Dirt/motocross/enduro motorbike riding and the environment

Over the last 5 years or so, I’ve been spending way too much of my time dealing with motorbike riders in relation to environmental issues – specifically the dirt/motocross/enduro variety. Those dealings often haven’t been pleasant.

Recreational motorbike riding in rural areas, forests, the outback and urban parks presents a multitude of issues that some riders either aren’t aware of or choose to ignore – and the problems are getting worse.

I bought my first bike when I was 14. It was an already old second hand Suzuki TS185 for basic trail riding – an agricultural bike, not a dirt bike. It cost around $400 nearly 30 years ago – it was a substantial amount of money back then. I remember a new 185cc cost around the $1,500 mark.

A couple of years ago I was able to purchase a brand new 125cc agricultural-oriented ATV (quad) for just $600 which I use for work around my block – although I much prefer to walk when I can as I see so much more. 

Motorbikes have their place, but  the explosion of cheap dirt bikes and quads has seen ownership and the associated problems increase dramatically.

While working as a volunteer in an urban parkland reserve, I witnessed and incredible amount of damage caused by irresponsible dirt bikers.

Motorbikes of any variety were totally banned from the area and police were often called to chase these riders. Organized blitzes were launched, tying up police resources, but the stream of bikes never seemed to end. The bikes are so cheap now that even if the bikes were impounded, a few weeks later some of the riders were buying another.

It was an unfortunate part of the psychology of these riders that they were convinced simply owning a bike gave them some type of right to ride it where they wished – a right they didn’t have that they would sometimes nevertheless defend aggressively.

Unfortunately, the same traits seem to apply in non-urban parks and even on land privately owned by some riders. Riders often don’t seem to understand or care that their fun creates hell for other people and wreaks damage on the environment. Sometimes trying to politely explain the issues might see some nodding and “yeh, for sure”.. and then they head out and continue all the same.

Lets look at some of the issues of how recreational dirt bike riders affect not only the area they use their bikes, but far beyond.

Noise pollution

Noise pollution is a chronically underrated environmental threat; it’s far more than just annoying – it does real damage. 

I was looking at an exhaust kit for a specific dirt bike that was rated at 99 decibels. The decibel level at which sustained exposure may result in hearing loss is 90 – 95 decibels.  Some dirt bikes are far louder than the 99 decibel mark too. It’s important to remember that even 10 decibels added to that figure isn’t just a 10% noise increase, it’s double.

A part of the noise problem is the style of riding – it’s one thing to hear a bike put-putting away, quite another for sudden bursts of throttle assaulting the senses, common in enduro riding.
There’s been many times in the past couple of years where I’ve heard bike activity so loud, I thought the riders were on my block – but they were a mile away. A single piece of equipment being operated by someone having “fun” having such an impact on such a large area is just plain selfish. Even if I were deaf I would know when the bikes were around because the population of native fauna on my block often suddenly increases.
Disturbance of fauna isn’t just giving animals a bit of a fright and then all is well. Noise can seriously disrupt feeding and breeding activities. Depending on the season and conditions, every minute of grazing time is important as is the conservation of energy – energy shouldn’t have to be spent fleeing dirt bikes.

Even modern dirt bikes and quads lack the sophisticated emissions systems you find in cars. Cubic centimeter for cubic centimeter (or cubic inch for cubic inch) in terms of engine size, motorbikes spew emissions an order of magnitude higher than cars. 

Track related damage

Anywhere a track is laid will see changes to that area from the diversion of water, increased weed distribution, native vegetation damage, disturbance of fauna and general erosion. Existing tracks for hikers and bicycle riders, much quieter activities, can also be damaged.

Fossil fuel consumption

I fully understand kids wanting to ride around in circles all day burning our limited fossil fuel resources for the sake of fun, but adults? There’s not only the issue of peak oil, but all the damage that occurs in the production of that fuel.

Fire risk

During fire season, I carry a fire extinguisher on my quad at all times. I’m yet to see a dirt bike with similar equipment. Additionally, while all bikes should have spark arrestors, some bike owners modify their exhausts, which while boosting power often increases the noise and interferes with this important safety functionality.

Animal injuries and fatalities

Motorbikes have incredible acceleration rates, far outstripping most cars. It can be difficult for animals to get out the way in the time if they haven’t had the good sense to flee already. During my time volunteering in the parklands, I found close to a dozen dead birds and lizards that I know had been hit by bikes.
The bottom line

It’s all well and good to have fun, but at what cost?

Some riders will claim to respect the environment and their hobby helps them enjoy it; but how can a 490cc machine that is louder than a chainsaw be justified? It can’t, it’s simply overkill. Nature can be enjoyed equally as well on a much smaller and quieter bike. There’s nowhere that a noisy 490cc bike can go that a quiet 200cc can’t.

Recreational dirt riding hobby is destructive – to others and to the environment. “Green” recreational riding using motorbikes with gas/petrol engines is a little like “green” tobacco use. There’s no such thing.

How destructive it will be is entirely up to the rider – but if they go out with their noisy modified 490cc enduro bikes and then get complaints or hassled, they shouldn’t whinge – and I really wish more people would take action. There is just no need for such a behemoth of a 2 wheeled vehicle out in nature; just as there’s no need for smaller bikes creating the same level of noise either.

Parents, if you’re going to buy your children bikes, please ensure the bikes are as quiet as possible and you have a place where they can be responsibly ridden in order to minimize the impact on the environment – and others in the area.

Landholders – your blocks may not be as remote as they seem and in rural areas, noise can travel a lot further than you may realize. There may also be threatened species on your patch of land you may not know about that could be severely disrupted by the activity. Save yourself, others and the creatures of your area some grief – consult with your neighbors, environmental authorities and your local council before going to the time and expense of creating your motocross heaven.
To close on a bit of a bright note – electric dirt bikes and electric ATV‘s seem to be making headway and while the use of electric motors doesn’t address all the issues, it’s a big step forward towards a less environmentally harmful hobby.