Last Thanksgiving the sport of mountain biking celebrated what was as close to its birthday as we might find. A newspaper story on the first time the Appetite Seminar that climbed Mount Tamalpais some 40 years was the first occasion in print to use the term “mountain biking.” In all that time, the state of California has never had an advocacy organization to represent mountain bikers at the state capital … and it shows.
Inaction on the part of the state’s mountain bike community has seen the vast majority of all singletrack in Marin County, the very birthplace of mountain biking, closed to bikes. And the industry’s need to market mountain bikes in portrayals where they shred the gnar, has been used as ammo by groups like the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society to cast us as enemies of responsible use of wild space.
A group of dedicated advocates came together two years ago to begin formation of the first nonprofit to advocate statewide on behalf of mountain bikers. The goal is to represent each of the regional nonprofits that work on local trail access issues. The founders are Jake Bayless, who helped launch the Redwood Empire Mountain Bike Alliance here in the North Bay, Vernon Huffman of Marin County’s Access 4 Bikes, Susie Murphy and Kevin Loomis of the San Diego Mountain Bike Association, Steve Messer of the Concerned Off Road Bicyclists Association and Matthew Blain of San Francisco Urban Riders. The drive of this sextet is something to behold.
One of the rallying cries for the group is something I noted in my first ‘graph: In the 40 years that mountain biking has existed, there has never been a single state-wide advocacy organization looking out for the needs of off-road riders. To me, the answer to the why is simple. The folks at CORBA in the Los Angeles area have their hands full, as do the folks at SDMBA down in San Diego, not to mention Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz and the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship. The needs of riders in those regions are great enough that biting off the entire state has been, to those actually doing advocacy work, a ridiculous ambition. So it’s not unreasonable to wonder if Bayless, Huffman, et al, are maybe a little crazy. They aren’t.
The mission is simple: More trails. Better trails. And the best possible way to do this is to give cyclists a voice in Sacramento, and with Gavin Newsom proclaiming his desire to be the most progressive California governor in decades, there has never been a better time to make a push.
Several experienced lobbyists in Sacramento who are riders have contacted CAMTB and expressed interest in helping the organization’s efforts. Imagine: this is the first time that people experienced in the inner workings of California state government will be speaking up on behalf of off-road riders.
That I interviewed for the interim executive director position had less to do with personal ambition than it did my sense of responsibility to step forward and put my greenbacks where my choppers have been. I keep talking about advocacy, about building a bigger tent, about the way cycling can transform lives. To be part of an effort to increase access to wild spaces for cyclists is an opportunity to make cycling more rewarding for those already in the sport, and perhaps make it a more attractive thing to take up for those not yet in the sport.
I’ve been getting a lot of questions about why I, a guy who has spent the majority of his career writing about road bikes, has suddenly taken up mountain bike advocacy. It’s a reasonable question, and one for which I have several answers. The first is that while I have spent more than 15 years writing about bikes with skinny tires, I bought my first mountain bike in 1989 and my first published piece ran in Dirt Rag. I never, ever stopped loving mountain biking. I got my fix for off-road riding through cyclocross for a fair number of years. When I began riding mountain bikes again in 2011 it was for a simple reason: I missed it. That’s one piece.
Another piece is that more and more road riders I know are spending time on gravel bikes. They are a way to explore new places in a landscape that most dedicated riders know as well as our bathroom. And then there is the hostility and carelessness of drivers. If you’re on a fire road or singletrack as opposed to anything paved, it’s a good deal harder to get run over by a sheriff’s deputy typing on his computer. And while CAMTB has stated that it exists to serve mountain bikers, the reality is that the organization’s efforts are likely to benefit everyone who recreates on unpaved surfaces.
The other piece I see is that our environment in general and our access to wild spaces in specific are under attack. Logging, mining and drilling are present-tense threats. I see our current circumstance as an opportunity to finally forge an alliance with organizations like the Sierra Club and Audubon Society and demonstrate that we have the ability to valuable allies, and the first, best way to do that is by bringing our numbers together and showing ourselves to be a politically savvy and active population.
CAMTB is an organization 40 years in the making, an effort that we’ve needed … for as long as the sport has existed. The need here in California is acute. With the fifth largest economy in the world, the community can’t afford not to support this effort. We have one of the highest rates of income inequality, the greatest biodiversity of any states, more climatic zones than any other state in the continental U.S., not to mention both the highest and lowest points in the continental U.S. Finding a way to advocate on behalf of such a diverse place could teach us important lessons about broader advocacy efforts.
Our country has never been more divided on social issues and political direction. We’ve got to start forging better coalitions by finding common ground and building trails in parks is a pretty nonthreatening way to begin that process.
To learn more about the organization, click here.