IMBA’s Focus on Urban MTB Trail Systems

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In 2007 IMBA rolled out an ambitious plan to create mountain bike “Ride Centers” all around the US and we were curious to hear the latest at the IMBA World Summit. IMBA executive director Mike Van Abel did mention the Ride Center initiative in his keynote presentation but only after speaking at length about the new(er) “Gateway Trail” model.

According to recently collected survey data, mountain bikers are looking for more trails closer to home (no surprise here). While Ride Centers are designed to be “destination trail systems,” they’re typically sited in rural areas where there’s plenty of land to support dozens of miles of singletrack. As such, most mountain bikers need to drive to get to the trails which can limit usage significantly.

Gateway Trails, on the other hand, are designed to be accessible to the widest audience possible, including kids who aren’t old enough to drive yet. The ideal Gateway Trail includes purpose-built singletrack for beginner and intermediate riders and often includes a pump track as well. Like gateway drugs, Gateway Trails are designed to get folks hooked on mountain biking so they’ll want to get their fix on more advanced, epic rides outside of town.

Lately I’ve found myself looking for ways to “ride to the ride” as often as possible and the Gateway Trails model scratches where I itch. Loading the car and fighting traffic after work is often a big hassle and can take some of the fun out of riding. For me, heading out the front door and warming up on the pavement is a welcome change and makes the well deserved singletrack seem that much sweeter. If only there was more singletrack within say 10 miles of my house (any further than that and I might as well ride my road bike).

Riding to the ride is also great for the environment since it gets more of us out of our cars and onto our bikes. Even if you don’t care about the environmental stuff, consider this: some MTB trailheads are in danger because of crowded parking lots. Just this week we read about a trail system in Idaho where residents are blocking access to trails because they don’t like all the cars parked on the street.

One of the first Gateway Trails IMBA talked about is the Valmont Bike Park in Boulder, CO (IMBA’s backyard, natch). Urban trail systems like those in Richmond, VA are also getting a fresh look, as are projects like the I-5 Collonade trails in Seattle. And don’t forget about Highbridge Park in Manhattan (NYC) – the pump track and trails there are being used by kids who had never heard of mountain biking before.

While we were stoked to hear about the Ride Center focus back in 2007, we’re even more excited about Gateway Trails. Not only are they convenient for old timers, they also bring new riders into the sport and get more folks out of their cars. Talk to your local club about getting on the bandwagon and opening more singletrack in your city!