For some reason, the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance seems fixed on eliminating mountain bike access to trails in New Mexico.  This seems to be a longstanding issue, largely debate over the definition of “mechanical device,” which was apparently used in legislation in the 1960s intended to protect wilderness areas from motor vehicles.  It’s important to note that mountain biking didn’t even really exist at that point.

In 1966, the United States Forest Service clarified exactly what they meant as a mechanized device: USFS Sec. 293.6 (a) (italics added for emphasis):

(a) Mechanical transport, as herein used, shall include any contrivance which travels over ground, snow, or water on wheels, tracks, skids, or by floatation and is propelled by a nonliving power source contained or carried on or within the device</p>  For a quick straw man, perhaps wheelchair access should be eliminated as well.  (Not really.)

Concerns that mountain biking is more environmentally destructive than hiking or horseback riding appear to be scientifically unjustified.  I’ll direct the interested reader to examine:

Wilson, J. P., & Seney, J. P. (1994). Erosional impact of hikers, horses, motorcycles, and off-road bicycles on mountain trails in Montana. Mountain Research and Development, 77–88. JSTOR. </p> Environmental Impacts of Mountain Biking: Science Review and Best Practices

Note that Wilson concluded that mountain biking had *less* of a detrimental geological effect than hiking or horseback riding.  Also note that the second link is produced by the IMBA and may therefore be highly biased, but it is relatively well referenced with primary sources.

The ideal solution may be to redefine “wilderness area” to allow mountain bike access to defined trails in wilderness areas — the same way hiking or horseback riding should be.  For now, however, the temporary band-aid is to urge our legislatures to be prudent in their designation of “wilderness areas” and recognize that such a designation currently disallows mountain bike access.

With this in mind, please consider calling or emailing your New Mexico legislators to notify them of your feelings on this issue.  A sample email is provided below, slightly modified from the original on the MTBR forum.

Email / Contact links:
Senator Jeff Bingaman
Congressman Ben Ray Luján
Senator Tom Udall
Congressman Martin Heinrich

Dear Senator Bingaman, Senator Udall, Congressman Luján, and Congressman Heinrich: </p> I am writing to ask you to please STOP legislation to establish Columbine Hondo Wilderness Study Area as a designated Wilderness. By designating these special lands as a part of the National Wilderness Preservation System, we deny bicyclists of free public lands to enjoy. 

New Mexico has been growing as a destination for mountain bikers nationwide. Traveling mountain bikers are important to many businesses here in NM. They stay in hotels, buy food from restaurants & stores, purchase gasoline, and patronize bike shops in towns such as Taos and Santa Fe, where jobs are hard to create. These businesses contribute to the local economy and population while keeping more NM residents employed. 

Mountain bikers also have the ability to travel deep into remote areas and report on any conditions that need attention in the outdoors. Cyclists have also historically organized and contributed to wild lands and trail work on a higher level than any other outdoor group. These attributes are reasonable considerations, during a time where government funds are limited in terms of monitoring and caring for our wild lands. Mountain biking is a sustainable form of recreation, and has been unfairly excluded in the plan to protect this and other wild areas. 

It’s a shame that organizations such as the NM Wilderness Alliance are so narrow minded about “wilderness” designation that they fail to look at the entire picture. Of course, we need to protect New Mexico’s wild areas, however, please don’t do it at the cost of sustainable user groups whom also enjoy those areas for recreation. It is also somewhat disturbing that they have submitted materials to our government that specifically address and support the exclusion of mountain bikers, a sustainable user group that pumps money into rural economies. I love to hike, but I am limited to relatively short distances. I can’t afford a horse nor would I have any place to keep one. Therefore, my choice of transportation into those far reaching wild areas of our beautiful state is via bicycle.  However, the “wilderness designation” language prohibits “mechanical devices” such as a bicycle.  Can the state work to create something similar to “wilderness designation” without forbidding my family and friends from enjoying those beautiful areas from the seat of our bicycles and contributing to local economies? I love this state and our forests and would love to protect them for our future generations, but please, don’t fence cyclists out of these areas. 

Please stop this legislation and find another way to ensure its permanent protection for the benefit of future generations of New Mexicans (including cyclists) and visitors to the Land of Enchantment. A designation other than the current Wilderness designation, that will allow economically stimulating cyclists (NM residents & tourists alike) to support business and economic vitality in our rural northern NM communities. 

Thank you for your time, attention, and support.