I've often heard from my outdoor friends that mountain bikes are bad for the environment.
We tear up the trails, make too much noise, scare wildlife and the complaints go on, and on. Now, while there may be some individuals who do not respect the environment, I find that the vast majority of us do respect and protect the trails and parks.
With this in mind, here are some general guidelines reported by Jim Zarka, author of All Terrain Biking, on riding off-road and protecting the environment. These are conservation practices that help relieve human impact on the land and wildlife. It is especially important for mountain bikers. The more we can do to transform others' opinion, the better off our sport will be.
Avoid using both high-impact areas that need a rest and undisturbed places that perhaps should remain left alone altogether. Have the respect and the awareness to be able to say, "Not here, not today."
Realize that wildlife not only needs to have undisturbed territory, but that the creatures themselves need to remain undisturbed. If you stop to photograph or observe birds or other wildlife, stay downwind, avoid sudden movements, and respect their space by not harassing them. Stay away from birthing or nesting sites, feeding grounds and watering holes. Disturbance in these areas particularly stresses individual animals, and could affect their survival, especially during winter.
Traveling quietly and in small groups will allow you to appreciate the environment more and will disturb wildlife and other visitors less. If you are with a large group, split up into smaller groups when you're biking, and meet back together later. Find the right balance between safety and minimum-impact travel.
When traveling on existing trails, ride single-file on the designated path. There often are several parallel trails, caused by hikers and cyclists who move outside the original trail to avoid mud puddles, rocks, tree roots, or just in order to travel side-by-side for communication purposes.
When moving across land with no trail systems, it is usually better not to ride single file. By spreading out, you will avoid impacting vegetation. Extremely fragile areas, such as cryptogram soils in the desert, should really be avoided altogether, but if you do get out there, at least ride single file, so as to create only one narrow trail.
When taking a break along the trail, move off to one side, far enough for the visual impact you create to be lessened. This way you and other parties can enjoy more solitude and more of the natural surroundings. Again, find areas to rest in that are not fragile non-vegetated areas, such as rock outcroppings or snow patches, are preferred.
What is naturally found in the wilderness must be left there, whether organic or inorganic. Allow others the same chance of enjoying something unique and beautiful; let them have that same sense of discovery. At the same time, realize nature's intrinsic right to hold its own, without every visitor laying claim to one thing or another.
This holds especially true for archaeological finds in the Southwestern areas of the United States, including arrowheads, pottery shards, and other remnants of history. If you come across them, look at them, take pictures, feel their significance, and then leave them for professionals to use in putting together that area's past culture.