Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The last rant (probably) of 2013: You don't value your trails enough

I've personally witnessed the following:
-Guy with a $5k+ bike on his roof rack drives into the parking lot at a trailhead.
-It's $5 to ride the trails for the day, or $40 or something for an annual pass.
-He reads the sign that explains this.
-Gets back in his car and drives away.

Now, maybe he got an urgent text from his mistress or something, but I can't help think of this anecdote when I'm thinking about how little mountain bikers value their trails.

Many of us (I'm looking at you, blog readers, as well as myself) think nothing of spending $90 on a tire, or $200 on a clutch rear derailleur to keep from dropping our chain, or thousands of dollars (or tens of thousands) on new bikes. Some folks get a new $5k+ bike basically every year. How much do you contribute to trail organizations, maintenance, or access? I know I don't give enough.

There are really two problems as I see it:

-Trails have traditionally been free and maintained (or not maintained) by outside organizations, so mountain bikers got a free ride for many, many years. It's like the internet - everyone expects free stuff now, because that's the way it's always been.

-Trails aren't in your garage gleaming and promising fun times. You (usually) can't possess them. You can't put them on a gram scale or impress your friends with them. They're physical things but they're at enough of a remove from your everyday psyche that they don't have the same pull as that new set of XTR brakes or Haven handlebar. Trails don't promise to make your wrists hurt less or to give you better traction or a bigger range of gears. But while a derailleur can (and will) be replaced in a few years after the luster has worn off (or you broke it), if access to a trail is lost - it's probably never coming back.

When it comes down to it, if you had to choose, you'd choose riding a mediocre bike on a great trail over riding a great bike on a boring trail, right? So why are mountain bikers mostly choosing the opposite when they open their wallets?

I don't know but I think it'd be a good thing if we all kicked in more, in both time and effort and dollars, to trails and trail access. I'm going to try to keep track of what I spend on bike stuff this year and plan to contribute 10% of that amount to my local club as well as IMBA in a mix of volunteer time and cash. I urge you to do the same. If you've got a fixed bike budget, maybe you can spend a little less on gear and a little more on trails. Or you can keep buying parts but do more volunteer work for your club. Need a gift idea this holiday season for a mountain biker friend? Maybe they don't need more cycling socks or an REI gift card but they'd like a donation made to a trail group in their name.

So here's the bottom line: we could all live with a little less bike stuff cluttering up our lives. We'd all like more places to ride and would hate to lose the ones we have. So start acting like it.


Bikewright said...

Great rant Walt. Great idea for a gift this holiday season

fattyr said...


Matt B said...

Spot on. You've inspired me to do the same! In my area it seems volunteer hrs are more in need than cash so time to sacrifice a ride for some trail maintenance more often.

mtbmike said...

Thanks for the shout out for trails, Walt. As a person who has "shown up" for 23 years, I know the more support your local bike club gets is directly related to the amount of traction we get with the agencies. And that turns into miles of trail.

Katherine said...

Very well said. I was expecting more vitriol when I saw it was a "rant," but this was thoughtfully written. I would bet that most of us learned on crappy bikes, and fell in love on great trails. I'm going to cross stitch the following on a pillow so I keep my priorities in order:

"When it comes down to it, if you had to choose, you'd choose riding a mediocre bike on a great trail over riding a great bike on a boring trail, right? So why are mountain bikers mostly choosing the opposite when they open their wallets?"

And I'm glad you mentioned volunteering in the same breath. If you truly don't have cash to spare, volunteer hours are awesome and appreciated and sometimes more needed than dollars.

Can't lift a tool, either? Write a letter to your congressman. Go to a meeting to prove that MTBers care. Take a friend to your next MTB group meeting to get them involved. High five your local trailbuilders.

Rody said...

Thanks for putting that out there...needed to be said.

Dawn said...

That was so perfectly said.

Dawn said...

That was so perfectly said.

Anonymous said...

A very timely post, Walt. Thanks.
It's part of the human condition unfortunately. I see the same thing at the nature preserve I run where $3 admission fees are enough to dissuade traveling birders with optics in excess of $2K from entering.
As a (smaller scale) land manager it's those folks that show up consistently that have my admiration and my ear.

Tom A said...

Thanks for the reminder. I've been sitting on a couple of last contributions to IMBA and the Colorado Trail Foundation and you motivated me to dig them up. Best to you in 2014.

Chris said...

People don't like getting nickeled and dimed. If you have to pay $5 a ride or $40 a season for a pass, it's obnoxious in a "that's just one more thing I have to deal with" sort of way. If you want more people to pay for trails, make it easier for them to pay for trails. That doesn't mean "cheaper", necessarily, but rather "more convenient".

I'd see about getting bike shops and manufacturers to include local, annual, self-renewing park passes bundled with the bikes they sell. Maybe experiment with making it an opt-out thing (e.g. a price discount if they choose to opt out rather than an added cost) to exploit the power of defaults and sell it as "a free year's trail access included with every bike".

A similar system works for satellite radio.

Or they could do a "free trail passes with every purchase over $20" thing. Or whatever.

Trying to play on civic pride or eco-reponsibility is not a reliable way to approach this.