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Lightweight Bikepacking: An Introduction


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Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable Lightweight Bikepacking: An Introduction

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  • #1886233
    Brian Peck
    BPL Member

    @brianpeck

    Locale: North America

    David, Thanks, a great read and interesting 'Hellbiking' exposure. Light hiking and biking are great on their own, and I enjoy both, but backpacking a bike when there are other choices would kill the fun – the extra pounds, size, grease…

    Re riding & hiking co-existing, I don't see them mixing well – for hikers. Meeting bikers at speed and seeing others rip through a campsite just before sunset, spoiled it for me. Perhaps it's better now, but I suspect they will always be oil & water.

    Fyi, here's my 'touring' bike, ready for Tibet.

    Ready for touring Tibet

    #1886259
    Dave T
    Member

    @davet

    Bikes on these trails?

    NO way.

    #1886262
    Greg Mihalik
    Spectator

    @greg23

    Locale: Colorado

    There is currently floating around, a legal brief that uses historical reconstruction of the 1964 Wilderness act to argue that mechanized travel was to be allowed. Somehow in the final version it never saw the light of day.

    The hope is that as this brief circulates, and meets little opposition, the way will be paved for an "amendment" to the Wilderness Act.

    #1886311
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    "I see no reason for different rules here. Aside from a few isolated instances (egregious mud, steep corners which encourage unskilled riders to skid) bike tires do not have a larger impact than feet."

    I'm puzzled as to how you arrived at this conclusion, Dave. Out here, I've seen a lot of damage on trails closed to biking, especially the softer ones, due to scofflaw bikers. Maybe they're just all unskilled but I suspect not. It's just in the nature of the sport and the equipment used, IMO. Based on what I've seen so far, the thought of them, skilled or not, careening down some of our finer trails makes me cringe. A couple of unpleasant run in's where I was surprised, and frightened, only serve to reinforce my opinion. Slower foot traffic and relatively high speed bike traffic just do not mix, neither in urban environments nor in the backcountry. Best keep 'em separate, for everyone's peace of mind is how I see it.

    As for the JMT, or any other part of true backcountry Sierra, it would lead to major conflict. Guaranteed. And I have to admit, I'd be in the front line on that one. I guess I'm pretty emotional on this one. Sorry.

    #1886316
    W I S N E R !
    BPL Member

    @xnomanx

    This MTB debate is always a good one to start a massive flame war. Before that begins (not sure if it has to), let me put out one point to consider in the "us vs. them" trail use debate.

    For every idiot MTB rider in full downhill mode that I have witnessed cutting switchbacks and mowing down everything in their sight, there exists a Joe Hiker that carries a machete for "bushwhacking", fells small trees to test his new hatchet, or other such nonsense…

    In the end let us not forget that a-holes are just that, whether bipedal or bicycling. For discussion purposes, let's not lump all cyclists into one camp lest we be willing to do the same with hikers.

    #1886317
    Ken Thompson
    BPL Member

    @here

    Locale: Right there

    +1 with Craig.

    #1886335
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    "This MTB debate is always a good one to start a massive flame war."

    Hey Craig – I'm most definitely not trying to start a flame war here. I have nothing but the highest respect for Dave C., as I hope he realizes. But that doesn't mean we won't end up on opposite sides of an issue from time to time. If my phrasing of my position came off as antagonistic, I will apologize to one and all, and try to express it in a less offensive way. However, my underlying points will remain unchanged. The very nature of MTB renders it incompatible with wilderness trails designed for foot traffic, on 2 counts: 1) Speed, and the equipment involved, will result in damage to the trails; 2) The speed factor is unsettling, at best, to most backpackers, and downright dangerous in many situations. The original prohibition against mechanized equipment on wilderness designated trails took this into account, and I believe the reasoning is well grounded based on what I have personally seen. I agree with you that this does not have to degenerate into a flame war, but I also believe that there is room for honest differences of opinion, respectfully expressed. I have tried here to do just that, hopefully successfully.

