If you’re not an IMBA member or a member of your local trails advocacy club, you’re not a real mountain biker.
Editor’s Note: The Angry Singlespeeder is a collection of mercurial musings from contributing editor 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 can submit questions or comments to Kurt at firstname.lastname@example.org. And make sure to check out Kurt’s previous columns.
You got all the latest gear. You read all the industry magazines. You go to big events and races to soak in the fat tire culture. You ride all the choicest singletrack in the country. You like drinking beers after a ride in the parking lot with your buddies. You brag to your spouse and co-workers about the scars you got from last weekend’s “gnarly ride, dude.” You consider yourself a hardcore, bona fide mountain biker.
But I got news for you. If you’re not either an IMBA member, a member of a local IMBA chapter, you’re not a real mountain biker. You’re just a poser.
Ever since the dawn of mountain biking in the late 1970s when guys like Charlie Kelly, Russ Mahon, Gary Fisher and Joe Breeze bombed the hills above Marin and Cupertino on coaster brake klunkers, mountain biking has struggled to gain equal land access footing with hikers and equestrians. Granted, mountain biking is a very young sport, and the “old guard” of the Sierra Club – an organization that has existed since 1892 and now has 1.4 million members – has made gaining equal land access rights very difficult for mountain bikers.
Along with the NRA, the Sierra Club is one of the most powerful private interest groups in the country. Their membership numbers are massive, they’re organized and they get results. With nearly 20 lobbyists in Washington, D.C., the Sierra Club has remarkable power to not only influence wilderness protection and land conservation, but also which user groups get trail access in our country.
The Sierra Club is so powerful that their actions gave rise to the National Park Service in 1913 after the Forest Service dammed the Hetch Hetchy canyon near Yosemite to provide San Francisco with a reliable water source. So it should come as no surprise that mountain biking has been banned in NPS properties until about 10 years ago, when IMBA struck a landmark agreement with the NPS, opening some NPS properties to mountain biking.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of IMBA and local trail advocacy clubs, mountain bikers are gaining momentum in the quest for land access. Environmental studies show that mountain biking is no more destructive than hiking and less destructive than horses. Additionally, land managers note that many of the volunteers who come out and do trail work are usually mountain bikers.
Although volunteering is crucial, and every mountain biker should be doing a trail work day at least once every three months minimum, we must also have a voice with policy makers in Washington, D.C., because that’s where all the decisions get made. By the time most people find out about a trail access conflict, the resolution has already been decided; and it most often involves the closure of trails to mountain biking. Mountain bikers must have a voice in D.C.; otherwise we’re at the mercy of huge private interest groups like the Sierra Club.
I’m not going to try and act all high and mighty, as it took me nearly 20 years before I finally bought an IMBA membership. So for the better part of two decades, I wasn’t a real mountain biker. I was a poser.
Part of it was due to my ignorant youth, and the other part of it was due to my ignorant adulthood. But one day I got tired of my laziness, ignorance and cheapskate mentality. I realized that if all of us mountain bikers don’t come together as a unified voice, we will only continue to lose land access rights like the 4×4 off-road community is experiencing. An annual IMBA membership costs a measly $30. Don’t even tell me some bullshit story about how you can’t afford that. It’s less than the cost of a new chain for crying out loud.
And for all you industry peeps out there reading this diatribe, if your company or organization isn’t a corporate sponsor of IMBA, why not? Every single company that sells mountain bike products or services should be supporting IMBA, because without IMBA, there would be fewer trails to ride, fewer mountain bikers and lower profits for your company. So if you have the power to make decisions, write a check to IMBA. If you’re just a peon, start asking questions to find out why your company isn’t an IMBA supporter.
Regardless of whether you love IMBA or not, they are the people who are busting their humps to help ensure that mountain biking thrives in the 21st century. What IMBA has achieved since its inception in 1988 is remarkable. With more than 30,000 individual members around the world, IMBA is still very small. But in 1965 the Sierra Club was only at 30,000 members. By 1969 the Sierra Club had exploded to 75,000 members.
IMBA can grow just as explosively as the Sierra Club did, providing we all get our priorities straight and become IMBA members. The bigger we become, the more influence we have with policy makers and the more trail access we all gain.
And I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of Sierra Club blowhards constantly whining about how mountain biking is a destructive activity when they’ve got no research studies to back up their claims. But when you have nearly 20 lobbyists working the nation’s capital, you don’t seem to need very much evidence, especially when there’s little to no voice in defense of mountain biking.
So go to IMBA.com right now, find your local chapter and become a member. If there isn’t a local chapter near you, become an IMBA member and go volunteer with your local trails advocacy club. Only then can you start calling your self a real mountain biker.