Written by Kaitlyn Boyle
Bikes, outdoor equipment, and the collective ambition of mountain bikers have progressed so significantly in the past couple decades that with lightweight backcountry gear, capable bikes, and some determination, more people can take bikes into the farthest reaches of the landscapes. Steep, rocky singletrack, rutted, loose mountain trails, talus and scree slopes, alpine tundra, snow, and ice are all navigable with the right bike. Add in a packraft and sturdy backpack, and bikes can be carried across nearly any terrain that isn’t rideable.
But along with this freedom to roam nearly anywhere with bikes, there also are some notable limitations, as well as the onus to travel responsibly. The most substantial limitations are related to bike access as dictated by regulations and policies set by land owners and managers. The responsibility is for backcountry cyclists to travel with exceptional care to minimize our impact. Attitudes and opinions around bike access vary dramatically, and this short article discusses the current state of bike access from purely a factual perspective. It is critical that we, as a cycling community, have an understanding of these facts in order to both recreate responsibly and be able to have informed discussions about land management and access regardless of our own individual opinions. And it is on us to understand the complexities of bike access before planning trips and to reach out to the appropriate land managers with questions if there is any uncertainty about whether or not bikes are allowed to be ridden or carried (whether on your back, boat, or otherwise) on any part of your route.
Today, federal public lands in the United States comprise nearly 28% of the 2.3-billion-acre landscape of the country (see map below; for a summary on the origins of these public lands, we refer the reader to our brief history of public lands). Where bicycles can be ridden and possessed (i.e., carried or transported) varies with each agency and land designation. Four primary federal land management agencies administer 95% of these lands through a variety of land designations for a multitude of purposes. In descending order based on the total area of land managed, these agencies are the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Forest Service (USFS), the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and the National Park Service (NPS). Bicycle access across the lands managed by these agencies varies by specific designation. On USFS and BLM lands, the least protective and restrictive designations allow bicycle travel on both motorized and non-motorized routes. On FWS administered lands, biking on dirt roads and trails is permitted as deemed compatible with a particular refuge’s statutory purpose, so some areas are open to bike access and others are not. The NPS expanded access in 2012 to allow bikes on dirt roads and singletrack as specific Park or Monument superintendents deem appropriate. There are currently more than 40 NPS-administered areas that allow bikes on dirt roads and trails.
There are three key categories of additional land designations that are important to understand with respect to bike access: (1) Wilderness, (2) pre-Wilderness, and (3) non-Wilderness special designations. These designations can be made by Congress, through the executive power of the President in the Antiquities Act, or through management at the agency level. The purpose of additional designations is generally to increase the protection of the landscape from extractive/commercial industries or other uses that threaten the landscape and/or wildlife or detracts from the area's benefit for future generations.
Understanding these three designations is important because (a) these are the most protected lands and therefore offer the most remote and wild experience for cyclists, and (b) to both protect landscapes for the health of ecosystems and future generations and bicycle access, it is our responsibility and opportunity as cyclists to understand, abide by, and intentionally advocate for conservation and bike access. The rest of this article will share how bikes do or do not generally have access to these three land categorizations. Remember, this is not an opinion piece about bike access, but rather these are the objective facts about current bike access across land designations in the U.S., written to help inform cyclists decision making, values, and advocacy.
Wilderness (and Bicycle “Possession”)
The 1964 Wilderness Act established the highest possible form of protection for lands to date in the U.S. While it is not without flaws (including Euro-centric misconceptions and racism), the Act has resulted in 750 Wilderness areas constituting 111 million acres - that equates to roughly 1/6th of all federal public lands. Among other things, the Wilderness Act prohibits both motorized and mechanized transport in Wilderness. Although subject to debate, the interpretation that has continued to be upheld in courts is that bicycles are mechanized, and therefore, the possession of bicycles in Wilderness is prohibited. Heated debates between and among legal scholars, conservation advocates, and mountain bike advocates are ongoing, but these exceed the scope of this piece. The primary takeaway here is that today, in 2021, the overarching law around bicycles in Wilderness is that they cannot be ridden, carried, or transported in or through Wilderness areas. That said, land management agencies may have discretion in interpreting whether or not a disassembled bicycle constitutes possession of a bicycle.