    "Before that begins (not sure if it has to), let me put out one point to consider in the "us vs. them" trail use debate.

    For every idiot MTB rider in full downhill mode that I have witnessed cutting switchbacks and mowing down everything in their sight, there exists a Joe Hiker that carries a machete for "bushwhacking", fells small trees to test his new hatchet, or other such nonsense…"

    I could not agree more, and both need to be dealt with, either by education or the force of the law if need be. In my original post, I referred to scofflaw bikers in a negative manner, and rightfully so. They fall in the a-hole category, IMO, along with their backpackering equivalent. As for the rest of the MTB community, among whom I have friends and acquaintances, I have no beef. My concern is with changing a law that, so far, has kept even the best intentioned of them from severely impacting the quality of the backpacking experience in the course of doing what MTBers naturally do. It is in the nature of the sport, as I see it. Many of the best quite naturally like to go as fast as possible in very challenging terrain, it is after all an adrenaline sport, and that is where the problems begin as I see it.

    As for the Sierra, I have a huge emotional investment, and I simply cannot keep that out of my posting. If some find that offensive I regret it, but that statement stands as is, and I suspect I am not alone in my feelings.

    Peace

    Tom

    #1886363
    David Chenault
    BPL Member

    @davec

    Locale: Queen City, MT

    I'm glad this discussion finally surfaced. It's a worthy topic which too often gets crowded out by ideology. That said, a few points:

    -The "mechanized" clause in the original law comes down to a matter of administrative rule. In the case of bikes this mostly took place in the mid-80s. There were rather few areas in which the young sport of mountain biking had taken root before this happened. There is, for example, evidence of legal mountain biking in the Rattlesnake Wilderness north of Missoula before bikes were banned.

    -Except in cases where riders were either riding poorly (skidding) or riding things they shouldn't have (either mud or tight corners and steep hills they couldn't make cleanly) I categorically reject the notion that one bike has more impact than one hiker. This fallacy has lived on too long.

    -The difference in speed argument has merit, though I do not think it a coincidence that most/all interlocutors on that side come from SoCal, which has too many people by absolutely any standard and is thus a poor case in most respects. Especially in highly trafficked areas discretion should be exercised when the hypothetical day comes to include bikes. Some trails will be open, some will not, and some will be open only in certain directions and during certain times of day/year. That said, this particular argument comes down to privileging one sort of human-powered wilderness travel above others. It's not in the end about concerns over hiker safety, though that is a factor, but about an intensely subjective judgment concerning what ways of experiencing wilderness are valid. That argument can be made from several sides, but let us not hide behind anything when making it.

    -The JMT is an excellent if inevitably controversial example. 15 years ago very few people would have thought about riding much of it, and almost no one would have thought of bikepacking it. Today, thanks to technology and attitude, there are hundreds of riders who could go this August and ride 90+% of the trail as it exists from Tuolumne to W. Portal in a leisurely week. There are compelling reasons for and against this, but "I'm scared of bikes" and "I don't like those who value a kinaesthetic component in wilderness recreation" are not among them. The fact that the FS reportedly cannot properly train and supervise volunteer trail workers sure isn't either.

    -Visitor hours in the national parks have been steadily declining over the last two decades, as population continues to increase. Is infighting amongst human-powered user groups a way to secure a good future for wilderness in a democratic society?

    #1886399
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    "I categorically reject the notion that one bike has more impact than one hiker. This fallacy has lived on too long."

    From what I have seen of MTB, it is no fallacy, nor is it to be categorically rejected. Speed, mechanical equipment, and the kind of terrain involved inevitably lead to far more impact that a human being moving at perhaps 2.5 mph on average. The evidence up here in the Cascades, far from over populated SoCal, is far too clear to ignore.

    "There is, for example, evidence of legal mountain biking in the Rattlesnake Wilderness north of Missoula before bikes were banned."

    Why were they banned?

