How to Minimize Your Environmental Impact When Mountain Biking

July 20, 2018

Mountain Biker walking bike across rocky part of shallow stream

Moun­tain bik­ing can be a darn right spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ence. Rip­ping and rid­ing through trails, sur­round­ed by the sounds, smells, and sights of the nat­ur­al world make you feel alive. 

Liv­ing in the moment becomes a lit­tle eas­i­er when moun­tain biking. 

The trails and nat­ur­al beau­ty we depend on for these spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ences also need our pro­tec­tion, and there are a few impor­tant things you can do to pro­tect the places you love to ride.    Over the past few years,  there has been a lot of dia­logue about the envi­ron­men­tal impact of moun­tain bik­ing.  While every human activ­i­ty has an envi­ron­men­tal impact,  it’s impor­tant to under­stand ways you can min­i­mize your impact while rid­ing.  With increased atten­tion being placed on the neg­a­tive impact of moun­tain bik­ing,  envi­ron­men­tal­ly con­scious bik­ers have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to make a few adjust­ments to their rid­ing game and lev­el-up their rela­tion­ship with Moth­er Nature. 


The trail exists for a rea­son, and every cut switch­back or off-trail adven­ture leaves behind a mess of ero­sion and dam­age to the sur­round­ing veg­e­ta­tion. You may be tempt­ed to carve your own path but stick to the route already in place to min­i­mize your impact. Adding to this, every time bik­ers weave around a pud­dle or obsta­cle it widens the trail and poten­tial­ly deep­ens an already exist­ing prob­lem. Dis­mount and walk your bike through pud­dles, if nec­es­sary, and car­ry your bike over fall­en trees or plants when­ev­er possible.

Mountain Biker riding across trail in wide, green field with mountain in the distance


When pick­ing up speed on the down­hill, it can become nec­es­sary to hit the brakes when approach­ing a switch­back, hik­ers, or oth­er cyclists. Rid­ers can save exces­sive dam­age to the ter­rain by man­ag­ing their speed and being aware of turns and oth­er peo­ple on the trail. Rather than skid and spray dirt and debris all over the sur­round­ing plant life,  take it easy and hit those turns at a speed you can han­dle with­out slam­ming the brakes.


Wildlife is already at the mer­cy of human deci­sion mak­ing and you can ease the stress on ani­mals by keep­ing an eye out and slow­ing down. Often the sounds and speed of bikes fright­en and dis­rupt the habits of wildlife.   A lit­tle aware­ness can make a big impact on the qual­i­ty of life for ani­mals liv­ing or trav­el­ling near the trail.  If you’re rid­ing in remote areas where you could encounter larg­er mam­mals (bears, moose, deer etc.)  make noise as you go around cor­ners, or con­sid­er wear­ing a bell to ensure you don’t star­tle large crea­tures.  For more tips check out  How to Pre­pare for Wildlife Encoun­ters on Your Moun­tain Bike Trips.  

Mountain biker standing with her bike on a muddy trail while smiling and petting a large animal with horns


Pay­ing it for­ward is a prac­tice that bik­ers who want to make a dif­fer­ence can pick up. At this point, it should be a giv­en that lit­ter­ing just shouldn’t hap­pen, but still, if the trails are dot­ted with bot­tles, wrap­pers, and oth­er trash be sure to pick it up.   Anoth­er way to pay it for­ward is to pick up branch­es, debris or small fall­en trees that are block­ing trail access.   Check out your local moun­tain bike club to see if they host trail main­te­nance days.   If you ride the trails, you should help main­tain them.    Refrain from rid­ing when it’s rain­ing and the trails are mud­dy. Those deep pud­dles cre­at­ed while it’s wet hard­en and dry over time cre­at­ing deep, uneven div­ots in the trail that then need to be maneu­vered around. 

Two mountain bikers on a hilltop, looking out over a green mountain valley with blue sky overhead


Moun­tain bik­ing is famous for leav­ing both bik­er and bike dirty. While it is a sign of a ride well rid­den, it is also a poten­tial haz­ard if not cleaned. Mud­dy bikes are often full of seeds, and when a rid­er trav­els through sen­si­tive envi­ron­ments they can end up unknow­ing­ly deposit­ing unwant­ed or harm­ful seeds as they go. This can cause a wipe­out of pre-exist­ing veg­e­ta­tion. Be sure to clean your bike after every ride to elim­i­nate this poten­tial prob­lem, espe­cial­ly if trav­el­ling inter­na­tion­al­ly or across the coun­try with your bike.

Two mountain bikers riding quickly through a winding forest trail

Any pos­i­tive change, no mat­ter how small, rip­ples through­out the world. By mak­ing one, some, or all of these changes you can reduce your impact on the envi­ron­ment while still enjoy­ing the ride. Imple­ment­ing these changes may require greater con­scious­ness on your part, but it will pay div­i­dends for the bet­ter­ment of your com­mu­ni­ty and the planet. 

About the author:   Jes­si­ca French is a writer, actor and part-time jew­el­ry mak­er in Chica­go, Illi­nois. She also loves moun­tain bik­ing and is pas­sion­ate about the envi­ron­ment. Gear from Yaki­ma helps her keep it eco-friendly.