Many National Park units also have their own regulations and policies regarding bicycles being carried on trails that are otherwise closed to bike access, even outside of Wilderness areas. Canyonlands National Park in Utah will not issue backcountry permits for trips involving bikes being portaged on hiking trails. Grand Canyon National Park, on the other hand, allows bikes to be disassembled and packed for the 23-mile traverse of the Canyon on the Arizona Trail. This specific example is a discretionary rule established for only this one specific trail in the Park, and the exception was made possible by the advocacy work of dedicated bikepackers and the Arizona Trail Association.
Several other land designations are possible by an act of Congress or specific agencies to protect “Wilderness qualities” in a landscape. These designations essentially set the land aside to be managed similarly to Wilderness with the intention of eventually having the lands designated as Wilderness. These designations include Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs), Recommended Wilderness Areas (RWAs), and Roadless Areas (RAs). In most cases, these designations are managed as Wilderness, and as such prohibit bicycles.
As is often the case, there are exceptions to this blanket rule of thumb as well. Wilderness Study Areas in Wyoming are subject to a clause that allows for the continuation of historic uses in new WSAs so long as those uses do not impact Wilderness qualities. In some cases, this clause allows bicycle use on trails in WSAs to continue, such as in the Palisades Wilderness Study Area near Jackson Hole. RAs can also vary in whether or not bikes are permitted on non-motorized trails. The Lionhead RA near Yellowstone National Park is an example of where bikes have been allowed in a RA. However, when the USFS included the Lionhead in a potential new RWA, bicycle access suddenly became threatened. The outcome, after extensive advocacy by cycling organizations, was the designation of the Lionhead as a new non-motorized Backcountry Area that will both increase protections while maintaining bike access to trails.
Non-Wilderness Special Designations
There are numerous additional designations that are less restrictive than Wilderness (and less durable from the perspective of conservation permanence). Many of these have been created as alternatives to Wilderness to appease various groups or to ease management burdens of federal agencies. These designations include National Recreation Areas (NRAs), Conservation Areas, National Scenic Areas, Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, and Special Management Areas, as well as more than a dozen others. Although these designations offer flexibility in management for each individual designation, they offer no consistency for protections or access across landscapes. As a result, whether or not you can ride your bike in a National Conservation Area simply depends on the management plan for that particular area. And in some NRAs, bike access is also restricted, such as in Glen Canyon NRA where bike use is not allowed on or above the shoreline, a consideration for bikerafters. It is also worth noting that generally, National Monuments fall into the “non-Wilderness” category (although Monuments can have designated Wilderness areas within the Monument). As such, bicycle access within National Monuments depends on the management plan for each Monument and is often associated with the historical use and advocacy efforts to maintain bike access upon Monument designation.
Other public lands designations, state lands, and private lands
Finally, public lands without special federal designations may also have restrictions on where bikes can be taken. Non-motorized trails on public lands are often still closed to bike access for a wide variety of reasons, making it all the more important to carefully research trip plans. In winter months, wheeled travel over snow may also be restricted, meaning that fat bikes may not allowed even on snowmobile trails in some areas on public lands; some local snowmobile trail associations also restrict bike access.
And finally, state and privately managed lands do not fit into the federal land management umbrella, and thus, bike access in state parks, state trust lands, and private lands is at the discretion of the managers and land owners. Some state lands are not open to any public access. And private lands are rarely open to public access, although there is a gradual shift in attitude regarding recreation opportunities on private lands in some parts of the country.
Bike access is not black and white from any perspective. Moving forward with an understanding of the complexities of land management, the best decision you can make is to research the regulations of the agencies and designations for the lands you’re traveling on and near (the latter just in case you need to alter your route on the fly). Simply calling the office of the land managers should provide clear answers and an understanding of what is allowed and prohibited within your ride ambitions, as well as if any special permits may be required.
And if you want to become involved in advocacy for bike access and/or landscape conservation, advocacy organizations are a great place to start, whether that's Bikepacking Roots, the International Mountain Bike Association, the Sustainable Trails Coalition, or a regional group. These organizations, each having unique perspectives, strategies, and goals related to access, advoacy, and conservation, can keep you informed of specific opportunities and challenges, share the oftentimes lengthy backstories behind conservation and access issues, and provide specific opportunities for engagement.