    "It's not in the end about concerns over hiker safety, though that is a factor, but about an intensely subjective judgment concerning what ways of experiencing wilderness are valid. That argument can be made from several sides, but let us not hide behind anything when making it."

    On the contrary, it is about hiker safety, as well as trail damage, at least as far as I'm concerned, based on what I have seen and plain common sense. I, for one, am not hiding behind anything, Dave, and am prepared to argue the point on its merits. Speed alone on narrow trails, particularly if the biker is coming downhill on rough terrain and closing on a backpacker going in the same direction makes it a non starter for me, particularly up here in the Cascades, but the same applies in just about any mountain environment I can think of. Even the best of bikers lose control occasionally. What happens when they sooner or later pile into a backpacker from behind on a steep section with a drop off? I could go on, because the scenarios are endless, but it all boils down to an incompatibility in speed at heart, as far as saftey is concerned. At best it will create an atmosphere of unease and eventually hostility that are at odds with why most of us go to the mountains in the first place. This is not to deny the subjective aspect of peaceful coexistance in the wilderness, but that is a separate argument.

    "Visitor hours in the national parks have been steadily declining over the last two decades, as population continues to increase. Is infighting amongst human-powered user groups a way to secure a good future for wilderness in a democratic society?"

    Declining? In SEKI? Rainier? Yosemite? These places are crawling with people. References?

    As far as infighting, the line has to be drawn somewhere, and I think this particular subject is where it gets drawn for me. In a democracy, the majority rules with deference to the minority. To me that means MTBers already have plenty of territory to ride in without exposing backpackers to unnecessary risks and spoiling their subjective enjoyment of wilderness areas. I will abide by the will of the majority, but fight very hard to make sure I am in the majority on this one.

    "Today, thanks to technology and attitude, there are hundreds of riders who could go this August and ride 90+% of the trail as it exists from Tuolumne to W. Portal in a leisurely week."

    Precisely. In about 1/3 the time most people take to do it. It is a crowded trail with barely enough room for two people to pass each other as it is. What will that be like with bikes going on average 3 times as fast, in terms of backpackers' experience, not to mention the inevitable sideswipes and loss of control incidents on steep downhills? Places like W. Portal, in particular, would be an absolute disaster.

    #1886447
    Nick Gatel
    BPL Member

    @ngatel

    Locale: Southern California

    Tom,

    I am with you 100%. I have hiked on trails that once never saw a MTB, and over time have seen the effects… and the early effects with minimal MTB traffic were quite noticeable right away. It is one thing when a bike simply rolls on a fairly flat trail… probably less damage than a hiker. But when you add in braking, skidding, quick acceleration, sharp turns, jumping over obstacles, ruts in soft soil, etc. the impact is there — big time. And we cannot quantify behaviors, but I will state that it is much easier for someone not "attuned" to wild places to get there on a MTB, than a hiker. So what I have seen does not compliment the conscientious MTBers who do respect the wilderness. I have seen in many places that the MTB community does fight the attempts to increase the expansion of wilderness areas, because that alone will decrease the number of available MTB trails. I like more wilderness areas. And of course often hikers and MTBs do not mix well on trails.

    But we always get down to the basics of what to do with our public lands. Many groups want access and each has their agenda. So how do we meet the needs of everyone?

    Then of course there is my solution… blow up all the roads going to wild places, starting with HWY 120. Stop all trail maintenance. Tear down all infrastructure. Quit building new trails. Let the wilderness go fallow. :) But that is only popular with folks like me and the likes of Edward Abbey.

    #1886482
    David Chenault
    BPL Member

    @davec

    Locale: Queen City, MT

    I have no doubt biking on trails which previously saw less traffic creates a very noticeable impact. The point here is to compare one hiker to one cyclist. Control for this and Wilson and Seney (1994) found that feet and bike tires had similar impacts on erosion and soil displacement, while horses had the most. Thurston and Reader (2001) found the same. The former was done outside Bozeman, the later in Ontario, suggesting some generalizability across population densities and soil types.

