10 Ways to Save Riding in Your Area

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Ten Ways to Save Riding in Your Area
By Philip Keyes

Back in 1991 when I was just starting to develop a serious passion (addiction?) for mountain biking, I had no idea that the sport was under attack. I just wanted to ride my bike and enjoy the woods, and I couldn’t understand why such a glorious activity could be seen with so much hostility. The conflict seemed like a petty turf war born out of an unwillingness to share trails and a misconception of what mountain biking was all about. It was hard to take seriously…until some of my favorite rides came under fire. It’s a new year and a new season of Dirt Rag, and as a belated resolution I urge you to do something positive to protect our sport in your neck of the dirt. Here are ten easy suggestions to get you started saving your local riding.

1. Play nice
Somewhere in the rise of our technologically supersonic society, we’ve lost the basic ability to be civil to our fellow human and treat him or her with respect and courtesy. Self-absorbed, we’ve refined the art of not making eye contact or even acknowledging the existence of others. In this age of information overload we’re quick to label, categorize and dismiss, all in the name of survival. Let’s keep this attitude from poisoning the woods.

It may sound simplistic, but it’s really just simple: just say hello. Share a brief moment of camaraderie other trail users. Let the person know that you’re not just a biker, but also a human being. Opinions about mountain biking are built one person at a time.

“The Pass” (that brief moment of encounter between trail users) is our one chance to impress, educate and affect opinion on the trail. While there are few documented cases of cyclists injuring walkers during the pass, how a non-cyclist perceives an encounter with a cyclist is important. We cover much more ground than many other trail users, which dramatically increases our chances of encountering others.

Some trail users don’t realize how much control riders have over their bikes in tight situations. They might fear a possible collision, a fear sometimes compounded by their perception of a rider’s speed. Slowing down and erring on the side of caution is always appropriate. If dogs or children are present, go extra slow. Complimenting their dog or child is always appreciated.

Encountering walkers from behind might seem awkward. If you wait too long to let them know you’re passing, you’ll see them jump in their boots. Sometimes a rider will warn fellow riders of a walker by yelling “Walker UP!” causing the same effect. The goal should be to make the walker aware of your presence in the least obtrusive and courteous manner possible. A small handlebar bell is a good solution, but just being courteous and friendly is easy and infectious—and it could keep peace (and bikes) on the trail.

2. Talk to your fellow riders
As riders, we can influence the riding culture of our parks by letting fellow riders know what’s going on locally that might affect future access. Many riders new to the sport don’t know basic trail ethics and need to be given a heads-up. Others might not know about issues that could affect our access. Never be preachy, but help spread the word about what’s going on in the park. Explain why riders should make a special effort to spread good will and ride responsibly. One bad experience can cause a dramatic shift in attitude towards mountain biking, and education from within our ranks is much more effective than a policy change from above.

3. Join your local trails group
Chances are that your local trails are cared for by a small group of people who also influence trail policies. Sometimes these are official committees that set policy while others are informal “friends” groups. Almost all are comprised of volunteers. Find out who they are, start attending their meetings and get involved. A few hours invested each month goes a long way toward protecting and even expanding riding in your area.
In many cases, you might want to start helping out not as a mountain biker, but as someone who enjoys the trails and open space. In my own experience, by volunteering on my town’s Land Stewardship Committee we’ve built miles of new trail, created a nifty guide book to get more people into the woods, and played a role in having our town buy lots of new open space. A side benefit—the committee has developed a respect for mountain biking. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “the world is run by the people who show up.” If your local riding area doesn’t have a trails group, consider creating one to protect your riding forever.

4. Join a MTB advocacy group
Mountain bikers are an anarchic bunch. We tend to ride alone or in small groups, and since many of us are free spirits, we’re skeptical about belonging to any group that would have us as members. Whatever reason, if your local trails get caught in the crosshairs of closure, it’s probably going to be the local club that takes up the defense. You may not think you need them now, but you’ll be glad you support them if things turn south.

One of the key roles that advocacy groups play is to communicate and work with local land managers by troubleshooting issues, organizing trail care events and being a resource to the land manager. In the best of all worlds, this prevents problems from arising in the first place, and land managers prefer to work with a single organization rather than an array of well-intentioned individuals.

By joining your local mountain bike advocacy group, you’ll be helping to create a single, strong voice that will represent your interests as a mountain biker and help promote the sport you love. Any serious mountain biker should be a member—consider it your license to ride.

