Editor’s Note: “Over a Beer” is a regular column written by Greg Heil. While Greg is the Editor in Chief for Singletracks.com, any opinions expressed in this column are his alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Singletracks.com.
Over the past three years, I’ve been working to get more deeply involved in mountain bike advocacy on a local level. What I’ve found has surprised me. While it might seem mountain bike advocacy has to do with, you know, mountain biking trails, I’ve found that really, it boils down to attending a lot of meetings.
Read any number of business productivity books, from Tim Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Work Week to Cal Newport’s Deep Work, and one common theme that begins to emerge is a distaste for meetings. “Distaste” is putting it too lightly. In many ways, these business productivity gurus lay many of the world’s ills of wasted time, energy, distraction, and motivation at the feet of constant interruptions and unproductive meetings.
And yet, if you want to get legal mountain bike trails built, you better get used to attending a lot of meetings.
Attending meetings gets bike trails built
Don’t get me wrong, boots-on-the-ground work is a part of the process. There’s trail scouting, trail planning, design work, tracking what’s taking place on the trails, watching how the singletrack is wearing, mitigating user conflicts, and so much more. But as I’ve become more and more aware of how land management agencies operate and how advocacy groups relate to them, I’ve realized that the real movers and shakers, the people who win hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money, the people who sway the opinion of the local land managers, these people are investing hours upon hours of their lives sitting in boardrooms, attending meetings.
Meetings don’t always have to be stuffy and boring, though. Oftentimes, beer can be involved in respectable quantities, and talking bikes and trails is almost always a fun time.
What constitutes a meeting can vary widely from day-to-day. One meeting could consist of the board of directors for a mountain bike club gathering around a table to discuss an agenda, and how they’ll move their goals forward. Another common type of meeting involves interacting with a land manager, presenting trail ideas, and working with their feedback to come to a solution that benefits everyone. Sometimes the meeting, organized by a political body or a land manager, is designed to gauge public interest, and mountain bikers need to stand up and be counted. A meeting could even consist of two or three key contributors gathered at the local brewery for a drink, to brainstorm ideas. Actually walking a proposed trail corridor with a land manager, trail designer, or trail builder is really just another meeting, but in a more entertaining environment. But at the most foundational level, all of these meetings involve people connecting and figuring out how to collaborate and work together.
Personally, I’ve found that I can handle, and sometimes even enjoy trail meetings, but only to a certain degree. At some point, the meeting load tips, and with my personality trending toward the introverted side, I need to grab my bike and go pedal up a mountainside somewhere.
My own reaction on occasion makes me wonder if this is why mountain bike advocacy lags so far behind hiking and wilderness groups. Perhaps this is why mountain bikers in the 80s couldn’t get organized fast enough or effectively enough to prevent the loss of thousands of miles of pristine singletrack in Wilderness areas. At our core, I don’t think we’re a group of people that really enjoys sitting in meetings.
But we need the meeting-goers
While mountain bike advocacy continues to face challenges, on the local level in cities and states across the nation (and around the world), mountain bike opportunities have never been better. Why? It’s because the meeting-goers have stepped up, and have been attending meetings for the past decade (or longer) to advocate for the needs of mountain bikers. These meetings have been taking place for years, and finally all of that work has culminated in permission, funding, and the organization of volunteers to go out and get legal singletrack built.
Simply put, we need the meeting-goers. Even if those meeting-goers don’t necessarily want to be sitting in a boardroom, we need them and their constant work, their continued diligence, in order to get mountain bike trails built. While the work is even less glamorous than you might imagine, it’s absolutely vital.
Meeting-goers, without you we’d all just be riding 4×4 roads.