To wrap up, you may read this and ask, “Geez, why even bother venturing off roads or well traveled bike-legal trails if it’s so complex?” Riding your bike in backcountry areas connects you to whole ecosystems, to less familiar places, and reveals the magnificence of the more wild and undeveloped landscapes. So we encourage you to get out there, but please do so where permitted so that as cyclists, we can continue to maintain and gain trust, respect, and access to protected lands while also supporting protections for the backcountry where we ride.
2020 was a challenging year for countless reasons, but here at Bikepacking Roots, we have continued to expand our capacity to have a positive impact on and for the bikepacking community. Here's a quick look back at just some of what we accomplished this past year with the support from our many members and business partners.
Creating the BIPOC Bike Adventure Grant Program
• We created this grant program as a first step to help address inequitable access to the bikepacking experience. Together with our members, we raised more than $50,000 for the grant fund.
• Hired BIPOC adventure cyclists for a panel to guide the application process and select the first round of recipients Nearly 100 applications were received for this first round.
• This program will continue to grow in 2021 with new initiatives.
Enabling More Kids to go Bikepacking
• We partnered with the National Interscholastic Cycling Association’s (NICA) to create an extensive curriculum for their new Bikepacking Camps program
• Camps will begin nationwide in 2021!
Release of the Bears Ears Loops Network
• 700 miles of exceptional riding through one of the Colorado Plateau’s most threatened landscapes
• Our 100-page route and landscape guide connects riders to the stories, culture, sociopolitical background, and uniqueness of the Bears Ears Region and confidently and safely experience the Utah desert
Continued on other Route Development Projects
• 40+ Route Test Team volunteers were out on the Northwoods Route providing feedback, building awareness of the new route in communities along the way, and identifying cyclist-friendly businesses
• The Orogenesis Route is entering a new phase of development to fill small gaps in the 3,500-mile-long route. That involves coordinating with regional mountain bike advocacy groups and land managers to resurrect old trails and build several new singletrack connectors.
• The Intermountain Connectors between the Western Wildlands Route and the Great Divide MTB Route are nearly complete!
• Jan Bennett continues with final refinements to the Pony Express Route
• We are supporting Navajo Y.E.S.' work on the new Chuska MTB Route on Navajo Nation with grant funds received from the Mountain Bike Association of Arizona
Advocating for Bikepackers, Public Lands, and Wild Places
• In 2020, we engaged in widespread advocacy efforts and contributed to maintaining backcountry mountain bike access to the Lionhead area of Idaho
• We also launched the Undivided educational advocacy column for The Radavist
Positive Impact Bikepacking Stewardship Campaign
• BPR launched this collaborative project with the Conservation Lands Foundation and the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, supported by Salsa Cycles
• Educational outreach to the bikepacking community begins in early 2021
We're Continuing to Grow, Diversify, and Engage the Community!
• Our first Go Bikepacking! event filled up almost immediately but was canceled due to the pandemic
• Let's Go Bikepacking! We have three Go Bikepacking! events planned for 2021, tentatively planned for Idaho, Arizona, and Arkansas: community, education, stewardship, and fun!
• Membership grew by approximately 50% in 2020 to more than 6,000 individuals
• We've added a small group of policy and cultural advisors
• Our Board of Directors expanded with an emphasis on increasing diversity; 50 applications were received!
Join or donate today! Help us continue to support the bikepacking community and the places through which we ride in 2021 and beyond . . .
This Giving Tuesday, support Bikepacking Roots with a monthly or annual membership. In a year where it has been challenging to be together, we have focused our efforts on laying the foundation for a stronger bikepacking community with new initiatives to
As a 501(c)(3) charitable non-profit, your contribution to Bikepacking Roots is tax-deductible, and our recently-expanded Board of Directors ensures that your donation is stretched to its maximum potential. We appreciate your continued support and look forward to hopefully crossing paths in 2021!
-- The Bikepacking Roots Team
At Bikepacking Roots, our mission includes “advocating for the landscapes through which we ride.” Indigenous peoples are an integral part of the future, present, and past landscapes in U.S. America. Thus, as advocates for a healthy, vibrant, and whole Western landscape, we are responsible for communicating and educating ourselves, our members, and the riders of the routes we design in a way that progresses Indigenous liberation from colonial trauma. With that intent, we’re announcing the renaming of the 2,700-mile-long Wild West Route to the Western Wildlands Route.
