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The ongoing fight to make mountain biking legit


Mountain bikers in Utah have  leveraged their numbers to great effect around the Salt Lake area. Photo: Steve Lloyd/Bike Magazine.

Mountain bikers in Utah have leveraged their numbers to great effect around the Salt Lake area. Photo by Steve Lloyd/Bike magazine

The mountain biking community has always existed on the fringes of the law. The best trails are often hidden on land where riding bikes is technically illegal. But steady advances in mountain bike technology have made the sport much more user-friendly over the past decade, resulting in a popularity boom that’s increasing the friction upon those boundaries. The amount of “illegal” trail building has exploded over the last decade.

 

Not surprisingly, mountain bikers, most of whom self identify as huge supporters of the environment, were finding themselves in the cross hairs of National Park land management teams. In some regions, the battles with authorities were even growing hostile. Several conflicts were very artfully brought to life in the award-winning 2011 documentary “Pedal Driven,” written and directed by Jamie Howell.

 

 

 

The movie focused on the growing conflict between mountain bikers, who are hungry to ride, and the federal land managers, who are being paid to protect parks that belong to everyone. The story of how a small band of bikers in Washington overcame significant odds to advance their agenda was a triumph for the mountain biking community. The lesson for bike enthusiasts was clear: get organized, turn enemies into allies, and build momentum. Though many battles lie ahead in this fight, there’s no denying that mountain bikers are collectively finding their voice, much the way snowboarders and surfers have done over the past 30 years to protect their rights. Of course, keeping the momentum going is key, even when setbacks happen.

 

From a macro view, the momentum is strong. The number of established ski mountains catering to mountain bikers in the summer months continues to grow, with Mt. Bachelor in Oregon becoming one of the latest ready to install new trails that include several wooden features. Of course, there are still many pockets of stiff resistance where bike communities need the help.

 

To that end, the numerous bike-friendly organizations and events are all a help, regardless of whether they’re focused on mountain bikes. New Belgium’s renowned Tour De Fat, a traveling celebrations of bike-riding culture, is having a great impact helping raise awareness about the health and environmental advantages to jumping on bikes in cities. As a result, more and more cities are incorporating bike trails (both street and mountain) into their master plans.

 

The Tour De Fat helps by raising funds for other bike-friendly organizations. But the need for groups to form at the local level varies from town to town. One of the best ways to raise funds for new trails, increase local membership, raise awareness of the economic and environmental sustainability, and gain the support of local politicians is to host a screening of “Pedal Driven,” which serves as a valuable road map.