Do trail or road bikers create more litter?

Posted May 02, 2012, at 4:14 p.m.

It’s time for my all-new annual trash smack-down. I set out to find out who’s better at caring for the planet, road riders or dirt hounds?

As I ran trails and cycled asphalt, I figured road riders had the edge. Consider:

• There are far more hikers, trail runners and mountain bikers than there are roadies.

• Many roadies now ride tubeless tires, eliminating the opportunity to scatter punctured tubes and gas-filled canisters that inflate a tire in seconds.

• Other than tubes and canisters, I only was left with energy gels to be sure the trash was from road riders and not from drunks and drivers — sometimes the same thing.

• My road test would be on Santiago Canyon, Orange County, Calif.’s crown jewel for riding. Santiago Canyon Road’s recent resurfacing meant that the men and women who worked the project cleaned Santiago just months ago.

Unfair advantage? Oh well. Life’s not fair.

On the other hand, perhaps wilderness fans had the edge. Consider:

• It’s mighty tempting to toss trash where there’s already a pile of empty beer cans, broken bottles and, ugh, used baby diapers.

• Who in their right mind would spoil trails through meadows, chaparral and forests of old oak?

• With the recent rains, weeds hide most trash.

In my journey, I got two surprises.

Trash talking

My plan was to pick up the trash, stuff it in separate bags, dump out the contents and take a photo of the two piles. The biggest pile would indicate the smallest minds.

If “small minds” sounds harsh, keep in mind that we’re four decades into Earth Day. If you remember the “Don’t be a litterbug” campaign, you understand.

The planet isn’t just about the thoughtless individual. It’s about us. And we’re finished putting up with litterbugs.

My first surprise was coming across a mountain biker talking trash. I’d only expected physical trash.

The first time I waved at the biker, I was crossing a shallow patch of water. The second time I waved as he passed me, he flipped me off and hurled f-bombs.

I actually thought I’d somehow misunderstood his meaning. Perhaps this guy was goofing?

When I asked him what he said, he charged me on his bike and made his greeting exceptionally clear.

Apparently, I made a splash and some water got on him. Yes, at a stream crossing.

My second surprise? Remember, my plan was to bag the trash. I’ll confess, I didn’t. Sad to say there was too much refuse for my little shopping bags.

When I’m outdoors, apparently my brain has learned to filter out trash. In O’Neill Regional Park, I ran a trail I thought was nearly pristine. Wrong. The choice was clean and carry — and cover far less ground — or leave the evidence for disbelievers.

I will return to O’Neill and pick up the items, one-by-one. But might leave it to my road brothers and sisters to handle Santiago Canyon Road.

I also wasn’t sure how to classify the graffiti I came across. Art or trash? I appreciate the artistry that goes into graffiti. But it belongs on a canvas or a mutually agreed upon wall — not where workers have to trudge and clean it up.

So who won the trash derby? Roadies or dirt hounds?

I rode from one end of Santiago to the other and back, a distance of about 24 miles. I covered about 10 miles in O’Neill.

Using the science of guesstimating, factoring in unknowns such as how many roadies versus trail fans and my admiration for anyone who gets outdoors — and that includes Mr. Manners — I concluded:

It’s a tie.

By road or by trail, the few still make a mess for the many. The next time you see someone littering, kindly remind them the outdoors isn’t a garbage can by picking up the item.

But, please, don’t talk trash.

© 2012 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)

Similar articles:

ADVERTISEMENT | Grow your business
ADVERTISEMENT | Grow your business