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Swiss Cycling Federation opposes Bern MTB trail ban

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Nino Schurter (Switzerland) races to a silver medal in Champery at the Worlds

Nino Schurter (Switzerland) races to a silver medal in Champery at the Worlds (Image credit: Scott)
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Nathalie Schneitter (Colnago Farbe Sudtirol)

Nathalie Schneitter (Colnago Farbe Sudtirol) (Image credit: Langkawi International Mountain Bike Challenge)
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Thomas Litscher (Switzerland) wins the under 23 men's cross country

Thomas Litscher (Switzerland) wins the under 23 men's cross country (Image credit: Tour of Japan)
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Christophe Sauser (Specialized) assumed second position on the final climb

Christophe Sauser (Specialized) assumed second position on the final climb (Image credit: Epic Rides)
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Florian Vogel (Scott Swisspower) on the climb

Florian Vogel (Scott Swisspower) on the climb (Image credit: Armin Küstenbrück)

The Swiss Cycling Federation officially voiced its opposition to a proposed ban on mountain biking on trails in the Canton of Bern late last week. It expressed its concern that the ban, if turned into law, could eventually be applied nationally and argued that any such ban would have drastically negative effects on the sport of mountain biking, both for elite Swiss athletes and recreational enthusiasts.

The Bern Canton's proposed law on forests would prohibit mountain biking except on forest roads provided for this purpose. It would mean an end to mountain biking on singletrack, not only for regular racers, but also recreational riders.

"Swiss Cycling, the cycling federation of Switzerland, opposes this change in law," read a statement from Swiss Cycling on Thursday. "Changing it could create a precedent that might be emulated on a national level. We encourage everyone to sign the online petition which has been launched against the amendment.

"This change would have devastating consequences for mountain biking, a favorite Swiss hobby. The sport could no longer be done in its current form. Mountain biking only on forest roads is not practicing mountain biking. Thousands of children and youth and recreational and elite sportspeople could no longer legally do their sport of mountain biking with the application of this law."

Swiss Cycling noted that nature is an essential part of the infrastructure for Swiss Cycling athletes, which use and respect the forest during training. Swiss elite mountain bikers are well respected in the mountain bike world - riders like Christoph Sauser, Nino Schurter, Florian Vogel, Thomas Litscher and Nathalie Schneitter are consistently top international contenders.

"According to statistics, cycling has long been the favorite sport of the Swiss population. Just in the canton of Bern, there are almost 50,000 people regularly roaming the forests. It would be unthinkable to deny 10,000 cyclists their favorite activity."

The federation also pointed out that the 2013 European Championships are scheduled to take place in Bern. A ban would force mountain bikers to train and race illegally on area trails.

"Swiss Cycling knows there is sometimes friction between different user groups in the forest," said the federation. " The needs of nature must be considered and respected. But the discussion to ban mountain bikes does not take into account the various problems in proportion: the damage cyclists are creating is not comparable with the damage of forestry equipment."

In November 2010, Swiss Cycling partnered with groups like Swiss hiking trails, the BFU and Mobility Switzerland to move forward under joint consideration for trail usage.

"Swiss Cycling asks for all cycling clubs, cyclists and interest groups to register on the online petition by March 2, 2012. Resistance against changing the law on forests should be as large as possible. If the change in legislation is passed, the threat of a future ban on bike across Switzerland would indeed real."

Current marathon and former cross country world champion Christoph Sauser (Specialized), who lives in Sigriswil in Bern,  told Cyclingnews that currently mountain bike are allowed "pretty much everywhere you can ride a bike except where there is a specific 'no bike' sign, but those are super-rare. I could probably only tell you of 10 'no bike' signs in all of Switzerland off the top of my head."

The Grand Council of Bern will make the decision about whether to put the ban into effect.

Sauser is concerned about the proposed ban but optimistic about the future for mountain bikers. "I personally think it will never happen. Tourism is so big in the state of Bern and has a lot of power. The tourism regions are protesting as well. Even the biggest forest owner in Bern (a community) thinks it makes no sense. The damage by bikes in the forest is so small."

Even if the ban were to pass, there is the question of whether it would be enforced and who would enforce it. Sauser also expressed, via Swiss Cycling, that in his many years of experience riding in the forests, he's found cases of user conflict on trails to be rare.

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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews.  She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.