Hikers vs. mountain bikers: The dispute over the forest

#in the middle

Status: 05.07.2021 3:12 p.m.

In lockdown it got full on forest trails: hikers want to relax there, mountain bikers want to let off steam. That leads to conflict. What could a solution look like?

From Peter Sonnenberg,

In the forest you can hear a bicycle bell from quite a distance and it is unmistakable what it is pointing to. One step aside, a friendly greeting and hikers and cyclists go their own way again – ideally. In the worst case, a mountain biker has no bell and the hiker is frightened when he appears. Or the hiker hears a bell but does not want to make room.

It is not uncommon that trouble arises on forest paths at the moment because both sides lack understanding for the other. Most encounters in the forest are conflict-free. But a survey by the Pfalz-Touristik-Agentur has shown that a quarter of the hikers questioned in the Palatinate Forest feel harassed by cyclists.

# in the middle – hikers versus bikers in the Palatinate Forest

Peter Sonnenberg, SWR, daily topics, 5.7.2021

More cyclists, not just in the Palatinate Forest

“We have a sharp increase in the number of cyclists in the forest,” says Tobias Kauf, deputy managing director of Pfalz-Touristik. “The bike shops are sold out and many want to ride in the forest. And here there is still the mistake that this is allowed everywhere, but that is not true.” In Rhineland-Palatinate, for example, the state forest law prohibits mountain bikers from driving on narrow paths unless they are designated as a mountain bike park. Kauf advocates good visitor management, i.e. an extensive separation of hiking trails and mountain bike trails.

Michael Maul, chairman of the “Pfalzbiker”, a mountain bike club from the region, would have nothing against making his own way for his sport. “But in many places there is no offer for us at all. We mountain bikers have not been approached, they have promised a lot and implemented little.” He not only demands mountain bike-specific offers in the forest, but also free travel on all paths, at least for locals.

Cyclists in the Palatinate Forest.

Image: Peter Sonnenberg / SWR

During the pandemic, many people discovered mountain biking for themselves.

Image: Peter Sonnenberg / SWR

Illegal trails in the forest

“The problem is much less the bikers organized in clubs, but those who organize themselves via social networks, download the plans for unapproved trails from the Internet and then ride them,” says Günter Franz from the Upper Forest Authority. Clubs, on the other hand, train their members and are usually sensible.

Mountain bikers have a greater impact on the forest than hikers. They frighten animals because of the higher speed and contribute more to soil erosion with their tires and with heavy braking.

In spite of the size of the Palatinate Forest, animals do not have many retreat areas here either. But it is precisely such remote forest areas that are interesting for trail builders who do not like to be watched during their illegal forest activities. Here they trace steep cross-country descents and even build wooden ramps as ski jumps. The forestry authority removes such structures when they become aware of them, but those responsible almost never get them.

The beautiful landscape in the Palatinate Forest, here a photo from Neustadt an der Weinstrasse, attracts hikers and cyclists.

There is a lack of offers for mountain bikers

Such illegal activities clearly show the need for legal routes for mountain bikers. MTB tour guide Philipp Herale from the Landau section of the German Alpine Club emphasizes that consideration and environmental protection play a major role in his club. But he campaigns for understanding for his sport: “It is an elementary part of our sport to drive down narrow, demanding paths, wide paths quickly become boring for us.”

The hiker usually does not know about the multitude of disciplines in mountain bike sport: If a cross-country rider accepts a wider forest path, an enduro or downhill rider is about demanding descents, the dirt biker about jumps and the trialer for body control and balance.

“The fact that we are sometimes insulted on forest paths is also due to signs that were recently put up. They tell the hikers that we are not allowed to drive on all paths,” reports Herale. “But it is not exactly defined which paths this concerns. That is why the hiker feels right and we often cannot do it right at all.”

Mountain bikers don’t necessarily need paved bike paths.


Does the round table provide the solution?

At the Haardtrand in the Palatinate Forest, the interest groups launched a round table more than a year ago in order to better respond to the respective needs and to promote understanding for all those involved. “We approached hikers strategically and have successfully created offers for them,” says Tobias Kauf von Pfalz-Touristik.

“But we didn’t approach mountain bikers, maybe also because we feared conflicts. It’s falling on our feet now. We have a great demand for mountain bike trails, but we don’t have an offer. Now we’re going into the approval process for trails like that, but it can take three to four years. ”

Directing visitors could be a start to avoid conflicts in the forest. “Mutual consideration is our iron rule,” says mountain bike guide Philipp Herale, “that’s the best way to ride.” Perhaps that is why he and the participants of his tours were mostly very friendly to the hikers.

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