Our goal in designing and naming this route was to celebrate the landscape that characterizes the Intermountain West - a landscape that consists of large swaths of public lands, large areas with minimal human development, and a diverse social landscape. Unfortunately, in choosing the “Wild West Route” for a name, we largely missed our targeted connotation that comes with a name. The Wild West in the context of United States history is strewn with a history of violence, forced removal, land theft, colonization, and attempted erasure of Indigenous existence. Thus, we now recognize that rather than inspire an appreciation of the Western landscape, the name “Wild West Route” is inspiring backwards progress in decolonizing and undoing Indigenous erasure.
Renee Hutchens, a member of the Diné (Navajo) Tribe, reached out to us and shared her perspective on why the name of this route needed to be changed. “This route was set out to be about experiencing the land through bikepacking,” says Hutchens. “But the fact is, words that are rooted in colonialism can make their way into the everyday language and how we think. Wild West shows were performed across North America and Europe from the late 1800s into the 20th century and dramatized Indian attacks on stagecoaches and cabins. One of the most popular was Buffalo Bill’s ‘Wild West Show’ where Native peoples were put on stage for show to enact mock battles, and the ‘savage Indian’ character was popularized while audiences watched. These shows, and related influences, inspired filmmakers to produce Western movies that romanticized the story about how the West was won. The truth is the West was actually ‘won’ through violence, forced removal, and genocide of Indigenous peoples.”
Hutchen’s lengthier, valuable, and powerful perspective is shared below - we strongly encourage everyone to take the time to read and reflect upon it.
We apologize for any harmful impact and trauma that the former name has caused. Bikepacking Roots is committed to seeking the input and voices of Indigenous peoples in the future as we name our work, write about landscapes, and advocate for lands. The new name, the Western Wildlands Route, is intended to inspire an appreciation of the entire landscape that comprises the Intermountain West, including the Indigenous stories, peoples and perspectives that shape the future, present, and past of the lands upon which we ride. And we all need to recognize that “wild” places need not be characterized by the absence of people - Indigenous groups have lived in harmony with and as stewards of these lands for thousands of years.
Please join us in celebrating the Western wildlands, including the people who first called these lands home, by adopting the new route name today.
An Indigenous perspective on the “Wild West” from Renee Hutchens
When I first read the name, the “Wild West Route” my mind went numb as I paused. This pause was so long it felt like I couldn’t move through it. I could not even finish reading the sentence or context within which it was written. In fact, I didn’t care to because whatever it was about, I wanted nothing to do with it. This is why words matter. Reading these words felt like trying to move through trauma on top of historical trauma. I immediately knew it was important to bring my experience and perspective to the attention of the Bikepacking Roots leadership. I remember saying, “as the name stands right now, I will never ride that route.” In the meantime, while I didn’t care to ride the route, others went on riding the route. I knew because I kept reading stories on social media tagged with the hashtag and stories in media outlets that celebrated bikepacker’s experience on the Wild West Route. What stood out to me in these unfolding stories was a deeply rooted colonial narrative. It became apparent that these stories reinforced narratives that continue the legacy of colonialism and remove Indigenous peoples’ voices in the discourse of bikepacking.
Wild West shows were performed across North America and Europe from the late 1800s into the 20th century and dramatized Indian attacks on stagecoaches and cabins. One of the most popular was Buffalo Bill’s ‘Wild West Show’ where Native peoples were put on stage for show to enact mock battles, and the ‘savage Indian’ character was popularized while audiences watched. These shows, and related influences, inspired filmmakers to produce Western movies that romanticized the story about how the West was won. The truth is the West was actually “won” through violence, forced removal and genocide of Indigenous peoples. These are the stories that played in my mind in that long pause as I read the words “Wild West Route.” I was deeply grieved to see a route with this name cross 100+ miles of my Navajo homeland. Every story I’ve read since this route was released felt like I was reading a romanticized Hollywood story about “cowboys and Indians,” but it was supposed to be about bikepacking.
