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Mountain biking is currently in the throes of an identity crisis. This isn’t exactly news, but has rather been an ongoing issue in our sport for many, many years. But I think that soon, very soon, this brewing issue is going to come to a head and will, unfortunately, boil over the top of the kettle.

This identity crisis is neatly summed up by a meme shared by The Robert Axle Project, which utilizes a data point from a recent a Singletracks.com survey:

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Let’s start with the portrayal of mountain bikers as skidding, dirt-slashing, back-flipping, jump-building vagabonds. Because really, that’s how 99% of the videos, photos, advertisements, and generally any sort of media portrays mountain bikers. Consequently, we’re seen as an attack on the land, a curse on the environment, and Red Bull-swilling nut jobs that only want to go as big as possible, broken backs be damned.

Less than 1% of riders can do half of what Kyle Jameson can do. Rider: Kyle Jameson. Photo: Ian Collins. Photo courtesy of SCOTT SPORTS USA.

Less than 1% of riders can do–or choose to do–what Kyle Jameson can do.
Rider: Kyle Jameson. Photo: Ian Collins. Photo courtesy of SCOTT SPORTS USA.

The thing is, how many of us actually ride like that? How many of us are backflipping 50-foot gap jumps and slashing loose dirt turns down the side of a mountain in the Utah desert?

Heck, let’s make it really simple: how many of us even so much as drift our rear wheels around the corners of our local trails? That’s actually more doable by the average Joe, but for the vast majority of us, we respect our local terrain, and we respect the work that it takes to build and maintain the trails—probably because we actually help to build and maintain said trails.

Classic berm-schralping portrayal. Rider: Adam Brayton. Photo courtesy of Hope.

Classic berm-schralping portrayal in an advertisement. Rider: Adam Brayton. Photo courtesy of Hope.

The point is, the industry portrays mountain bikers one way, when the vast majority of mountain bikers ride nothing like those magazine glam shots—yet we call all of it “mountain biking.”

The Other Side

Most mountain biking looks more like this. Rider: Caren Villaroman. Photo: Dinno Domingo.

Most mountain biking looks more like this.
Rider: Caren Villaroman. Photo: Dinno Domingo.

So if that’s not what most mountain bikers do, then how exactly do they ride? I think if you talk to most mountain bikers and take a poll, you’ll find that while they enjoy the thrill of going down hills and some enjoy the technical challenges of rock gardens and getting airborne occasionally, most riders aren’t schralping berms, or freeriding down a slope in Virgin, Utah. Instead, while they do want to challenge themselves, part of that challenge is the difficulty of the climb, and the endurance that it takes to reach a place. And much of the reward is enjoying the views along the way–the beauty of the natural places that we ride through.

Condemnation?

Now, it would be the easiest thing in the world to simple condemn the berm-slashing, gap-jumping, death-defying mountain biking as unconscionable, unethical, and something that should be ripped from our sport. The other easiest thing would be to embrace it and simply say, “well yeah, mountain bikers ARE trail-eroding, stash-poaching vagabonds—have you read about our weed-smoking history recently?!”

But here’s the thing: taking the easy route is rarely the answer. And as such, condemning this type of riding outright isn’t the answer either. Because all of these types of riding—the gap-jumping, back-flipping, and the endurance-climbing, view-perusing all have their places.

Simply put, if you’re going to be gap-jumping and berm-slashing, the place for those activities is in areas designed and intended for them. Such areas include resorts with downhill and freeride features that maintain and take care of their trails for just such a purpose, and private property that is intended for such a use case (think: Red Bull Rampage).

Getting the shred on at the Snow Summit Bike Park. Photo courtesy of Snow Summit Mountain Resort

Getting the shred on at the Snow Summit Bike Park. Photo courtesy of Snow Summit Mountain Resort

Oh, you didn’t know that Rampage took place on private property owned by Red Bull, but rather thought that it happened in Zion National Park? That’s just one more example of how the portrayal of these types of activities plays against environmentally-conscious mountain bikers that want access to wild areas. Instead of advertising that this competition takes place on privately-purchased land, Red Bull instead plays up the proximity to Zion National Park, sometimes simply referring to the area as such. When, in reality, it just isn’t.

