The Economic Impact of Mountain Biking




Few studies have been done to determine the economic impact of mountain biking, particularly in the Eastern U.S.  The Adirondack region is abundant in its resources for recreational activities such as hiking, horseback riding and biking.  We also need to consider other factors such as the cost to maintain trails, shared usage of trails and any negative impacts on the environment.


In the absence of a comprehensive study for the Adirondacks, similar studies in other areas were examined.  Perhaps the best representative of these is the study to estimate the economic impact of mountain biking in Moab, Utah. This location is considered to be the Mecca of Mountain Biking. 


Peter Fix and John Loomis of Colorado State University (1997) conducted the study.  The method used was an individual travel cost model (TCM) to determine the economic impact of mountain biking on trails near Moab, Utah.  The TCM is a revealed preference model, meaning it uses actual expenditures by the visitors to estimate the benefits.  The economic benefits will be measured in terms of consumer surplus, which can be defined as user willingness-to-pay over and above the actual travel expenditures (Siderelis & Moore, 1995, p. 345).


Methodology of Utah Study


Moab, a small town located in Southeastern Utah, has over twenty mountain biking trails, including the infamous Slickrock Trail, which is visited by approximately 80% all of mountain bikers.  A survey was conducted the week of March 9th – 16th, 1996, to every fifth visitor who completed a ride on the Slickrock Trail.  345 people were approached to complete the questionnaire, 35 refused, with a result of 310 responses (response rate of 90%).  Out of the 310 visitors who filled out the survey, 64 were on a multi-destination trip, resulting in a single-destination sample of 238 visitors.  The survey was screened for multi-purpose visits, resulting in a final sample of 194 visits. 


Travel time as well as travel costs are taken into consideration when measuring the independent variables.   Only variable costs are included, separated into two categories: costs to travel to Moab and expenses incurred while visiting in Moab.




The results of the survey showed the average length of a trip was 5 days, 4 days spent in Moab, 525 miles traveled, group size 3.74, and average age of 27.  The per-trip value, received per-person from an average trip is estimated at $197 - $205.  This value multiplied by the yearly visitors at Slickrock, which was 158,681 in 1995 (Bigler, 1996) results in an annual economic impact of $8,422,800 - $8,770,300 (Journal of Leisure Research, 1997, Vol. 29, pp.342-352).



Table 1

Individual Trip Statistics


                      Length         Days          Miles       Group

                       of Trip   Spent in Moab    Group Traveled                 Size                       Age             Income 

Average 5                  4                             525            3.74                  27               $ 25,870

Minimum           1                   1                                70               1                      15               $   5,000

Maximum            30                 22                           3200           24                     66               $150,000



In comparison to Moab, Utah, we can estimate the economic benefits of mountain biking on less well-known areas such as the Adirondacks.  Economically speaking, mountain biking, with a consumer surplus of $53 to $63 per day, is of a similar value to hiking (well known to the Adirondacks) with values ranging from $15.71 to $55.81 per day (Walsh et al., 1992).


While there are large economic benefits associated with mountain biking, these benefits need to be considered in the cost analysis of site improvements, maintenance and shared usage.   A major problem found in Moab was crowding on trail routes shared by hikers and equestrians.  In a study done by Buchanan et al. (1998), it was noted that mountain bikers are willing to pay access fees for trails that are secluded and less congested.


Effects on the Environment


We explored several sources of environmental management literature to identify research that has been conducted on the impact of mountain biking and hiking on vegetation and soil.  There is increased use and therefore impact and land managers need to plan for controlling use in order to minimize impact.


A previous study done in 1991 of mountain biking within National Parks raised concerns among managers that included damage to natural resources, disagreements between user groups, and several safety issues (Tilmant, 1991).  These issues were comparable to those found for Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service managers (Chavez et al., 1993, Chavez, 1996).  The major concern was damage to natural resources.  Over one-third of the managers noted that increasing use had caused resource damage, but it could not be determined that the damage was due to mountain bike use.  It did appear that appropriate management of trails and access would serve to reduce impact to acceptable levels.


Park Management Survey


The intent of this study was to learn and examine state park director’s perceptions of mountain biking.  The results would be used to review the following areas in relation to mountain biking: management practices and policies, trail usage, inventory, user participation levels, resource degradation, and conflict.


In the fall of 1994, a mail survey was sent to all 50 state park directors.  A one page questionnaire was developed to include 13 subjects on mountain biking practices and management policies. Some of the questions asked were:

·         Is mountain biking permitted in the state parks?

·         Does a formal management plan exist for mountain biking?

·         Is the plan followed on a statewide or individual park basis?

·         Does cooperation exist between managers and local mountain biking clubs?

Other issues were addressed to identify areas of use, trail use policies, trail miles, participation levels, resource degradation, and user conflicts




The response rate was 100% and it was found that 47 states permit mountain biking in their state parks; only a few have made plans to manage this activity.  Several state park agencies (78%) work with local mountain biking clubs to develop and maintain bike trails, promote rider education, and organize volunteer patrols on trails.  At least 75% of the managers found user conflict to be a major issue between mountain bikers and other users. In regards to a mountain biking management plan, 89% of the state park directors responded “no” they did not have specific trail management plans for mountain biking.  When asked about resource degradation, 67% responded “yes” the parks have had problems with resource degradation due to mountain biking and 33% reported that there were no resource degradation problems. (Environmental Management Vol. 21, pp.239-246).



Soil Study


A study was done in Boyne Valley Provincial Park, located northwest of Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 1997 by the Department of Botany at the University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.  The purpose was to compare effects of mountain biking and hiking on the soil and vegetation.   There were three major findings in this study.  First, impacts on vegetation and soil increased with biking and hiking activity.  Second, the impacts of biking and hiking were not significantly different.  Third, impacts did not extend beyond 30 cm of the trail centerline. 


One year after remediation efforts, these impacts were no longer detectable.  These results indicate that at a similar intensity of activity, the short-term impacts of mountain biking and hiking may not differ greatly in the undisturbed area of a deciduous forest habitat. The immediate impacts of both activities can be severe but rapid recovery should be expected when the activities are not allowed to continue. (Eden Thurston and Richard Reader, 2001).



Implications for the Adirondack Region


Resource managers need to consider many options when deciding on a strategy in dealing with the issues or problems related to mountain biking.  State parks are for public use and need to be shared by all user groups.  The fact that several state park agencies are currently working with mountain biking clubs on management and trail maintenance shows cooperation in meeting this new challenge. 


Patrols to monitor trail use and safety are done on a volunteer basis by some mountain biking clubs, i.e., CORBA (California Off-Road Bicycle Association).  Some organizations have guidelines for users.  The Rules of the Trail developed by International Mountain Bikers Association (IMBA) should always be practiced. 


Cooperative efforts and planning between land managers and user groups will help to provide recreational experiences on all levels.  Funds for development and changes to trails are scarce, but some states and groups have been innovative in raising money or applying for federal funds designated for state parks and recreational services.


The economic impact of mountain biking in the Adirondacks could be significant and rapidly realized.  Mountain bike sales still lead most other outdoor gear (“Singletrack Mind”, Peter Kick, Adirondack Life, Annual Guide, 1999).  The typical rider is getting older and, therefore is in higher income brackets.  Extrapolating the Utah data to the Adirondacks, and assuming a modest 50% of the rider volume within five years, would realize nearly $4 million in impact per year.