Something inside of me wanted to yell, “stop reinforcing colonial narratives on sacred land.” You see, names aren’t always intended to cause harm. This route was set out to be about experiencing the land through bikepacking. But the fact is, words that are rooted in colonialism can make their way into the everyday language and how we think. To prevent harm, words and biases must be critically examined and Indigenous peoples intentionally included or engaged in discussions. It was clear the “Wild West Route” triggered something much deeper beyond some catchy words. This name conveys historical trauma, forced cultural assimilation, and a legacy of colonization that aimed to eradicate Indigenous peoples all together. I grew up near Monument Valley. My grandpa and I would go there often to visit my grandma in her hogan. I would listen to stories as she wove many rugs. I realized from a young age how much this place meant to my Diné people and our culture. People often ask me, “where’s that?” I do my best to give them geographic references and they still look at me puzzled. I finally tell them, “you know the place that appeared in all those western movies?” Immediately they nod their head. It grieves me that a beautiful and powerful place, such as Monument Valley has become narrowed down to an iconic symbol for Western cinema. It’s clear how stories, even Hollywood stories can impact the way we relate and think about the land and the peoples Indigenous to the land.
Names of routes are no different because words are what make up the power of narratives that impact our relationships to anything, anyone, or any place. I want to challenge the cycling industry to do better and be more intentional when it comes to names or words used in routes, cycling events, marketing slogans, and products. Words are powerful because they can either perpetuate Indigenous erasure or promote inclusivity of Indigenous peoples and their experiences. Unsure at first where my conversations would end up about the problematic name of the “Wild West Route,” I am glad to say they eventually led to more productive conversations, and the decision to change the name of the route.
The 2020 election is just 2 weeks away, and voting is ongoing in many states already. Over the past 4 years, the United States has been subject to leadership that has rolled back environmental protections and exacerbated social justice issues that negatively impact the health of the nation, the landscape of the U.S., the global climate, and the experiences of bikepackers.
We ask that you vote in this election; all races are important to bring leadership around the U.S. that will lead the country toward a socially and environmentally healthy landscape.
Below, we share some of the issues relevant to all bikepackers that your vote can impact.
Use your vote to elect federal and state officials who will bring Indigenous leadership to land management.
The reduction of numerous National Monuments in 2017 was one of President Trump’s first major attacks on the environment and the American people. President Obama’s 2016 designation of Bears Ears National Monument marked the first time in history that a National Monument was created in response to the voices and advocacy of the Indigenous groups who call the landscape home. The language of Obama’s Presidential proclamation that designated Bears Ears National Monument took a step toward building more inclusive land management practices by including the voice of the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition in collaborating on the National Monument designation and management. The language recognizes that Native Americans still use the land today and acknowledges that Native presence isn’t just a historical fact - it’s a present-day reality of the diversity of the United States.
A critical step toward rectifying Indegenous erasure and colonialism is centering Indigenous voices and perspectives in land management. Bears Ears National Monument was a step in that direction, but that was undone by President Trump and Interior Secretary Zinke.
Bears Ears is on the ancestral lands of the Hopi Tribe, Diné (Navajo), Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe, and Zuni Pueblo. Artwork above by Renee Hutchens.
Use your vote to elect federal and local officials who will recognize and address the devastating legacy of uranium mining on the people and landscape of the Colorado Plateau.
There is a long history of radioactive contamination from uranium mines across the Colorado Plateau. The toxicity of uranium has caused extensive illness and death across Native communities in the Southwest. Many communities located near abandoned uranium mines have also been directly affected by groundwater contamination, and this is not a historic issue - it is very much a current one! After a legacy of uranium-caused cancer, birth defects, and death across Navajo Nation, it is unacceptable for a uranium mine to be negotiated just outside Grand Canyon National Park, where contaminated groundwater will poison the water source of the Havasupai people.
Use your vote for roadless areas in National Forests, backcountry experiences, and the Traditional Homelands Conservation Rule.
The Roadless Rule is a conservation tool to protect National Forests from road development that comes with extractive development such as logging and mining. Just last month, President Trump stripped the Tongass National Forest from the protections granted through the Roadless Rule. Not only is the Tongass the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world, it provides critical wildlife habitat, resources on ancestral lands to 11 Native tribes, and world-class recreation, but the amount of carbon dioxide the Tongass can sequester makes it critical in combating climate change. None of the tribes recommended a full repeal of the Roadless Rule, and around 95% of public comments opposed complete exemption.
