Bikers need education |

Bikers need education

Susan Wood

A U.S. Forest Service civil engineer has set the wheels in motion to launch an educational campaign designed to remind mountain bikers to tread lightly on the Lake Tahoe Basin.

With his helmet and gloves situated next to his workstation, Garrett Villanueva explained how he plans to get the message out on what started out as a project of South Tahoe High School senior Michael Nalbach.

Villanueva, a mountain biker since 1986, wants to set up interpretative kiosks with a map of the basin and an environmentally oriented narrative in bike shops on the South Shore.

He eventually wants to expand the campaign’s coverage to trailheads.

“I hope every bike shop in the basin will have one,” he said, adding a state grant will fund five kiosks.

Tahoe Sports Ltd and Spooner Outdoor have expressed interest in setting up kiosks.

The message inside essentially reminds mountain bikers to refrain from cutting switchbacks and veering off the trail. It continues with the reasons why.

“Erosion and soil protection is what it boils down to,” Villanueva said, adding his hope that at least 5 percent of the mountain biking community will pick up on the request.

Villanueva mentioned the popular Mr. Toads ride out of Big Meadow off Highway 89 as one area of particular concern because mountain bikers are opting to avoid the snow left on the trail and ride off the trail.

The detour could have a negative impact on nearby Saxon Creek as well as eroding the habitat for wildlife.

Moreover, a cyclist may not realize the residual effects of running over plants next to the trail. The plantlife holds the soil in place. For example, weakly bonded soils fail to keep the creek banks from breaking down during stormwater runoff.

“If we’re not careful, it could be (a trail) that’s lost, if we don’t reduce the impacts,” he said.

The message also mirrors a nationwide issue involving other users, including equestrians and hikers who have in some cases tried to bar their two-wheeled counterparts from their regular wilderness thoroughfares.

“A lot of mountain bikers whiz by equestrians, and that’s bad etiquette,” Villanueva said. “The courteous thing to do is slow down, get off your bike or just ask the rider what he wants you to do.”

“As a general rule, I think the biking industry has done a poor job of educating the mountain biker,” said Max Jones, who owns Spooner Outdoor. “I think education is a good thing. Somebody has got to teach them how to act in the outdoors.

Jones, who volunteers on the Tahoe Rim Trail, has agreed to keep the kiosk at his bike shop located near the lake as well as helping to organize a bike volunteer patrol. In addition, the former mountain bike racer plans to post a few of his own trail etiquette messages on his shop’s bulletin board.

Jones believes hikers know more about how to behave on Tahoe’s 350 miles of trails than mountain bikers.

On the contrary, Gary Bell said from his Sierra Cycle Works shop.

“What I think is there’s a need for the message to address everybody,” he said.

Bell, who runs the Tahoe Area Mountain Biking Association with his wife Becky, is satisfied with the mountain bikers response to trail etiquette in this area.

“What I have found is that it’s improved a great deal. We’re actually getting more and more trails open,” he said.

The Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit is currently taking an inventory of trails that it hopes to complete this summer. By the end of the upcoming winter, an access and travel management plan may be also finalized.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.