    It is true that these are only two studies, and also that this isn't an especially well researched area.

    Tom, go to http://www.nature.nps.gov/stats/viewreport.cfm and peruse away. It doesn't parse by individual park, but go back a ways and the trend is clear.

    Nick, I'd prefer to see the permanent installation clause of the Wilderness Act enforced less ambiguously, with all bridges, signs, and (around here) outfitter corrals and gear caches disappearing. Probably not likely.

    Thurston, Eden and Reader, Richard J. 2001. Impacts of Experimentally Applied Mountain Biking and Hiking on Vegetation and Soil of a Deciduous Forest. Environmental Management 27(3):397 – 409.

    Wilson, John P. and Seney, Joseph. 1994. Erosional Impacts of Hikers, Horses, Motorcycles and Off-Road Bicycles on Mountain Trails in Montana. Mountain Research and Development 47(1):77 – 88.

    #1886520
    Craig Savage
    Member

    @tremelo

    Locale: San Jacinto Mountains

    "Have they changed? What is your experience?"

    IMHO, it's gotten worse with the development of DH & all-mtn bikes… they ride like motorcycles w/o engines. Technology replaced the skill for knowing how to flow a trail w/o working it over

    ban them & energy drinks

    #1886638
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    "Tom, go to http://www.nature.nps.gov/stats/viewreport.cfm and peruse away. It doesn't parse by individual park, but go back a ways and the trend is clear."

    As I suspected, based on my own observations, gross statistics can be deceiving. I dug a little deeper and came up with the link below for Sequoia NP, my particular concern. Visits have bounced around between 686,600 in 1974 and 1,120,000+, and were 1,006,583 in 2011. That is a doubling since I first started hiking in Sequoia, which pretty much confirms what I have experienced down thru the years.

    Kings Canyon is more in line with your trend, but is on the rise the past couple of year. I think one would have to address each park separately on the basis of their particular selfish interest. The source is the Public Use Statistics Office of the NPS, for those interested in pursuing the matter. In any case, I think it is a side show to the main points in contention here.

    http://nature.nps.gov/stats/viewReport.cfm

    Nick – Thanks for focusing the discussion exactly where it belongs and in the detail required to make the point, where the rubber meets the rocks, so to speak.

    "Control for this and Wilson and Seney (1994) found that feet and bike tires had similar impacts on erosion and soil displacement, while horses had the most. Thurston and Reader (2001) found the same. The former was done outside Bozeman, the later in Ontario, suggesting some generalizability across population densities and soil types."

    I would feel a whole lot better if the more fragile desert and high alpine areas of the Sierra had been included, ditto the Cascades. I don't think you can generalize from the lowland deciduous forests of Ontario to those environments, nor from the Bozeman area to the Cascades for that matter, where recovery is a painfully slow process due to the extreme environmental conditions. As you say, the subject has not been well researched. Even so, for the reasons Nick so clearly pointed out, it is hard to see how they reached those conclusions.

    Edited for content:

    "Control for this and Wilson and Seney (1994) found that feet and bike tires had similar impacts on erosion and soil displacement, while horses had the most."

    I just read this report, out of respect for you and because it is one of the few out there that attempts to be comprehensive. The authors themselves admitted that the results were inconclusive, and that the diversity of soil types among other things made it very difficult to draw meaningful conclusions. Interestingly, they also lumped motorcycles in with bikes and foot traffic; I found this puzzling in light of the data from a previous study that indicated motorcycles created severe erosion channels when going uphill due to the torque applied for propulsion. This same point would also seem to make sense when it comes to bicycles, as Nick pointed out in his post. As you said, the subject is not well researched. In the absence of more convincing studies, I remain to be convinced and will rely on what my eyes and common sense tell me. That said, I commend you for posting the study. It was an interesting read, and a well intentioned first step on what I suspect will be a long path to understanding the subject well enough to manage incredibly diverse trail systems.

