Portlanders Protest New Mountain Bike Ban

Is it the mud? Is it the plant life? Is it to protect hikers? Maybe it’s that lawsuit? Ask any one of the 300 bike-wielding Portland protestors on Monday and they’ll tell you it isn’t for any of those reasons. They will, however, vehemently argue the city of Portland’s sudden ban on mountain biking in River View Natural Area (RVNA) stems from a long-standing, genuine hatred for mountain bikers.


For background on the events surrounding the ban, catch up with John Fisch’s in-depth article here on Singletracks. Briefly, Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) teamed up with the Bureau of Environmental Services (BES), headed by Amanda Fritz and Nick Fish, respectively, in 2011 to purchase a large space in Southwest Portland where folks have enjoyed riding for decades before the acquisition. Since then, local mountain bikers organized and worked with the city to ensure biking would be included in the future planning and development of RVNA. Those efforts, however, came to an abrupt halt two weeks ago when seemingly out of nowhere a memo was released by PP&R and the BES banning mountain biking.

When asked to clarify, Fritz simply said PP&R and the BES have no studies or findings–just good ole fashion abundance of caution. The ban came after PP&R’s own Technical Advisory Committee reported other user groups that contribute equally as much or more detrimental impact on the ecology of the park, yet somehow mountain bikers would be the ones to get nixed, putting into serious question Fritz and Fish’s magical source of “caution” and “abundance” (or lack thereof).

Petitioning isn’t easy in Portland, where the few powerful often trump the humble hundreds

In response to mounting pressure and support of an eminent protest, Fritz issued the following approximately one week later:

“We are not saying River View will never be used for mountain biking, rather just not now, before the citywide assessment of appropriate places for cycling is funded and completed. I encourage you to participate in the upcoming City Budget process, to urge funding for the citywide Master Plan for cycling that Portland Parks and Recreation and I have proposed in our requested budget allocations.”

To summarize: Biker rides bike in RVNA for many years. City buys land upon which biker has biked for many years. Biker helps clean and maintain trails (not to mention tears down trail features at request of city), raises money, attends public meetings, and provides plans for new and existing trails upon which multiple user groups can coexist. Biker is banned from same land. Biker is then told to keep giving time and money to city for another place to ride. I think Fritz and Fish have their priorities completely bass ackwards!

Sponsel urges supporters to ride and respect and for City Hall to reverse the ban

On March 16th, off-road cyclists rallied at the entrance of the RVNA for the River View Protest Ride to remind Portland that, while Fritz’s attempt to appease them may offer a ray of hope, bikers will settle for nothing less than a full reversal of the ban. The handlebar army was led by rider, Political Advisory Committee member, and protest organizer Charlie Sponsel who asserts, “we’re about to change bike politics in Portland forever.”

In true Northwest fashion, heavy weekend rain and wind left RVNA trails blown out and bogged down, but that did not deter the hearts of those begging to be heard. In fact, taking to the pavement encircling the park meant protestors en masse would truly show stewardship for the land while making their cause known to citizens not privy to the plight of Portland biking. The rally ended with a parade of riders lining the streets and a sense of accomplishment. Despite the unknown future of biking in RVNA, Sponsel remains confident the ban will absolutely be reversed.

Portland’s protest en masse

Most in attendance were local riders who frequent these trails 2-3 times a week, ready to tell their story, but there were also folks from all over the Portland and the Southwest Washington area to support this move. Many had never ridden the RVNA. Some had only heard about it for the first time since the controversy hit mainstream. Some even admitted they’ll probably never ride there even when the ban is lifted due to other trails closer to their home. Nevertheless, they were there! They showed up to fight for someone else’s trail being unjustly shut down for no other “good” reason, save a distaste for bikes in Portland’s woods.

Sponsel reminded supporters that this protest wasn’t about shredding RVNA one last time. It wasn’t about more trail access for mountain bikers. At this point, it wasn’t even about saving RVNA anymore. Mountain bikers showed up to fight a broken political process that, instead of listening and moving in the direction of the people, makes decisions during midnight meetings behind closed doors.

RVNA: Portland’s last piece of “real” mountain biking terrain

Why does it matter to you what is taking place in Portland, OR? By now you’ve probably scratched it off the list of cool places to live, work, and ride, right? Well, think about your own home trail. Think about what and who makes it possible. Think about your contribution to the mountain biking community. We’re not out of the woods yet. There are people who have nothing to lose and everything to gain by simply taking away what you may take for granted.

Your move, City of Portland.

Charlie Sponsel: MTBer, political advocate, protest leader, Portland’s new hero

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