RENO, Nev. Jon Wilson, a 27-year-old downhill mountain bike racer, likes the new style called freeriding because any challenge is fair game from bombing down flights of stairs to dropping off 10-foot cliffs to riding across teeter-totters.
''Instead of a challenge between you and the clock, it's a challenge between you and the obstacle,'' the Reno, Nev., resident said. ''You don't have competitors, you have buddies.''
Freeriding is catching on. This spring, the International Mountain Bicycling Association, the most prominent mountain biking group in the United States, devoted its entire newsletter to the subject.
Last month, the Northstar-at-Tahoe ski resort unveiled freeride trails and features for the first time at its mountain bike park. ''Homemade'' freeriding trails and features also are popping up on public lands around the Reno-Tahoe area.
But the sport's popularity comes with controversy. Public land managers across the United States worry that rickety structures pose a risk and illegally built trails damage the environment and other resources.
''The folks out there are loving the forest to death sometimes,'' said Steve Hale, a recreation specialist with the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest's Carson ranger district, which surrounds Reno and Carson City.
While freeriding has invigorated the sport of mountain biking, it might be sowing a new crop of problems on public lands.
Wilson's first experience with freeriding came this spring with a teeter-totter. It took him a few tries, but he finally rode all the way across the homemade playground attraction-mountain bike obstacle.
''It felt so good when it tipped over while I was riding across it,'' he said.
Wilson had sworn off mountain biking for two years after a bad accident, but he returned to the sport when he heard about new technical terrain and trail features from his friends and saw new mountain biking stunts on videos.
Steve Cleek, 50, of Reno is a partner in the Reno-based business BicycleBlowout.com. He has been mountain biking since 1983 and began freeriding about two years ago while riding with younger employees of the Bicycle Bananas store, which also houses BicycleBlowout.com.
''It really breathed new life into mountain biking for me,'' Cleek said.
The new style of riding also has primed interest in trail and technical feature-building among riders who want to create challenges. Many of the trails are off the beaten path, but public lands surrounding Reno, Virginia City, Lake Tahoe and Truckee reveal a plethora of freeriding terrain.
The explosion of freeriding trails and features has area public land managers worried. Officials are closing some trails and removing freeride structures when they find them.
''Sometimes these folks don't realize the impacts they are having,'' Hale said. ''They're just focused on the activity.''
Hale called freeriding an emerging issue for the Forest Service, nationally and locally. The recreation program manager in Hale's district, Larry Anderson, said the agency can't simply start creating official freeriding trails.
''With the limited dollars, we've got to focus on trails that will serve the greatest number of people,'' he said. ''The trails they (freeriders) need wouldn't be utilized by everyone else.''
Building trails and features on national forest land without Forest Service permission is illegal. The agency studies effects on the environment, wildlife and cultural and archaeological resources before official trails are built.
Rick Maddalena, a recreation officer for the Tahoe National Forest's Truckee ranger district, said many of the illegal trails and features are well-built, with attention to preventing erosion and other details.
''But they don't know whether they're building them near a goshawk nest or next to an archaeological site,'' he said.
Maddalena said other trail users such as hikers and equestrians might view freeriding features as a visual blight and likened the freeride trails and features to a theme park.
''I really don't see us getting to a place where we're going to be building those kinds of attractions on national Forest Service land,'' he said.
Groups in other areas are working with land managers to pursue their sport.
In Auburn, Calif., longtime bicycling advocate Jim Haagen-Smit said freeriders have been meeting with managers of the Auburn State Recreation Area to agree upon rules and processes for building freeride terrain.
''At first, they (the land managers) freaked out, but we've reached a truce,'' he said. ''It takes a lot of work to make it work.''
In British Columbia, considered the movement's birthplace, freeriding trails are a tourist attraction. Towns like Breckinridge, Colo., have allowed groups to construct freeride areas in some parks. The International Mountain Bicycling Association has published extensive literature to teach freeriders how to work with public agencies.
Dale Beesmer of Reno, who is Nevada's association representative, said he and the Truckee Meadows Trails Association have been working for nearly two years to secure permission to build a system of trails at Evans Canyon at Rancho San Rafael Park.
Will freeriders and land managers be able to work together?
''I think something like that is going to be in demand in years to come,'' Beesmer said. ''It's going to take education and time for that to happen.''
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