5. Invest some sweat
Years ago the Old Coot urged riders to give back to the trails by asking, “Who do you think made the trails—fairies?” It seems that lots of riders don’t give a trail’s origin much thought. The trails exist, so they ride. But there are lots of reasons to give back—not the least of which is that it’s kick-ass fun!

Donating some of your energy back into the trails shows the land manager and other user groups that you really care about the trails and the park where you ride. Since most parks are under-funded and don’t have the resources to perform even the most basic trail work, your efforts will be remembered and rewarded. A little bit of sweat invested now could pay off largely down the line.

You’re probably skeptical, but I’ve found doing trail work is both addicting and fun. Perhaps because it harks back to some instinctual desire to manipulate water and dirt… or perhaps because the rewards are so immediate and tangible. One thing is for certain, when you repair a trail, build a bridge or create a new trail, you’ll never ride over that trail again without thinking fondly of the role you played in building it. The sweat you invest often turns out in the end to be an investment in yourself.

6. Think globally, ride locally
Join IMBA. No other group has the breadth, talent and capacity to make the world a better place for mountain biking—and in the last analysis, this bodes well for your own piece of riding dirt. In addition to all the national-level politicking with the country’s largest public landowners, IMBA’s Trail Care Crews have done more than 1,000 projects throughout every state in the union, so chances are that they’ve worked on a trail near you.

7. Leave only waffle prints
How and when we ride has a huge effect on what we leave behind for others to see. Ridden properly, the impacts of mountain biking on trails are negligible. But if we drag our wheels on steep downhills or into corners, we loosen the soil and make the trail vulnerable to erosion the next time it rains. Learn how to master your brake modulation to provide stopping power without sliding or skidding. You’ll be in greater control of your bike and will leave no trace.

Trails are especially susceptible to erosion when wet or during the winter’s frost/thaw process since the normally hardened mineral soils are loosened and lubricated. Frequently, no one—not even bikers—should be on trails during heavy rains or during a thaw since the damage could become permanent.

Trail damage—however fallaciously the argument is sometimes presented—is still the number one rationale used by anti-mountain bikers for kicking bikes off the trail. Ride well and we’ll all ride longer.

8. Get to know your land manager
Do you know your local land manager? Does he or she know you? If not, change that by stopping in their office. Ask some questions, discuss the park and build a personal relationship with them. A relationship with your land manager is important since many local decisions are made in their office. Letting land managers know how much you enjoy the trails under their stewardship will go a long way in having them appreciate you and mountain biking.

Also, most land managers don’t have any personal experience with mountain bike riding and could benefit from understanding what you like about the sport and what kind of trails you appreciate. As you build the relationship, you might get an inside look at what the agency’s plans are for mountain biking and if any problems for cycling are looming in the distance. Even if everything is going just fine in your local park, you will have personalized their image of mountain biking, potentially influencing their view of the sport for years to come.

9. Get political
If you’re not happy with the riding opportunities in your area, or if you think your local park has unfairly banned bicycles, don’t think that it’s up to someone else to speak up for you. Find out who the key decision-makers are and write them a letter. Be cordial and to the point, but don’t hesitate to speak your mind. The political pundits understand that for every letter writer, there is a flock of potential voters who believe the same as you do, so they’ll tend to listen and sometimes even write back.

If it’s an issue that’s important to you, seek out the political official or policy maker and meet with them. Most offer office hours and are willing to discuss issues with you, especially if you’re from their political precinct. If you’re part of a mountain bike group, let them know how many members you represent. Don’t forget to write a follow-up letter thanking them for their time and urging them to take action.

10. Get your kids into the woods
Mountain biking has long had the misfortunate image of the Mountain Dew Shredder, and nothing belies this more than a family with young kids cruising through the forest on bikes. With more kids couched in front of their TV sets chomping on junk food, land management agencies are beginning to realize the importance of getting kids outside and exercising, and what better way than on a mountain bike? Having families in their parks is good for them, and it’s good for the sport.

Get your kids, nephews and nieces together for a ride. Maybe each of them could bring a buddy, and pretty soon you’ll have a small bevy of kids out enjoying the trails. Teach them how to ride effectively and responsibly, and you can help grow another generation of mountain bikers. Having more kids on mountain bikes is a public relations gold mine in which everyone wins.

Make 2004 the year that you get involved to save riding in your area. A trail is a terrible thing to waste.