Unlike more restrictive conservation measures, the Roadless Rule allows for mountain biking and winter grooming in conjunction with natural resource protections. Trump’s undoing of the Tongass protection by the Roadless Rule is threatening in setting a precedent for future undoing of the Roadless Rule. In addition to the ecosystem and climate services of undeveloped forests, roadless areas provide bikepackers with more remote, less-developed backcountry experiences - a value bikepackers in our 2019 Bikepacking Community Survey highlighted as an important part of the bikepacking experience.
The Tongass National Forest is on the lands of Tlingit and Haida. Photo above of mountain biking in Idaho's Lionhead Roadless Area (photo by Will Stubblefield).
Use your vote to elect federal and state officials who will take action to address climate change and bring Native peoples into co-management of forests and wildfire.
The western US has seen record-breaking wildfire this year. Wildfires across most western states have had devastating impacts on communities, watersheds, wildlife habitat, air quality, and recreation. Healthy air, water, ecosystems, and human communities are vital to the future of the West. Climate change is undeniably contributing to these increasingly widespread and severe fires - drought, beetle infestations, and record temperatures. Coupled with climate-related factors, more than a century of fire suppression has led to unprecedented fire-prone forests that are often choked with overgrowth.
Co-management of forests and wildfire between state, federal, and Tribal leaders offers the future of the western landscape a glimmer of hope. Indigenous peoples have been practicing ceremonial and traditional burning to mitigate extreme wildfires and cultivate desired plants for harvesting and attracting game. After 200 years of banned traditional burning, allowing tribes to return to their ancestral lands to practice controlled burning is an opportunity for co-management of forests.
The Karuk and Yaruk tribes in Northern California have partnered with the Forest Service to manage lands for traditional purposes concurrently with wildfire management. This is just one example of Indigenous/Federal collaboration in land management for the future health of the landscape.
Photo above of 2020 wildfire aftermath along the Arizona Trail (photo courtesy of Arizona Trail Association).
Bikepacking Roots is excited to announce that we are now accepting applications for the BIPOC Bike Adventure Grant. This new grant program has been created to help reduce the barriers to bike adventure for BIPOC individuals. Awards will provide funding, gear, and mentoring as needed for recipients to pursue an adventurous experience by bicycle and help elevate their voices.
Qualified applicants are those who identify as BIPOC, live in the United States, have any level of cycling experience, and would benefit from support in order to pursue a specific bike adventure. Applications can also be submitted by small informal groups planning to adventure together. And the meaning of adventure is left up to applicants to define for themselves. The adventure could be a destination bikepacking expedition, a road bike tour, or a trip for day rides on backcountry trails. Awards can also help with gear needs and support individuals working toward a bigger bikepacking trip by helping build skills, confidence, and experience through clinics, group events, or other programs.
During this pandemic, only adventures within the United States will be supported. Applicants must also outline how they will travel as responsibly as possible to minimize risks to themselves and others.
Thanks to the generosity of countless individuals and financial contributions from nearly fifty outdoor and cycling brands, awards will range from $500 to $3,000+ for this grant cycle, and some equipment support will be available. Bikepacking Roots’ staff and volunteers are available to provide mentorship with trip planning as needed. Opportunities will also be created for recipients interested in sharing their stories more broadly. Click here to learn more about the grant program and to apply.
Applications must be received by no later than November 8th. Applications will be reviewed by a panel of four BIPOC adventure cyclists, and recipients will be notified by mid-December. The next application window will open in spring of 2021. To make a contribution to the BIPOC Bike Adventure Grant fund, please click here.
Bikepacking Roots is expanding and diversifying our Board of Directors, and we are welcoming applications from individuals looking to be a positive influence for and within the bikepacking community. The Board of Directors is made up of passionate volunteers who act as representatives of the organization and as advocates for the bikepacking community, the experiences we collectively seek, and the landscapes through which we ride.
Who is Bikepacking Roots? We are the only non-profit organization dedicated to supporting and advancing bikepacking, growing a diverse bikepacking community, and creating professional routes. We also advocate for the conservation of the landscapes and public lands through which we ride and for continued access to backcountry trails. Our organization values human-powered adventure and an inclusive, engaged, and informed membership, now nearly 6,000 strong, that makes a positive impact as we all explore by bike. In the past year, Bikepacking Roots has created the Bears Ears Loops and the Northwoods Route, the BIPOC Bike Adventure Grant, developed a bikepacking curriculum for the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, and has been involved in advocacy efforts all across the West.
