Editor’s Note: The Angry Singlespeeder is a collection of mercurial musings from contributor Kurt Gensheimer. In no way do his maniacal diatribes about all things bike oriented represent the opinions of Mtbr, RoadBikeReview, or any of their employees, contractors, janitorial staff, family members, household pets, or any other creature, living or dead. You may submit questions or comments to Kurt at firstname.lastname@example.org. And make sure to check out Kurt’s previous columns.
Dear Mountain Bikers,
If you are an individual member or part of a local International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) affiliated chapter, please read this and share it with all your fellow members and friends, for I believe this message is important.
After more than 25 years of being a leader in mountain bike advocacy, IMBA has chosen not to listen to a growing voice in the mountain bike community who desire fair and equal human-powered access to public lands. Instead of working to regain rightful access to federally protected Wilderness – a land designation that originally allowed for bicycles – I believe that IMBA has chosen to side with the likes of the Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club, organizations that continually work hard to designate new Wilderness, forever shutting out bicycle access.
Although the word “Angry” is in my moniker, after sitting in on a recent IMBA press conference that laid out their 2016 Advocacy Position on Land Protection and Trail Access, I came away more confused and dismayed than angry. Why? Because no matter how much IMBA tries to spin it, the truth remains that IMBA chooses not to listen to an increasing number of mountain bikers who realize that the topic of Wilderness is one of the most important advocacy issues that faces our sport going forward. It’s really unfortunate too, because I inherently want to support IMBA, but not if they can’t get behind this seemingly no-brainer issue.
According to a recent poll conducted by Singletracks.com of nearly 3,700 North American mountain bikers, an overwhelming 96 percent of respondents said they believe at least some Wilderness trails should be open to bikes. When presented this data on the Q&A portion of the press conference, IMBA president Mike Van Abel said he was not surprised at all by the results.
“We know the aspirations that mountain bikers have and the experiences that they want,” he said. “And what better experience than a wilderness or wilderness-like experience, being in a landscape that gives us as mountain bikers, the solitude, adventure, the sense of freedom – all those benefits that most of us know quite well. So I was not at all surprised by the response that you got.”
But here is a surprise – IMBA has never polled its own member base about the same question. Not once in 25 years. How hard is it to put together an online survey and send every IMBA member an email asking for a response? The reason is because they already know the answer, but don’t want to draw attention to it.
Even more disheartening was a recent press release issued by The Wilderness Society not only filled with numerous wild untruths tied to bicycle access in Wilderness and their lies about “collaboration” with the mountain bike community, but also their inclusion of IMBA’s statement to not support regaining bicycle access in Wilderness. I expected the vehement anti-mountain bike spin machine from the Wilderness Society, but seeing IMBA praised in that same press release for not supporting efforts to fair access was a double stab in the back.
Why is this issue so critical to the future of our sport? Although IMBA tries to play the problem off by saying designated Wilderness only makes up 2.9 percent of public land in the lower 49 United States, they’re spinning it to make it seem like a non-issue. The reality is that 110 million acres of land are designated Wilderness – an area the size of California – most of it concentrated in the West, by far the most desirable region for low-impact, human-powered recreation. And the bigger problem is that there are always new Wilderness designations that will continue to shut out bicycle access to some of the most valued backcountry in America.
IMBA’s solution to this is to continue their “piecemeal” negotiation tactic, asking to redraw massive swaths of Wilderness to preserve a handful of miles in trail. While this is a workable last-ditch solution, I believe this is absolutely the wrong long-term strategy. IMBA needs to look at the heart of the matter here – with the current blanket ban on bikes in Wilderness in place, many mountain bikers are inherently at odds with Wilderness designation, making them involuntary anti-conservationists. And without reasonable access to Wilderness, mountain bike advocates are forever on the defensive.
Mountain bikers want to preserve land just as much as hikers or equestrians, but not at the cost of their rightful access. The mountain bike community shouldn’t be at odds with the Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club; we share many of the same ideals. Our true enemy is exploitation and pollution of land by private interests. And the only way to resolve this conflict is by reinstating case-by-case access to Wilderness so mountain bikers can be a vocal supporter of the conservation movement; an approach that IMBA refuses to get behind.
When asked why IMBA doesn’t support re-opening access to bikes in Wilderness, their reaction is always the same; it’s an extremely complicated matter that’s highly political.
“Amending the 1964 Wilderness Act is an unnecessary means to achieve our mission,” said Van Abel. “There are downstream negative and unintended consequences that make such an effort politically unviable. IMBA will not expend its hard-earned political capital on such a risky and unnecessary endeavor…”
But when pressed for details, IMBA doesn’t elaborate on the complications beyond stating that organizations like the Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club are far more powerful and well-funded, making it nearly impossible to gain Wilderness access for bikes. But has IMBA ever even tried? No. And they continue not to try.
It’s one thing not to try, but it’s a completely different matter when you don’t support colleagues who want to try. By now you’ve probably heard about the Sustainable Trails Coalition (STC), an organization working to regain case-by-case human-powered access to designated Wilderness with their Human-Powered Wildlands Travel Management Act. At last week’s press conference, IMBA specifically stated they would not publicly support the efforts of the STC or Its bill.
I would let this issue rest if mountain bikes were somehow detrimental to the environment or didn’t fit within the original intent of the Wilderness Act. But any reasonable person who reads the Wilderness Act of 1964 would likely conclude it isn’t so. The ban on bikes in Wilderness has nothing to do with science or anything rational whatsoever. It’s a pure and simple special interest-driven case of bigotry against a low-impact, human-powered user group. And the fact that IMBA continues to display an advocacy Stockholm syndrome towards the organizations that try and uphold the blanket ban on bikes is deeply troubling for our sport.
I believe the blanket ban on bikes in Wilderness is downright wrong and has absolutely no valid argument to rely on, as can clearly be seen in the rambling Wilderness Society press release filled with erroneous fear mongering. But you don’t need to be right when nobody challenges you. No matter how powerful the opponents to modifying the ban are, at some point the fight must be waged.
So what can we the public do? Well, for starters, if you are either an individual or IMBA chapter member, it’s time to start demanding the organization listen to the will of the people, after all, without IMBA chapters and members, there is no IMBA. This is an issue that will not go away, and with the growing conservation movement, will only become more prominent.
If you agree that continuing to outlaw bikes from all Wilderness is wrong, write IMBA President Mike Van Abel, requesting the organization either change its position or at least support the efforts of the STC. And if IMBA does not comply, suspend your membership or chapter status until they do. Despite their efforts to play off the importance of access to Wilderness, this is one of the most important advocacy issues our community will face over the next several decades.
It’s time the organization that claims to represent the voice of mountain bikers start practicing what it preaches. But only we as a collective voice of mountain bikers can force them to do it.
Kurt Gensheimer / The Angry Singlespeeder