I have been an IMBA (International Mountain Biking Association) member for a long time, with a few absences, and I have always slept well knowing that they were out there fighting the good fight. Although they continue with this for the most part, over the last few years I have noticed a disturbing change with them. The recent article by Trina Ortega illustrates why I am becoming concerned. It is a well written article with a lot “interview” type quotes from Ashley Korenblat, who was the president of IMBA for many years. The gist of the piece is that mountain bikers need to evolve and stop dreaming about Wilderness. They need to work with Wilderness advocates to adjust boundaries and save as much current singletrack as possible. That is only half-true though. We can easily work with wilderness advocates and support adjusted proposals, while still being philosophically against the ban on bike in the Wilderness. As a general principal, the IMBA I joined years ago was against the ban on bikes in the Wilderness, but it seems this isn’t the case anymore.
Korenblat states that “the country’s need for oil is bigger than your need for a bike ride”. That may, or may not be true, but either way it is a broad philosophical statement, which underlines a focus on politics and willingness to give-up on one of the founding issues of mountain bike advocacy. More importantly, I didn’t join IMBA to protect land from resource development. There are a multitude of other groups out there for that- many of which I support. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of big resource extracting companies, and particularly not if they are trying to tear up beautiful places. I don’t want to see that at all. However, I joined IMBA to protect my trails and fight for mountain bikers’ rights- in particular the “Wilderness issue”.
It is true that trying to get bikes allowed in the Wilderness is an unrealistic goal right now, but that doesn’t mean you stop working towards it, or give up on it entirely. That is sacrificing the long-term to win in the short-term. Mountain bikers will never see changes if we don’t fight for them. How do you think IMBA and mountain bike advocacy in general has come so far? We were diligent and vocal (maybe even loud sometimes), and we fought hard to save our trails. Sure we lost some battles, but for the most part, conservation groups that disliked mountain bikers became more open to them, or begrudgingly accepted the fact that we would get to have some input into closures and proposals and such.
So does that mean we stop trying to work towards the dream of having mountain bikes allowed in the Wilderness? Korenblat mentions that she spent a lot of time at IMBA trying to keep the “Wilderness issue” off the table at board meetings because it is a waste of time. That‘s ridiculous, and the statement says volumes about the mind-set at IMBA. Of course I realize IMBA shouldn’t spend a huge amount of time and money fighting for the “Wilderness issue” because it would have been counterproductive to all the other achievements that IMBA has made (which are huge), but that doesn’t mean they should give-up on it philosophically. I completely understand the need to compromise in a given situation, but the general principal of Wilderness acceptance is a core issue for me and many others.
Maybe IMBA has become too much of a political group and not enough of a mountain bike group. I realize that was necessary to some degree to be effective on Capitol Hill, but too much time there seems to have caused some to forget what many of the rest of us still consider the heart and soul of mountain bike access issues. Perhaps that’s a function of being in a city, and well away from the mountain biking centers of the country. I’m not against most of what IMBA does but, I believe my national mountain bike advocacy group should never, in principal, give up on the fight to be allowed in the Wilderness. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that the majority of mountain bikers where I live feel this way
The old adage “the squeaky wheel gets oiled” is apt here- If we stop asking and trying, then we’ll certainly never get bikes allowed in the wilderness. However, if we never stop trying, maybe over the next 20-30 years (or longer), all the people who are so against mountain bikes in the wilderness will be gone, and their replacements (having grown-up around strong mountain bike advocacy groups) will be friendlier to us. Perhaps then it won’t be that hard to convince people that we should have access to the Wilderness and maybe it will all change. I might not be riding then, or even alive to see it, but that is what I want my mountain bike advocacy group to work for.