Despite what you may have seen in films, a backcountry trail on public land or a seemingly-unused hillside is not the place to be slashing turns or building jumps. Rather, we need to respect the land, and follow Leave No Trace principles as we pass through these natural areas.

So the question then arrises: well, is there also a place where the aerobic, nature-loving version of mountain biking doesn’t belong either? The diehard nature-lovers might argue “no,” but I’m actually going to argue “yes.” Your local downhill track is not a place to be going for a long, aerobic climb. Don’t be climbing up the downhill trails at your local resort! Similarly, don’t ride down those trails, stop, and chill out in the center of the track. They’re intended for fast, hardcore, downhill riding–if you’re hanging out in the blind landing of a jump and you get hit, injured, and/or killed, that’s your fault–not the rider who was making use of the freeride trail intended for such a purpose.

We Need New Terminology

If even these crazy freeriders have a place where their antics are acceptable in certain contexts, the problem isn’t so much that this type of riding exists, but instead the terminology that we use to describe it. Within the industry, the media, and even our day-to-day conversations, if we see someone launching a 30-foot cliff on an 8-inch travel freeride sled, we call that “mountain biking.” If we see someone grinding up a narrow singletrack trail for hours, climbing thousands of vertical feet up into the middle of nowhere, we call that “mountain biking” too. Sure, we have different terms to depict the different sub-genres of mountain biking, but those terms mean nothing to anybody not familiar with the bike industry… and even amongst those deeply-ingrained in this sport, there’s significant debate about what exactly those terms mean.

But really and truly, one of the only tactics we have at our disposal to combat this wrongful association in the minds of outsiders is to create some sort of separation between the two versions of mountain biking. In my opinion, I think this means that we need new terminology. More than that, we almost need two new sports.

The sport of “mountain biking” encompasses so much: it encompasses the freeriders and the backcountry explorers discussed above. It includes dirt jumpers in skinny jeans. It includes fat bikers pedaling on snow in Alaska in the dead of winter. It includes the family of four going for a leisurely pedal on their local beginner-rated singletrack trail. It includes the group of tatted-up singlespeed hammerheads drinking whisky out of flasks as they seek to crush each other, body and soul, on their weekly group ride.

Our sport of mountain biking is an incredibly-diverse sport!

But to the outsider looking in, they have a hard time seeing that. They have a hard time separating the top of the meme from the bottom.

The “how” behind this is the trick, though. And I think some of that starts with the bike industry and the media. Instead of having every single video look like this:

What if we published more videos that look like this:

Instead of every single advertisement featuring some freerider dragging his rear tire, what if there were more photos of backcountry bikers riding some real singletrack, with gorgeous mountain peaks in the background?

Of course, we’re not totally blameless in this identity crisis issue here at Singletracks–as a mountain biking media outlet, we share many of these videos ourselves. In fact, every single image (aside from the initial meme) used in this article was featured at one time or another as a Photo of the Day here on the site.

So why do we have this problem in the first place? And will it ever change?

You might say to me, “Greg, well why does this identity crisis exist in the first place?”

I think part of the reason it exists, and part of the reason it’s not going to be so simple to change, is because the back-flipping, berm-slashing sells. It looks cool, and it sells bikes. And the badass freeride videos are, quite frankly, way more entertaining to watch than someone crushing a long climb on his XC bike. That’s just the way it is.

So do I think that we can simply say “stop slashing berms” or even “stop sharing photos and videos of riders slashing berms” and it will fix all of our problems? Heck no. That’s like saying that companies (not specifically talking about bike companies here) shouldn’t include scantily-clad women in compromising position in their advertisements. The way some of those advertisements portray women may be gross and sexist, but no matter how sexist it is seen to be, sex still sells. And so does berm schralping.

At some point our idealism and our ethics run into a brick wall of money. And when money is on the line, apparently anything goes.

Hopefully, eventually, our ethics can chip away at that brick wall of money. Call me a pessimist, but I think our ethics are more like a chisel than a sledgehammer.

One final note about bikes in wilderness.

While I think the meme that is posted at the beginning of this article highlights an all-too-true disconnect in the perception of mountain biking, I do want to note that the current efforts being undertaken by the Sustainable Trails Coalition to end the blanket ban on mountain bikes in Wilderness areas will not open the door for freeriding in Wilderness. In fact, the draft Human Powered Wildlands Travel Management Act of 2015 is adamantly against building manmade structures in Wilderness–berms, jumps, and ladder bridges seem to qualify. Also, the draft bill allows for the posting of speed limits, and even “adding [trail] features that curtail excessive speed and discourage trail users from creating unauthorized shortcuts and trails.”

