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I am a mountain biker and a hiker, and I love both activities very much. Recently, while biking on a shared single-track trail, I came upon a group of hikers. One hiker began a discussion about how we're ruining not only the experience of the trail for them and other hikers, but that we were in fact ruining the trail itself by riding our bikes in the first place. It has always been understood by bikers that riding trails while they're very wet and/or not properly groomed can cause ruts to form and overall just contribute to screwing up the path and the area around the path in general. However, when the trails are dry and clearly intended for hikers as well as bikers, due to their grooming status, my friend and I couldn't see any reason that riding our bikes would cause damage to the trail.

My question then (not to do with the interactions/opinions of hikers and bikers with each other) is:

Do bikes actually impact hiking trails in a significantly negative way? If so, how bad is it? Can anything be done to solve this without restricting trails to hikers only?

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    IMO if you want to avoid any question of opinion you'll remove the irrelevant detail about how you expected the other trail users to get out of your way, because the story fuels exactly what you started out by saying you aren't going to do. Jul 9 at 16:53
  • @WeatherVane Edited. I see the point you mean, thanks. I'm new to asking questions here and figured I needed to include a little backstory as I've seen in other questions. That being said, I am definitely still a tad upset about the interaction and put that unnecessarily in the question.
    – Flats
    Jul 9 at 17:01
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica I figured that most of the multi-use trails were put in place by mountain-bikers, as it often seems like they're so well designed for it. And I'd like to think that I follow the rules and respect others on the trail as well as I should. Hopefully a little better even, lol. Thanks for the perspective!
    – Flats
    Jul 9 at 21:14
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica totally agree, which is why we had dismounted when it was clear they didn't intend to leave the path in this encounter, I just hadn't experienced such a profound reaction and follow-up discussion before, as mostly it's just a look of disdain or nothing at all. (a vast majority of the time, a friendly smile and a greeting honestly, which is what I do when hiking and I step off the path to let a biker or a faster hiker pass)
    – Flats
    Jul 9 at 21:41
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    There are a lot of whiny people out there. I'd just ignore these busybodies and keep on cycling. Not worth the hassle of even bothering to respond to them verbally. Jul 10 at 21:02
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As a hiker, rather than mountain biker, I'd be careful about taking hikers' words for it. In Vancouver's North Shore mountains there are tons of mixed-use trails, many initially put in place by mountain bikers. Doesn't stop hikers from repeat whining in local media. Me? I occasionally run/walk these trails, so happy someone put them down and I find looking at cyclists fun to watch.

Mind your actual actions and the actual conditions, don't crowd hikers and sloooow down in low viz areas, esp going downhill.

Most of all, stick to trails that are signed for mountain bike use (not just ones you think should allow for it).

Otherwise, ignore the occasional curmudgeon. Well-behaved cyclists ain't an issue.

Bit of extra perspective for obnoxious anti-cyclist behavior in this area.

On other hand, keeping in mind with your edited out bits of your question: end of the day, if you really do get too close to hikers, esp elderly/childen, while riding a 30# mountain bike, fully protective-geared, sympathy will turn against you really quickly and too many incidents may cause review of mixed use trail status, so take the high road, dismount, walk around them. Yes, even if they are a******s.

To be very clear: make sure you have an open mind whether or not the cycling is deteriorating the trail. In my area, the parks are well looked after, the cycling community is responsible, does a lot of trail maintenance and the terrain supports this type of use. That may not be the case in your area.

My point was that a small minority of hikers can become very vocal and bossy about what should and should not be allowed in their wilderness. As far as the "incident" goes, people who refuse to let faster people go by on a narrow trail without a good reason are not people I'd want to hike with as it displays a basic lack of manners.

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I believe this answer might open up a broader perspective. I am from India where there aren't many (any, if at all) biking trails as such. However, there are plenty of hiking trails.

I have been trekking for about 15 years now so I think I might add to the opinion of the hiker you received. I have done little bit of mountain-cycling as well. I come from the place where most of the trails are not maintained, those are more-or-less left to nature. So most of my thoughts may not be applicable to well-maintained trails.

Talking about the aspects of structural damage to trail, I can imagine that the frequent braking would loosen up the soil to a considerable extent. Most of the trails I hike through aren't too wide and clear. If this trend of sharing trails increases, then obviously a narrow pleasant trail will have to be converted into a slightly broader trail, natural steps might get converted into small ramps made of soil. We might have to clear out the small (but large enough to sit on) stones from the trail. These stones help hikers to rest for a minute :-)

But hey, hiking is not just about walking on trails, right? We have to consider the impact on other aspects. If such a trail is frequented by mountain-bikers then I can imagine the kind of disturbances it might cause to birds forcing them to go away and insects would get rare sightings than what we get to see as we just walk.

The biggest negative aspect of sharing a hiking trail with moutain-bikers would be the caution required to be followed.

I just see this as footfall in certain areas of world are already a problem, a mixed crowd of hikers and mountain-bikers would be another trouble.

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    An interesting perspective, thank you! @WedaPashi
    – Flats
    Jul 11 at 0:38
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The problem is not just whether the trail is maintained or not. Usually people walking press a little bit the ground and over time a hard layer is formed on the surface, bicycles often have the opposite effect. It depends on the type of soil, on the humidity on the amount of stones and so on, many variable influence how easily it is compacted and how easily it will be broken by the tyres of the bicycles. So the opinion might change from trail to trail. The best thing you can do is walk over a trail at least once before cycling over it and judge it by yourself.

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