I'm going to be lazy and copy this article from the International Mountain Bicycling Association article
. I think this is the approach you are going to need if you are going to prevail in opening up some Wilderness land and avoiding more restrictions in the future. Again, this is about redefining the problem and creating alliances, not fighting with horses and hikers.
Mountain Bikers Aren't "Mechanized" Trail Users!
As mountain bicycling became popular in the 1980's, many land managers were unsure of how to manage this new activity and took excessive approaches to control trail access. Sometimes, mountain bikes were lumped together with OHVs and other "motorized" vehicles, instead of "non-motorized" user groups such as hikers and equestrians. More often, land managers took the seemingly more benign measure of creating a third category to describe mountain bikes, "mechanized." Today, mountain bicycling is usually treated as a non-motorized activity, fitting for a muscle-powered, quiet, low-impact method of travel. Because of these attributes, mountain bikes deserve to be managed much the same as other non-motorized forms of recreation, including hiking and horses. However, challenges to the non-motorized status of mountain bicycling persist, and bike advocates should politely but firmly reject the "mechanized" classification.
The Problems With "Mechanized"
The term "mechanized" reinforces and institutionalizes the notion that bicycling is fundamentally distinct from hiking. However, calling bicycling mechanized contradicts the one place that the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) offers a definition. According to the CFR, "mechanical transport" refers to "any contrivance... propelled by a non-living power source."(36CFR-293.6a) Bicycles are powered by humans and are clearly a muscle-powered form of recreation.
In spite of this, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the National Park Service (NPS) often refer to mountain bikes as "mechanized," as do a handful of national forests and other land management agencies. They created this classification before IMBA was formed and mountain biking was well understood. Now, we ask all advocates to be on the look out for this term. The distinction between "non-motorized" and "mechanized" classification is very important. Every time a land manager refers to bicycles as "mechanized," it permits them to manage mountain bikes differently than other non-motorized forms of recreation, opening the door for discrimination and a variety of trail closures.
Origins of the Term
Agency interpretations of the 1964 Wilderness Act are the likely source of the term "mechanized" being applied to bicycles. Cycling is not prohibited in the Wilderness Act and the activity was permitted in Wilderness areas for 20 years. In 1984, the first of a series of interpretations of the Wilderness Act by federal agencies began to ban bicycles in Wilderness. In that year, the Forest Service issued a policy that bicycles (and certain other means of transportation) were considered "mechanized" and therefore banned from Wilderness. The BLM (1985) and NPS (1987) followed with similar regulations. These agency interpretations have contributed widely to the perception that bicycles should be managed as "mechanized." Although IMBA does not advocate for bicycles in designated Wilderness areas, we believe that Congress did not intend to ban bicycles in the Wilderness Act, but was concerned with mechanical transport requiring permanent infrastructure that scarred the landscape.
Mountain biking also warrants management as non-motorized on the basis of its environmental impacts. All recreation impacts natural resources, but the science investigating this topic has found that the effects of mountain biking are similar to hiking and usually much less than horses. For a more complete discussion of the impacts caused by mountain bicycling versus those of other user groups, see "Natural Resource Impacts of Mountain Biking" at: imba.com/resources/science/impact_summary.html.
Some land managers and other trail users think of bicycling as a special form of transportation that needs special management and regulation. They will make a new rule that calls for restricting "motorized and mechanized" travel. By using these two terms together, bicycles are categorized with motors, which they clearly are not. In addition, such regulations do not apply to hiking and equestrian travel. Other land managers interpret "mechanized" as an entirely separate category. Doing so needlessly complicates management because the nature and impacts of bicycling, both environmental and social, place it solidly in the non-motorized category.
Some people persist in arguing that bicycles are machines. In one sense, this is a valid argument, as they aid in movement. But bike advocates should remind detractors that rowboats, canoes, ski bindings, snowshoes, horse saddles, trekking poles and even backpacks also contain moving parts that help the user down the trail.
Effect on Recommended Wilderness
Mechanized classification can also affect recommended Wilderness areas (lands with wilderness characteristics that have not yet been formally designated as Wilderness). If a land management plan refers to bicycles as "mechanized," it can provide the agency with leverage to ban bikes from recommended Wilderness, areas that sometimes include the best opportunities for narrow singletrack. However, the use of bicycles in Recommended Wilderness areas in no way compromises the quality of that land or its chances for inclusion into the Federal Wilderness Preservation System. By avoiding the "mechanized" classification, cyclists can potentially avoid this sticky situation. This points to a larger conversation, but it reinforces the importance of categorizing mountain bikes as non-motorized.
During management plan updates, advocates should always request that land managers consider the best interest of the environment and other users by adopting a two-category management policy for classifying recreation: non-motorized and motorized. Most national forests and thousands of state and local parks around the country follow this system and have proven it to be the most effective management policy. By doing so, they eliminate a confusing "mechanized" category, streamline management, and fairly consider all forms of recreation based on their impact on the natural environment, other trail users, and power source.
If land managers insist on a third category of management, then we suggest simply calling us bicycles rather than the complicated term of "mechanized." We again request land managers to apply identical policies to bicycles and non-motorized trail users, such as hikers, that create similar impacts.
Mountain bike advocates need to forcefully address land management plans that refer to bicycles as mechanized. Doing so will combat a host of potential immediate and future trail closures and lead to a plan where bicycle management is clearly defined and fairly practiced.