The importance of being organized

I read a lot of mountain bike magazines. In the June issue of Mountain Bike Rider (a UK publication) the editorial (pg 61) by Andy Waterman was about vigilantism in erecting trail blockades. He was victim to one recently and started to reflect on the why it is that mountain bikers in general can’t seem to get (and stay) organized. If this happened on a trail frequented by equestrians or ATVer or snowmobiler it would have quickly be dealt with through official means. Why can’t we seem to do this? In his estimation mountain biking is “existentially opposed to becoming anything more formal than a bunch of mates.” (That’s a UK-ism for buddies). This does not put us in a good position to confront, not just vigilantism, but threats to land access, use conflicts, slander from other user groups, etc.

We face similar situations in Canada. I’m most familiar with the Ontario scene, but I’m sure my colleagues will attest that it happens in their provinces as well. I'm sure the trail care crew hears sees this is a lot of places they stop. I remember the case of the almost cut through ladder bridges in the Don Valley. The next trail user would have caused them to collapse. In some cases the bridges are over a 3 meter drop. The trails these bridge are on are very popular with all users: mountain bikers, trail runners, dog walkers, hikers... The local riding community responded responsibly. No one found out who did it, but it stopped. This is just one example.

But what about those areas of the province where there is no organized mountain bike community? Maybe there are a few clubs, or a few shops, but no one is really representing us in an advocacy role? Off the top of my head I can think of a number of places where this is the situation. Barrie, Peterborough, Lindsay, Kingston, Georgetown. These are areas that have places to ride, some legit, some not, some in a kind of in between state because no one has asked.

Dollars to donuts that the other user communities are organized and fully engaged with landowners, stewardship bodies, and “friends of” groups. When push comes to shove and a threat to mountain biking crops up who will respond?

For riding destinations that have no organized group nearby, there is a very real threat that we lose access. It’s happened before, and it will happen again. If we wait for the threat to emerge and the worst to occur it is too late. We now have a 10+ year fight to roll back the losses. Much better to be proactive: get organized, connect with existing land managers and stewards, find out what their challenges are, and offer to be part of the solution.

The next time you roll up to a trailhead ask yourself “Who represents mountain biking on this property?” Go find out, and thank them for their efforts. If no one does start asking "why not?" Maybe the clubs and shops need to band together, or maybe a club focused on these issues needs to be started.

Riding as individuals and small groups is always going to be a big part of the sport. It’s how a lot of people find the sport, and continue to enjoy the sport. However, individuals and small groups don’t result in a successful lobby group. That is not a viable long-term solution if we are going to be successful in our struggle to maintain, improve and expand riding opportunities. Only through banding together; into local clubs, then into inter-club partnerships, provincial councils (like the Ontario and BC RLACs), and of course through IMBA Canada, can we make real change happen.

Photo courtesy of Moutain Bike Ontario

In: Ontario
mountain