Much of the behind-the-scenes work that IMBA and its local bike advocates do involves planning sessions with land managers and other important partners. Photo courtesy IMBA
Mtbr: Another big discussion topic both at the Summit and beyond is how IMBA has changed its business model, specifically regarding the burgeoning chapter program where revenue is shared at the local organization and national level. Talk about that and where things stand.
Mark Eller: The last couple years have seen a complete re-jiggering of the IMBA business model. We long faced a problem where mountain bikers felt like they had to choose between joining a local group or supporting a national advocacy program that is IMBA. So with the chapter program, we try to solve this by saying we are going to share members and share revenue. When someone joins, they join both their local organization and IMBA at once. Obviously there has been a lot of working through the business and psychology of that. It can be hard to get those groups to totally get their heads around it.
Mtbr: So how many chapters does IMBA have now and what are the economics of that system?
Mark Eller: Right now we have 162 chapters, along with another 300-400 supporting organizations, which we used to call clubs. A lot of those clubs are mulling over when/if it’s time to switch to chapter status. Chapter status is defined by the membership share, where when you become a member of a local advocacy group, you also become an IMBA member. We then split that membership money 60-40 in IMBA’s favor. Not surprisingly at the Summit there was a lot of discussion of that revenue split. We feel like it’s really more of a 40-40-20 split, 40 to local group, 40 to IMBA, 20 to administer whole chapter program. But it’s been contentious for sure, and we totally get it. Mountain bikers are independent people with a lot of pride in figuring things out themselves, and all singletrack is local, and people will always care about the trails in their backyards the most. So the idea that I’m going to write check and I’m not confident that it will come back to where I live and ride is a valid concern.
Mtbr: So how do you alleviate that concern?
Mark Eller: We have found the best way to show the value of the chapter program is to show that those 162 chapters are thriving and succeeding in part because we are able to support them with things like reminding their members to keep their memberships current. The other big thing is that the chapter program supports paid IMBA staff around the country on a regional basis via what we call region directors and associate region directors. Those people are directly hired by the chapter and IMBA. When you have a paid professional advocate who can go to a meeting with a land manager on a Wednesday at 2 p.m. when all the volunteers are at work at their regular job, that makes a huge difference. What we are seeing now is that local groups are joining the chapter program when they see the success of other chapters that have access to the regional director. In the end we can talk all we want, but the results speak for themselves.
IMBA’s fee-based trail building program, Trail Solutions, has global reach and experience. Here, trail specialist Chris Kehmeier (at right) oversees a bike park project in China. Photo courtesy IMBAMtbr: Speaking of results, what would you advise someone on the individual level to do when they ask, how can I make a difference?
Mark Eller: There are really lots of options — and that is the key. Some people love to dig. Honestly, I think we have a good chunk of people who like to build trails as much or more as they like to ride trails. Another option is our Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day in October. You can register for free, and we’ll send a bunch of Clif product. That’s great and it exposes people to the sport. And of course donations are good, too. We take cash, check and credit card.
Mtbr: Let’s wrap it up with this: In the past IMBA has been characterized as the uncool uncle of the mountain bike world, the trail cops. But I’m guessing you would like to paint a different picture.
Mark Eller: We will never get away from that totally because there will always be some mountain bikers who feel that the cool trail is the trail that is illegally built by hand under the cover of darkness. That is a sexy image. It’s the outlaw thing. But on the other hand, the organization that wants to build trails in partnership with their land managers and all the goody-two-shoes stuff, at the end of the day we get a lot more done and we fell good about that. Look at what gets built and maintained and makes a positive contribution to people’s riding experience. We are building a lot of great trail right now.