“Our Board is instrumental in helping chart the direction of this community-driven non-profit,” explains Executive Director Kurt Refsnider. “The Board also makes sure that we’re as efficient as possible with our budget in order to maximize our impact.”
Bikepacking Roots is striving for the composition of our Board of Directors to reflect an increasingly diverse and inclusive bikepacking community. In particular, we are seeking applicants who represent non-dominant identities as BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and/or FTW (femme, transgender, women). Individuals of all ages, identities, abilities, and sizes are encouraged to apply. Board members do not need to be bikepackers but preferably can contribute expertise, guidance, and dedication in areas that strengthen Bikepacking Roots’ ability and capacity to pursue our mission. These skill areas could include (in no particular order)
To learn more about this opportunity and to apply, click here. Bikepacking Roots will begin reviewing applications on September 14th.
We're excited to finally release the long-awaited Bears Ears Loops bikepacking route network - 700 miles of riding options through the high deserts and subalpine wilds of central and southeastern Utah. Their goal with these routes are to empower riders to confidently and safely immerse themselves in the remarkable but intimidating landscape, develop an informed sense of place, and experience some of all that is at risk to be lost if the Bears Ears region is not protected.
The 372-mile Bears Ears Loop, the eastern of two loop options, meanders through more than 100 miles within the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument. By helping bikepackers experience this and the surrounding landscapes and understanding more about the unique cultural history, geology, and ecology through the accompanying 100-page Bears Ears Loops Landscape and Route Guide, we are actively creating new advocates for Bears Ears. The 437-mile Swell Loop to the west connects with our already-popular Wild West Route, the Canada-to-Mexico epic.
The riding experience of this network has been intentionally designed as relatively non-technical, very manageable on a traditional mountain bike (fat bikes are not necessary, and gravel bikes are not recommended), and to be accessible for any mountain biker with some prior bikepacking experience. Most of the riding is on dirt roads and 4x4 tracks, and water resources along the way have been inventoried and scouted in different seasons to assess reliability. Bikepacking Routes also chose to not route the loops through the more seldom-visited areas of the Monument to avoid impacting their nature.
“The remoteness of this region, the scale and grandeur of the landscape, and the minimal development of any sort make this place the most powerful of anywhere I’ve ridden,” says Kurt Refsnider, Bikepacking Roots' Executive Director. “But the remoteness and perceived harshness of the area keep most bikepackers away. So we’ve created these routes and extensive planning resources to allow more riders to safely adventure through this region, to have immersive experiences here, to learn more about the landscape and its sacredness to Indigenous groups. That understanding and connection is what builds new conservation advocates.”
The designation of Bears Ears National Monument in 2016 marked the first time in U.S. history that a National Monument was created in response to the voices of the Indigenous groups who call the landscape home - the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, and Ute Indian Tribe. Just 11 months later, the Trump administration reduced the Monument's size by ~85%. And in a direct affront to the request of the Intertribal Coalition, the southern unit of the reduced Monument was named the Shásh Jaa’ Unit (using the Diné name for Bears Ears). The Coalition had insisted upon the use of the English “Bears Ears” name for the Monument rather than in any one tribe’s language in solidarity and unity. The legality of the Monument reduction is currently being litigated in court.
"We often times hear phrases such as ‘land conservation’ and ‘protecting public lands’ in the outdoor industry which is heavily driven by preserving the ability to recreate in these places,” explains Diné (Navajo) conservation advocate and mountain biker Renee Hutchens. “We too advocate, but what drives our fight to protect our land is our belief that the land is us – our identity, culture, and way of life is held within Mother Earth. It is the same mindset you’d have if you were fighting for your own life or that of your loved ones."
More information about these loops, all GPS data, and the full 100-page Bears Ears Loops Landscape and Route guidebook (in digital and print formats) are available on our Bears Ears Loops page.
However, during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition is requesting that visitors refrain from traveling to the Bears Ears region given the severity of the health crisis in some local communities, particularly Indigenous communities. So now is the time for planning trips, not actually taking trips to this area - that’s how we collectively can best show respect and solidarity at this time.