    As you said in your first post, the subject is now out in the open, and the discussion, while a bit heated at times, has been been very civil and darned interesting to boot. Thanks for getting it going.

    #1886668
    David Chenault
    BPL Member

    @davec

    Locale: Queen City, MT

    And I appreciate discussing it with you Tom!

    One point about the differences between bikes with engines and bikes without on steep terrain. The former, with massive amounts of torque at their disposal, seem to do the most churning when going up. With the later it's the opposite. Legs lack the power to spin out on a steep uphill grade and keep going. Where mountain bikers get into trouble is steep descents, where lack of skill or discretion (i.e. the sense to get off and walk) lead to locking the back wheel and sliding down.

    #1886669
    Craig Savage
    Member

    @tremelo

    Locale: San Jacinto Mountains

    ^very well said

    #1886691
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    "Where mountain bikers get into trouble is steep descents, where lack of skill or discretion (i.e. the sense to get off and walk) lead to locking the back wheel and sliding down."

    The downhill part I instinctively understand, but how do they manage to get up steep ascents without losing traction on dry loose stuff and starting to throw rocks, dirt, etc? Or do they sometimes just have to get off and walk up as well? I've watched a lot of MTB's out on the local logging roads when I was still running. They can get pretty steep at times, and the bikers generally weave back and forth up the road, very slowly, to reduce the grade. I have often wondered how they would handle a narrow, equally steep trail, where weaving back and forth is not an option.

    #1886716
    Craig Savage
    Member

    @tremelo

    Locale: San Jacinto Mountains

    "I have often wondered how they would handle a narrow, equally steep trail, where weaving back and forth is not an option."

    spinning with booty firmly planted on seat, even a SS must avoid the dreaded spinout 'til being forced to hike it

    the other option is stupid pain, there is no real miles to cover with that doe

    #1887586
    Jon Leibowitz
    BPL Member

    @jleeb

    Locale: 4Corners

    The whole Bikepacking and mountain biking thing is so foreign to me. Honestly, it just weirds me out – though I have nothing against it. I just moved from Vermont to SW Colorado. I can't get over the fact that the CT allows bikes (thankfully, for me personally, the wilderness areas don't). I finished the Long Trail just before leaving Vermont and I just feel like it would have been a very different experience if bikers were all over the place. Here in SW colorado, mountain bikers are everywhere. I haven't been hit yet and hopefully never will, but I do worry about it when coming around sharp corners. There have been some close encounters. Unfortunately for me (fortunately for the bikers!), very few trails in my area are hiking only; most allow biking, many allow dirt bikes, and all allow horses.

    And the AT? That would be a travesty if people started biking it.

    #1894947
    Benjamin Smith
    BPL Member

    @bugbomb

    Locale: South Texas

    Came across this blog series, which appears to be describing the same trip as the one in the video above:

    http://lacemine29.blogspot.com/2012/02/lost-coast-redux.html

    There's a whole series following the linked post, goes most of the way through February 2012. Very cool stuff, great photography.

    #1907447
    Tjaard Breeuwer
    BPL Member

    @tjaard

    Locale: Minnesota, USA

    A few more points to consider in this discussion:

    Trail design has much bigger influence on erosion and damage to neighboring vegetation than user type.

    Keeping that in mind, if you are a hiker, do you only hike on properly designed and maintained trail? If not, you are doing more damage to the area than would be strictly necessary, which makes it hard to condemn people who travel by other means.

    As far as busy trails go:

    I know many areas in Wales have (voluntary?) restrictions on time of day for bikes on popular trails in peak season, same as dogs at beaches in many parts of the world. It doesn't have to be all or nothing. There are many trails or times of year/day that are not as busy. This is a good thing to consider for me too when I think of trail users whom I don't enjoy, like horses and motorized vehicles.

    #1924244
    Tjaard Breeuwer
    BPL Member

    @tjaard

    Locale: Minnesota, USA

    My bike for a recent fal trip on the Maah Daah Hey:Early morning ride in the breeze

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