Undoubtedly this identity crisis is in full-effect, and the perception of uninformed people on the outside looking in can negatively impact these efforts to allow backcountry biking. But I think it’s important ensure that the record reflects the actual goals and intention of the STC.

Final Thoughts

If you came to this article expecting easy answers, I apologize, because I don’t believe that I’ve been able to provide any. I think if there was an easy answer to be given, it would have been providing a long time ago, and we wouldn’t be in this predicament of an identity crisis.

I can’t even say that we’re immune from this identity crisis issue here on Singletracks. As a mountain bike media outlet, we share many of these videos ourselves. In fact, every single image (aside from the initial meme) used in this article was featured at one time or another as a Photo of the Day here on the site. And we shared both of these videos. While perhaps none of our staff members are capable of riding Red Bull Rampage and while perhaps we don’t slash berms or destroy our local trails, we like watching a good freeride flick just like everybody else–just like you.

If there’s one take away that I can provide, it’s this: ride responsibly. Don’t be a jerk. Respect the environment, and respect the other users that you encounter on the trail. If we all do our part to conduct ourselves in a responsible manner, perhaps over time this mis-perception of what the average mountain biker is actually like will slowly, very slowly, change.

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  • wareagle4130

    Even the term “mountain biking” is a bit of a misnomer for folks like me who live in a city with no mountains. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve told folks I mountain bike only for them to say “there are no mountains here”. I think that’s why the local MTB club refers to it as “off-road biking” instead.

    • Greg Heil

      So true!

    • hproctor

      Even the Northwest Trails Alliance (Portland, Oregon area) started using “off-road biking” last summer.

    • Trevor Iverson

      I can completely relate! I live in the Canadian prairies! My local trail has 100ft vertical, I have to drive anywhere between 2-6 hours to get to somewhere with a little higher vertical. (Cuyuna lakes or Duluth MN, or northern Ontario) so when I tell non-mtbers I ride. They think of all the stuff they’ve seen on the internet and not what we do out here.

      But all that being said. The Canadian Shield in Manitoba and northern Ontario has some of the best riding I’ve ever done! Even if we only have 100-200ft vertical average. (Some spots hit 300or more maybe) but is super technical. And if you use the rocks and the hill sides properly, you can have some wicked descents!

  • k2rider

    Great article Greg and I agree it’s an issue that won’t be easy to save. Even though I’m no free-rider, and despise all the trashed trails at my “local” riding area by the Enduro crowd skidding around EVERY corner on what used to be climbing singletrack, there is a place for that the of riding. As you’re well aware, most of that type of riding is done at lift served ski resorts or locally managed trails where man-made structures were permitted by the local land managers.

    As far as the Wilderness issue goes, I’m totally on board with the STC group. I totally understand that ALL Wilderness areas shouldn’t be open to bikes for a variety of reasons but there are plenty of areas that could. The latest closure in Idaho is a great example of that. Even if it was open to bikes, there’s not going to be a mass hoard of bikers trekking to the Idaho backcountry, totally evidenced by prior history before it was banned. Also, as you alluded to, the bikers that do go back there are the XC or bike packer types that have a more environmental mindset anyway when it comes to taking care of the land. The enduro and DH crowd with their full face helmets & no hydration pack aren’t going to schlepping their gear 20 miles deep into the backcountry to ride. That’s especially true if every ride equated to pushing your bike back uphill since no vehicle or roads are allowed in the Wilderness.

    However, I don’t see STC prevailing. The people making the decisions are generally completely ignorant and make no real effort to educate themselves. They like to do that after the fact like Nancy Pelosi’s infamous “we have to approve the health care bill so that we can read what’s in it”. Do you think Harry Reid, Barbara Boxer or Dianne Feinstein are going to make any real effort to event visit the areas up for closure? I don’t see it happening and it’s easier just to vote to keep things the same. Hopefully, they all have grandkids that ride 🙂

  • Jerry Stoeckigt

    This is an image we fight everyday when we talk to land managers about opening new trail systems. As all the trails we build have to be multi-user our presentations always have a lot of pictures of kids, families and other user groups on the trails. We also show images of the “Red Bull” rider and make jokes about this is not us, and these are not the kind of trails we build. We are in IL folks, we don’t have mountain (not many hills either) and not every trail is the same. It takes a while but people do get it. And once we are building and they begin to trust us, we can add more challenge to the trail.

    Locally is where where the tires and shovels hit the dirt and that is where we all can make a difference.

  • DaveOfPrescott

    Great article! It addresses exactly the issues that have affected the perception of mountain biking in our community. We have a few wilderness areas nearby that would make great riding and provide needed connection for longer loops. I am fully behind what the STC is trying to do.

  • Chris Daniels

    Really, really great, thought-provoking article, Greg! Thank you for saying what many of us have been thinking. I would add that not only does MTBing suffer an ID crisis as a whole, but that the media can potentially trick younger riders and newbies into thinking they are supposed to be a berm-slashing, no-hands banger of a rider to be called/accepted as a mountain biker causing an ID crisis on a personal level that, in turn, spreads among the future MTB community. But the vast majority of trails and time and effort of each rider will not result in this type of riding and, therefore, does not truly define mountain biking save a very small niche (AKA as freeriding Red Bull types). Alas, freeriding and DH is the sex of our sport and, as we all can agree, sex sells.

    • Greg Heil

      Thanks for the kind words and the thoughts, Chris!

  • bitterroot

    I wouldn’t say we have an identity crisis, maybe a perception problem from non-mountain bikers. Even then I’m not sure that is true. When I go to a snowboard/skiing film its all big terrain, jumps and tricks. For every shot of a skin track, there will be 10 of A-stars and snowmobiles. I don’t think i have ever seen a mellow cross country tour or skate ski in one of the movies. Kayak movies again are all big wave and stunts. Climbing movies takes place on walls and conditions almost no one other than elites will ever climb. How about fishing for every moody fly fishing movie, there is plenty of deep sea action or high powered bass boats. So I have a hard believing the real reason is image. No one is advocating that skiers, climbers and fishermen can’t go into wilderness.

    I think it has to do more with the fear of sharing trails. Cross Country skiers don’t encounter kids in the terrain park, but they don’t like skate skiers or snowshoers on their trails. How long did it take for people to stop fearing snowboarders? When we first started fat biking the skiers didn’t want us on groomed snowmobile roads, because we would ruin the trails. I should reiterate that these were snow covered roads and heavily ridden by snowmobiles, but they feared fat bikes for some reason. Once someone took me out to demonstrate the tracks fat bikes left. I figured it would be a deep rut, It was a quarter inch depression.

  • hproctor

    This article hits the bulls eye. I wonder if the STC and IMBA could join forces and work to keep present mountain bike trails open on lands that become Wilderness Areas in the future. This is a reasonable goal that would alleviate concerns of opening wilderness areas to drilling and mining, while insuring mountain bikers do not lose any more trails. Later, armed with all the scientific data on erosion AND the fact that the other groups will not be able to ignore the level of trail stewardship mountain bikers display we could work on opening trails where they do not exist. Baby steps.

  • JD

    As always, Greg, a most thoughtful, well-researched, and insightful article. Many thanks!

    I liked Jack Slade’s idea of Singletrack’s setting the example on photos and videos. Someone has to lead .. and have the courage to step beyond the adage of “I’m all for change; YOU go first!”

    Maybe the MTB marketeers/manufacturers/industry could start including, assuming it would be factual and they’d do it, something similar to the “truth in advertising” disclaimer that car manufacturers use on many of their ads: “Professional driver (rider) on a closed course; we always restore the trail to its original condition.” All intended to demonstrate a commitment to preserving what so many value.

    Also support hproctor’s suggestion. More of us need to get involved, physically (trail sustainment/building) and politically, to show how responsible we are/can be.

    JD (69 year old MTB’er who couldn’t “whip” if he tried! 🙂

  • mongwolf

    Wow, just saw the article Greg. Great job. New sets of terms could be challenging, and maybe not needed. We have a good set of terms already describing each discipline, but somehow separating out freeriding somehow would help a lot. I think you represented so many of us so well in the article. The number and type of responses demonstrates this. Now I can only speak for myself with certainty. I am certainly not a massive gap jumping free rider — too old and started riding way too late. But like most here I’m guessing, I do like to get a little crazy on the trail at times. I ride for the exercise, the beauty of nature, the experience of exploring AND the thrill. However, when I do get crazy on the trail: (1) I make sure no one is around (respect others), and (2) if I drift around a turn or skid (heaven forbid). I always go back and fix the trail. It is just inside me. And oftentimes while I am fixing my trace on the trail, I fix others’, including equestrians and hikers. And another thing, though I love riding in true backcountry alone as much as anyone, I also enjoy meeting people on the trail — hikers and equestrians. My experience is that most of them have no problem with mountain bikers and enjoy meeting us and seeing what we are doing. It may be a minority of trail users making the stink about mtbers.

    • Greg Heil

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Floyd!

  • CFM

    Once again Greg you have nailed it on a topic of immense importance that seldom gets mention! Our image with the non-cycling public is influenced primarily by advertisements and videos of radical riding and very little by the actual riding that occurs 99.9% of the time on local trails. But lets face it, its easier to capture excitement, thrill, and danger on video than calm, quiet, and serenity.

    Always love your articles and the discussions they generate.

    • Greg Heil

      Thanks CFM!

  • Dan Foster

    Great article Greg! I agree that the freeride type videos can be exciting, but I personally find them difficult to relate to. I don’t ride anywhere close to that, but it’s amazing to see how talented people are in this sport! On the other hand there are some great videos and movies that document the bikepacking trips and beautiful flowy singletrack out in the mountains. That makes me want to get out and ride those trails! It’ll be interesting to see where the STC goes in terms of bike access. There are so many beautiful areas that it would be great to have appropriate access to.

  • FattyHeadshok

    Hey I agree to a point. I think we’re all little of both. Who the hell doesn’t like to rail berms? C’mon Greg you know you like to huck drops. Ride down rock stairs and blow through gnar. Being able to do that stuff takes a lot of conditioning and time on the bike. But people thinking that back flipping 72′ canyon gaps is typical of every mountain biker out for a casual ride is just plain stupid and ignorant. Just like every one that throws a baseball to their kid can pitch like CC Sabathia. Of course the pro pitchers are gonna be on the cover of SI, not your local softball league star! Duh. Same with MTB. Yeah I’d like to be able to ride like Semenuk, climb like Schurter, and fly downhill with no chain and a blown tire like Gwinn. But I just ride my local trails to the peak of my ability just like anyone else. Why anybody that’s involved in any kind of activity at all doesn’t get that we all put our star athletes on the “cover” so to speak is beyond me. They’re stars because they’re at the absolute top limit of the game. Not representative of the activity as a whole. Problem is the average iq is only 100. That’s dumb.

    • Terence Burke

      Fatty please don’t take this as aimed at you personally, it isn’t. But that “game” is one I would suggest an increasing number of us (Majority?) don’t play. I stopped buying the usual crop of MTB mags some time ago as they all did the same thing, promote the “extreme” aspects on how to thrash trails, berms (why are we building berms out in the natural environment), and making sanitized trails. I stopped publishing my rides on various online sites like Garmin when i realized that others followed them and had started to move downed trees, modify the trails and couldn’t just ride what was there without making changes. I started MTB in 1987 and you rode what you found and didn’t modify the trail, including moving downed trees, if you couldn’t ride them you climbed over them. I now only read mags that are not “race report” mags that try to make heroes of “the stars” – I couldn’t give a rats anus what they do. Instead of berms, sanitized trails and false features, we should try riding off camber turns, natural trails that have been there for years, that aren’t tidied up and a bit more exploring the open, little used trails. FWIW.

  • GSMarlene

    Hi, great article. I joined because even though I primarily ride horses, I think the idea of exploring areas on mountain bike is great and I also do what I can to promote cooperation between horse riders and bike riders. I’ve met wonderful people on both sides and a-holes on both sides.
    But this article really grabbed my attention because my horse sport is endurance and we’re going through our own identity crises. One is the lingo – typically endurance is 50 miles or more, anything less is distance riding. But whether real or not, some distance riders think they’re snubbed as lesser if they can’t use the title endurance rider.
    Another identity crisis is endurance in the middle east is balls-to-the-wall run the horse w/o regard for its health. We don’t want to be compared to them in the same way you who respect the environment don’t want to be lumped with those who’ll trash a course for a little extra fun.
    And we have the same concerns about being shut out of certain areas.
    On a personal note, I live next door to a 30,000 acre wilderness that technically doesn’t allow bikes. And most bike riders don’t go there because the sand is too soft, but I still see the tracks. So although I wouldn’t mind sharing this area with bikes (haha, it’s too flat to cause dangerous surprises to horses), I still get a little irked when I know someone is ignoring the rules, same as I would if I saw someone littering or cutting down a 1000 yo Juniper.
    In general I like sharing trails with bikes – you guys pack the trail nicely! But I do love some of our local area with separate bike and horse trails, you can enjoy speed w/o concern of surprising a horse and getting kicked in the face and I can trot along a ridge w/o worrying about going over because my horse heard a squeal of brakes through a plume of dirt. And that’s after I’ve taught my horses bikes are cool!
    Anyhow, sorry for the long post from an outsider, but again, just thought some of our issues are similar and I’d rather find similarities than differences! And thanks again for a good article.

  • western90

    Everything has to be hyped, exaggerated, distorted in post-modern media.

    Example. Recent article on yoga emphasized that it can literally be done by anyone of any age and ability with many health benefits. (It has made a huge difference in my mountain biking.)

    And what does the editor choose for an illustration? A photo showing someone doing an extreme pose that only tiny fraction of people will ever be able to do.

    So people look at that and say, Well obviously I can’t do yoga.

  • Terence Burke

    Here’s a few titles from the cover of some MTB magazines. All associated with pictures of riders (many with inane expressions that don’t gel) doing whips, major jumps, wheelies, skids, strange riding positions and other ‘exciting’ aspects. What they don’t say is that the rider did the same section many times to get the appropriate “spectacuar” picture. Like western90 points out, people look at these and thinks – I can’t do that so MTB is not for me. Ban the darn MTB mags!!!
    Article titles:
    Blast through Rocks and Roots
    Wild Riding
    Attack Zone – Hit the trails with speed and flair
    Flips, Hips and Whips (yes MTB not BDSM!)
    Build explosive power
    Excede (push, overcome) your limits
    Go Ballistic
    How to rail (nail) the trails
    Get faster
    Climb the unclimable
    Easy steps for more speed on the trails
    Plus the innumerable get fitter, faster, ride harder articles accompanied by the usual photos.

    It appears for these magazines the only way to enjoy MTB’ing is to go faster and faster, ride wilder and not look at the scenery, which seems to be utterly irrelevant to the mtb riding!
    Please can I just ride without all this go faster crap (and yes I used to race but that was only for fun, once it became serious it stopped being fun, so i stopped)

    Going to be interesting when the maintenance of all these created ‘features’ (walls, jumps, doubles, drop offs etc.) on trails need maintaining and the cost it will incur. Anyone done an cost assessment on this?

    Thanks for writing something I’ve been trying to get across for a number of years 🙂

  • ronb

    Once nature lovers create a permanent trail for humans through pristine wilderness–including use of natural animal trails–they have violated the pristine wilderness. When “hiker” type nature lovers then proceed to dictate the usability of the human sacred landscape for their purpose only–I have issue. And I’m a sixty-plus mountain biker, so I tend bark louder over who has say over using our public lands for what purposes. I love full suspension–technology enhanced–rambling, as best I can, over singletrack and fire roads, over hill and dale. When back in the 60’s and 70’s me and my five brothers cruised cow trails and deer paths through the woods and fields, public and private, and built ramps at the bottom of the driveway hill to catapult ourselves into the straw bales at the back of the barn, or into the pond, all on our three speed road and banana bikes. we just called it riding our bikes.

    Since I also rock climb, we climbers hear all kinds of fear mongering about our scarring the landscape reserved by “true naturalist”. Yet, many many climbers, and long time big taxpayers like myself, as it turns out, are also some of the best stuarts of public land. Much more so, say, than the fossil fuel industry. From the all over the east coast, to the heartland, to my place in Utah, and into Cali, I have found both climbers and bikers a benefit towards the care and maintenance of wilderness trail systems. Sure, some individuals tear stuff up they have no business tearing up (just like hikers), but most show respect for the land and the local trail rules, when allowed to access them. Most respect posted access rules and care about maintaining access, and help enforce behaviour. Community education is key–so I appreciate this article.

