MTB in Wilderness…Leadership Needed!

As President of the San Diego Mountain Biking Association, I speak for the 900+ members of one of IMBA’s largest Chapters. We are fighting a massive battle for trail access. The problem: if you focus on downstream consequences, you lose sight of upstream opportunities!

There are downstream negative and unintended consequences that make such an effort politically nonviable. IMBA will not expend its hard earned political capital on such a politically risky and unnecessary endeavor – The International Mountain Bicycling Association’s (IMBA) response to questions about NOT supporting cycling in Wilderness.

Southern California is ground zero for lost trail due to development, environmental mitigation restrictions, unfathomable bureaucratic hurdles, and even Wilderness! Wilderness is both awesome and awful. As riders, we cherish nature and want it protected – but at what cost?

IMBA proclaims that wilderness is a meaningless distraction because “only 2% of federal land is Wilderness.” IMBA is omitting important data!

  • Alaska holds 52% of all Federal Wilderness
  • Nearly half of the remaining Federal Wilderness is in CA (14%), OR (2%) and WA (4%)
  • State Wilderness along with Wilderness Designated Lands are NOT even included in IMBA’s vastly understated 2%

According to a February 17, 2016 survey of 4,334 riders at, “96% of mountain bikers think Wilderness should be opened to mountain bikes…Shockingly only 3.8% were opposed to bikes in Wilderness.” These numbers contradict the IMBA argument that a large percentage of riders don’t support bikes in Wilderness. IMBA is attacking the singletracks survey.

It has become so bad that many IMBA Chapter Presidents report seeing trails cut off because they are in ‘designated’ state/federal Wildernesses. Designated Wilderness is land being considered for Wilderness – but oftentimes bikes are shut out immediately!

At least IMBA will be taking a proactive Wilderness stance in some areas:

  • IMBA will focus on Advocacy efforts with their Chapters, offering IMBA resources, staff, time, money, and partnership experience
  • IMBA will pursue legislative and legal efforts (case-by-case) to redraw Wilderness boundaries to regain lost mountain bike trail or address Wilderness designations – where feasible and when a local chapter is involved.

Is This Enough?

Ted Stroll, from the Sustainable Trail Coalitions (STC), doesn’t think so. STC’s mission is to overturn the Wilderness ban on cycling. Since June 2015, STC has raised $107,357 – go Ted! IMBA defends itself by stating that they can’t lobby due to being a 501(c)(3) non-profit.

This is not true as this non-profit status does allow a percentage of funds for lobbying. STC has hired a lobbying firm to work towards a bill in Congress. IMBA’s response? They are fighting STC due to ‘potential downstream consequences’ and weaknesses in the STC bill. Amazing.

What are other community leaders saying about IMBA’s stance? Former IMBA chair John Bliss recently joined STC’s board and publicly chided IMBA in an open letter for lack of leadership on the Wilderness cycling ban. IMBA dismissed Bliss’s letter as out of touch, stating that his service was too long ago. On January 7, the 5,000 member New England Mountain Bike Association (NEMBA) wrote a public letter to Mike Van Abel (president of IMBA) requesting that IMBA support STC. IMBA responded that NEMBA was not associated with IMBA, not a chapter, and did not understand ‘downstream consequences.’

San Diego Mountain Biking Association intimately understands “downstream consequences versus upstream opportunities” reasoning. It’s the reason to NOT do something. This is where leadership is required – something in which IMBA is apparently deficient.

San Diego Mountain Biking Association would like IMBA to take the following actions:

  1. Conduct an IMBA member survey. “Should bikes be allowed in ALL, SOME, or NO Wilderness areas?”
  2. Think different. Be willing to lose a little, but potentially gain a lot, by looking upstream for oppertunities. Losing a few relationships can make way for many new ones.
  3. Stop fighting and start embracing other advocates. Your members are demanding action!
  4. Potential change in leadership. This could be difficult because IMBA’s senior leaders are pillars of the bicycling industry. If IMBA does not listen to members, it is time for transition leaders.

As a united community, we can achieve much. A few months ago, Mike Van Abel said IMBA would consider pushing for bikes in new Wilderness areas. IMBA has since dismissed what would have been a step in the right direction. Instead of downstream consequences, let’s start working together on upstream opportunities. Like this one!

Kevin Loomis is the President of the San Diego Mountain Bike Association.

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