IMBA Testifies Against Proposed US Bill Allowing Bikes in Wilderness

Trail in the Table Rock Wilderness Area. Photo: Bureau of Land Management.

In advance of the Sustainable Trails Coalition (STC) testimony at a congressional hearing today, the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) submitted a written testimony to the House Subcommittee on Federal Lands. Despite issuing a statement in May 2016 that IMBA and the STC would present a unified front and not oppose each other in their various efforts, IMBA seems to have changed their approach by vocally opposing STC efforts.

In written testimony, IMBA says, “As we gain ground in these efforts, we feel it is unwise to amend the Wilderness Act—one of the nation’s most important conservation laws—when the outcome mountain bikers desire can be reached through on-the-ground collaborative efforts.” They also unequivocally state, “IMBA is not supporting H.R. 1349.”

In their testimony, IMBA focused on all of the other work they are engaged in, painting their strategy as the way forward. However, they did include a detailed section denouncing the way mountain bikes have been excluded from some Wilderness Study Areas, most notably in Montana, saying, “We have raised these concerns with the Secretary of Agriculture and will not waiver in our fight to see this administrative mechanism reformed in a way that makes sense for mountain bikers across the country.”

IMBA also published a press release further clarifying their testimony. In that release, Dave Wiens, Executive Director of IMBA, says, “We know Wilderness hits some mountain bikers’ backyards, and we understand why those riders support this legislation. To continue elevating mountain biking nationally, IMBA must remain focused on its long-term strategy for the bigger picture of our sport.”

To some riders, it’s difficult to fathom how the thousands of miles of trails rendered off-limits to mountain bikes by Wilderness designation isn’t part of the bigger picture for our sport. In their statement, IMBA’s rhetoric appears to paint the pro-Wilderness riders as the minority, despite our own poll showing that 96% of mountain bikers think some Wilderness trails should be opened to mountain bikes.

While a public statement to IMBA Chapter Leaders in July 2016 indicated that IMBA was opposed to amending the Wilderness Act, IMBA did speak highly of some parts of the STC’s companion bill working its way through the Senate. But now, they’ve vocally and adamantly opposed the House version of the bill.

This seemingly-drastic change in approach could be due to the regime change within IMBA leadership in 2016, but exactly why IMBA chose to submit a written testimony on this matter is unclear. We’ve reached out to IMBA for comment, and have also asked whether or not their testimony in this matter was even necessary. As of press time, they have not responded.

We’ve also reached out to the STC for comment on IMBA’s testimony, and while they are interested in providing comment, they are otherwise engaged in testifying before Congress as of press time.