    The Forestry and BLM managers, have been working closely with the climbing community for some time now, and have come to appreciate the numbers of us that use the wilderness, and in truth are more vigilant and active in supporting their efforts than perhaps opponents to our activities. And infact I will argue that climber and MTBing activity, enhance nature lovers access to the wilderness. The MTB community need to further establish a strong bond with the government land management. The argument that MTBing disrupts or destroys public land is for the most part misconception. And denying our participation on public trail systems is unacceptable.

    As human beings, our encroachment upon nature, is and has always been part of nature. We need to accept responsibility for our unique capacity to abuse nature, and to find ways interact with nature in its best interests. That can certainly include responsible MTBing.

  • Jerry Zeekaf

    This “identity crisis” you speak of is similar to crisis that faced rodeo. There was a belief all things rodeo meant hurting animals which couldn’t be further from the truth. It was said that bucking bulls had their balls cinched up causing them pain. Nothing could be further from the truth. Today’s rodeo, in the form of PRCA, PBR, CBR take great pains to protect the livestock. A prize bucking bull with fetch you over $100k. PETA, the SPCA are in my view the Sierra Club and Wilderness Society. They are out of touch with reality, behind the times and will do just about anything and everything to keep themselves relevant and the powers that be, history and logic be damned. When I see a guy on a bike flying down the hill I see a guy in control of his body, his reflexes, his strength and agility. To me they are the bull and bronc riders. Not everybody can ride a bull and not everybody can fly down a mountain on a bike. But we enjoy watching. I ride my bike for pleasure. I ride my bike to see and feel nature. I went on a ride today, the uphill kicked my ass, it was really hard, I had to walk it a few times. Conversely coming down was a joy, some places I had to walk down-I’m not ready to go to heaven. I guess what I’m getting at is this identity crisis will pass. We need to push the bike manufactures and sellers that THEY have a responsibility to educate the public. WE have to direct them. WE have to tell the ‘Red Bulls’ they too have a responsibility. We will get through this…together.

  • ronb

    Well I grew up on the farm, and rodeo use of animals is not to the benefit of the animals. We motivate, as in force, them to behave in ways they would not normally behave in the field, aside from defending themselves, for spectator entertainment. That said, I’ve been to rodeos and eat farm animals. But sorry, I disagree that bull and bronc riding is like mountain biking. This is about the potential to destroy and disrupt wilderness areas, not strictly the use or abuse of animals. We should however respect both as aware human beings.

    Also, how did the Sierra Club and Wilderness Society become the bad guys? They generally are willing to work with outdoor activities groups, like climbing and biking communities. And to work together with government agencies managing the public lands to find an access and use solution agreeable to everyone. I think they are very much in touch with what is happening in the wilderness. They are constantly out in it. We need to establish wilderness access rules for the MTB community, help land management implement them on acceptable trail systems. We should assist in maintaining and policing trails, and educate the MTB community about respecting our access to public trails, especially backcountry trails where we need tread lightly.

  • Jerry Zeekaf

    The comparison was metaphore. The point is, the Sierra Club and Wilderness Society like any large organization are weary of anything new and are protective of their turf. They have not been supportive of all terrain bicycles, they have however been vigorous in lobbying BLM and Forestry to close off trails that have been open to bikes for decades. They feel Americas wilderness is theirs. In their view the world is still flat. Both groups have had notorious turf wars at the expense of the public for decades and all in the name of the good for the public. It just begs the question, who decides who has access? It would seem they think they do. There’s been no proof whatsoever on the (detrimenal) effect all terrain bicycles have on the environment, none. Yet they would have us believe otherwise.

  • sacredridesmtb

    Fantastic article, Greg (can’t believe I missed it until now).

    I’ve always said the same thing. At Sacred Rides, our typical customer is 45 years old and keeps his/her wheels on the ground at all times, yet so many people – who aren’t familiar with us – think that we’re jumping our bikes off cliffs all the time!

    Mike Brcic,
    Founder/Chief Hapiness Officer
    Sacred Rides

    • Greg Heil

      Thanks for the comment Mike, glad to know that this is wide-spread!