The National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA), Blackburn Designs and Bikepacking Roots announced a new partnership that establishes a bikepacking curriculum and traveling gear library for NICA student-athletes and coaches. Bikepacking Roots is providing the on-trail expertise and Blackburn is providing the funding and bikepacking kit for 20 riders.
“At Bikepacking Roots, we’re passionate about facilitating human-powered adventures in wild places and reducing barriers to those sorts of empowering experiences. I’ve watched the remarkable transformation new bikepackers go through in just a handful of short bikepacking trips, and I couldn’t be more excited to partner with NICA and Blackburn to create such an opportunity for kids across the United States,” shares Bikepacking Roots executive director, Kurt Refsnider, Ph.D.
The curriculum for this new bikepacking program will be created by Bikepacking Roots' education team, led by Kaitlyn Boyle, M.S. Boyle has more than a decade of experience in adventure education and curriculum design and has taught for Prescott College, NOLS, and Outward Bound.
“We’ve been looking to get more involved with the future of bikepacking for the past few years,” said Blackburn marketing manager Dan Powell. “This partnership with NICA came up after the release of a video project ‘Wild Virtue’ we sponsored, and we felt like this was the opportunity we’d been waiting for. We’re very proud to be working with these two organizations.”
Stay tuned for more later in the summer of 2020 as this partnership develops and begins getting kids out on the ground for their first bikepacking adventures!
Over the past week, we’ve witnessed the frustration, heartbreak, and exhaustion of generations of oppression and racial inequality once again boil over as protests against police brutality and racism have spread across the United States. The time is long overdue for each and every community within the country, including the overwhelmingly white outdoor recreation community and industry, to listen and respond with change.
“The outdoor industry touts outdoors for all and outside is free with respect to trails, parks, and adventuring. However, that is not the case until we address racial inequity and dismantle racial and social injustices embedded by white colonialism,” says Kaitlyn Boyle, Program Director for the Bikepacking Roots non-profit. “We need to change the outdoor narratives, create inclusive and safe spaces for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) in the outdoors, and increase our efforts to shift the racial fabric of the outdoor landscape so that the outdoors can truly be for all.”
Toward these ends, Bikepacking Roots has created the BIPOC Bike Adventure Grant, a new grant program to help reduce the barriers to bike adventure for BIPOC individuals. This grant will provide funding for recipients to pursue an adventurous experience by bicycle and help elevate their voices. The adventure could be a destination bikepacking expedition, a road bike tour, or a trip for day rides on backcountry trails. The grant could also help with gear needs and support individuals working toward a bikepacking trip by helping build skills, confidence, and experience through clinics, group events, or other programs.
“We want to leave it up to applicants to explain what adventure means to them and how we can help support their vision and goals,” explains Executive Director Kurt Refsnider. “I’ve been incredibly privileged to have my life and worldview profoundly impacted by past adventures. There needs to be equitable opportunity for empowering adventures of any scale, and that’s simply not the case.”
Beyond helping support grant recipients’ goals, Bikepacking Roots is asking more companies within the outdoor industry to break their silence, acknowledge the impacts of racism on access to outdoor experiences, and step up efforts to institute change. Each company that recognizes these impacts and contributes to the BIPOC Bike Adventure Grant fund will be featured on Bikepacking Roots’ website.
What can you as an individual do to help in this? If outdoor adventures have positively impacted your life in some way, please consider making a contribution to the grant - 100% of the donations will go to grant recipients. Ask your favorite outdoor brands and organizations to financially support this or other anti-racist causes. And most importantly, listen, be proactive, be brave, and be respectful.
To learn more about and contribute to the BIPOC Bike Adventure Grant click on the button below.
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Bikepacking Roots is the only non-profit organization dedicated to supporting and advancing bikepacking, growing a diverse bikepacking community, advocating for the conservation of the landscapes and public lands through which we ride, and creating professional routes. We value human-powered experiences and an inclusive, engaged, and informed membership (6,000 strong) that makes a positive impact as we adventure by bike.
Our Business Partners that support the bikepacking community, conservation, and public lands:
Our organizational partners that support bikepacking, advocacy, conservation, and outdoor recreation: