First, a hidden camera allegedly caught a 64-year-old woman booby-trapping a mountain bike trail.
Then, about a week later, reports emerged of a hiker assaulting a mountain biker with trekking poles. Both happened early this year along busy trails on Mount Fromme, in the heart of Vancouver’s North Shore. After charges were laid in both incidents, local news media dubbed it a “war in the woods.”
Most hikers and bikers, in Vancouver and across the country, disagree. They call the incidents isolated. But there’s little doubt that conflicts between the user groups are happening and something needs to change.
“We don’t receive a lot of complaints about conflicts,” says Susan Rogers, parks superintendent for the District of North Vancouver. But, she admits, “A recent dramatic increase in trail use, mostly mountain bikers, is causing a capacity issue. Pinch points are emerging.”
Trails on Mount Fromme are multi-use—meaning all users have equal rights. Both incidents happened in congested areas where downhill mountain bike trails meet traversing trails more popular with hikers. Generally, trail users act politely. But with speed involved, that’s not always what happens.
“Maybe the self-regulating strategy needs revisiting,” Rogers says. Mountain bikers across the country are watching carefully to see how the district acts—the North Shore, after all, is one of mountain biking’s evolutionary hot spots. One suggestion is better signage on bike trails, so hikers know to expect downhill traffic. The district is also considering creating separate hike and bike trails around these pinch points.
The latter would go against the principles of the International Mountain Bike Association, says James Brown, the group’s BC rep. The IMBA believes any trail open to hikers should be open to bikers too. The research backs them up. Studies puncture just about every argument against mountain biking, from increased erosion to safety considerations. A telling 2010 study conducted by the University of Calgary for Parks Canada reviewed all available research and found that mountain biking has the same impact on wildlife and trail erosion as other summer users.
But, to really put hikers and land managers at ease, cyclists need to do a better job of showing they are compatible with other trail users. And that begins with all riders realizing they are advocates for the sport, says Brown.
“People oppose what they don’t understand,” he says. “When we as mountain bikers explain what we’re doing, what we’re giving back, then people tend to be pretty accepting. It’s about communicating.”