  • AngusRocks69

    While I don’t disagree with the article…one thing to keep in mind is that the bike industry targets there advertising to media outlets that MTBers watch. I can’t remember the last {insert downhill bike company here} commercial I saw while watching The Big Bang Theory. I have to pretty much tune to OutsideTV or Red Bull TV and go out of my way to see these ads. I am not sure how many anti-Mountainbikers see these type of commercials in the first place. BTW my wheels very rarely leave the ground but I can spend hours watching shred on Red Bull TV or OutsideTV. I also do my part in trail maintenance and am extremely courteous to hikers.

  • kawazoomer

    I call b.s. The article is fine and makes a point, but it is totally hypocritical. First, you are not going to be able to control the manufacturers and media who hype the extreme aspects of mountain biking. But what singletracks can do is stop perpetuation this perception is removing videos that perpetuate this image, but what is the first thing I see when I log in this morning? “Watch: Trails That Drop Jaws Under Switzerland’s Most Iconic Peak by Teton Gravity Research ” I don’t know if Greg or someone else posted this video but it shows cyclists going to Switzerland and sliding the rear tires and shredding the trail. I have even heard Greg use such terms as shredding the trail which has the perception of damaging in. On one hand Greg says one thing, but singletracks totally perpetuates the image through videos and articles right here on this site and this is something Greg can control being the “chief editor” So another video I watched. …Watch: Blasting Down the Most Technical Trail in Denver by Nate Hills . I don’t know if these two are pros or if they are just average mountain bikers. But they shred that trail. Sliding around a switchback, going what I consider super fast, going off trail and going at speed past hikers who step off the trail in fear of their lives that these guys are going this fast one goes over the handlebars. This is the image Singletracks perpetuates, not some advertiser or manufacturers. This is total hypocrisy on Gregs part. On the other hand, the video makes me want to head up to Denver and try this trail. Not to shred it, scare hikers, ride at break neck speeds. I don’t have the skills to ride it that fast if at all, probably having to walk some areas. On of my points is, no one wants to see a video of some slow guy who has to walk part of this trail.
    So Greg points the problem out, then offers no solution. In fact he decides instead of making a stand, he says resistance is futile so lets just continue our present course by saying “So do I think that we can simply say “stop slashing berms” or even “stop sharing photos and videos of riders slashing berms” and it will fix all of our problems? Heck no. ”
    Of course not, these videos of these riders slashing berms helps promote singletracks as a site, So he is just as guilty as the manufacturers making these videos by perpetuating them on his site. It is like saying to your children, don’t smoke as you light up the next one, or saying how bad smoking is and that no on in the biking community should smoke yet having cigarette ads and videos on your site, then justify it by saying well people are going to smoke regardless if it have ads or videos on my site so I am not going to stop people from posting them. This is called hypocrisy. Everyone here strokes Greg as posting a “thought provoking, well researched article”, yet he points out what he thinks is a problem that is coming to a head, tells us how bad the manufacturers and media are for doing it and how it affects us all, then says, but I am not going to stop these videos from being posted for the sole purpose of promoting his site. He even goes as far as to make an analogy that sex sells and just because it does sell it is then ok to exploit women and continue advertising in this way, just like he will continue post videos of people destroying trails because it helps get him a few more clicks on his site. Removing post these types of videos on this site is totally within his control yet he allows it even though he makes an article that condemns the content of the videos he perpetuates. Children… can you say hypocrisy? I knew you could.

  • kay oh

    I don’t see a way around the marketing situation. Racing gets all the attention, even if it doesn’t pay the bills for the bike industry.

    I think the way forward is to borrow a page from the Crossfit crowd. They’re very inclusive, and their message to outsiders has always been “you can do this, and we’re all here to help you.”

    Anyone who wants to grow the sport should make a resolution to take a newbie on a trail ride before the year is over. Grow the community in this organic way, and watch the marketing follow the riders for a change.

  • jgmtb

    Hi Greg, great article. You had a previous article where you wrote something to the effect of “jeep off-roading is way worse than mtb erosion, so we shouldn’t be concerned with the damage mtbs”. I disagreed with this line of thought, and was kind of lambasted. Here you are much more nuanced, and I think that is the right approach. It is not a black and white issue, and while there are corners of the mountain bike world that are doing stuff which seems pretty extreme, most riders are pretty normal, and some maybe that are even doing constructive conservation and trail work. Good job!

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