout the region for family outings, active transportation, general recreation, and exercise. As for Mountain Biking, activity centers outside the metro area could accommodate the sport - with services on site for bike repair and emergencies. Our protected natural areas should be off limits to hardcore mountain biking forever.

John Miller is a retired computer scientist living in Southwest Portland. His interests range from transit systems, to stained glass, to recreational mathematics. John writes here out of concern for the natural world.