2021 could be the best year and an important year for the Mountain Biking Community (plus a call out to MTB Media Big's)
I have been on the trails and in the MTB community since 1996 and in shops for just as long. During the early days of that time I can distinctly remember constantly seeing the etiquettes of trail riding... my favorite was always "Do not spook animals".... and that was without constant social media hammerings. We lived and breathed those rules, and looking back I think it was because there was always a fear we could loose our trails and access in a moments notice. Because lets be honest, nearly all our trails were illegal. We built in secret, we rode in secret and if an upset resident or an injured rider (usually their parent) voiced anything we would loose access. I have seen it happen, I can still recall a set of jumps/trails that we had built. They were hard to access, you either had to drop into them on a barely rideable access trail or you had to cross a river on the lower side. But, one day, likely due to a resident in the area, we discovered them bulldozed over. To this day I am still not sure how the city got their heavy equipment in there to destroy everything.
We rode in secret, and if you were entrenched into the MTB community you knew where there were secret jumps and secret trails, and if you ever came across other trail users you slowed down, said hello, asked how they were doing (that might be the mainly polite Canadian in me) and then carried on. If you didn't you had the fear they would figure out your secret and the trials would disappear. It is sad to say however, some of that has been lost.
I think it is even safe to say that some of the "OLD GUARD" are guilty of this too. 25 years later and we now have legal trails, trails built through tough fought meetings with municipalities and mutual agreements with land owners both private and public. Agreements cultivated over a dozen years to ensure access, agreements that usually mean maintaining relationships to allow them to remain. So, perhaps we are at a point where we feel entitled to the trails, perhaps the newer generation of riders are not familiar with the carefully cultivated history that created these trails, perhaps we don't see the "Trail Etiquette" posted enough to remind us and also inform new riders.
There could also be a bit of the Strava effect going on too... multiuse trails turn into mini race trails when a segment appears on your Strava feed. So you end up going for it, you get upset when you have to pass another rider, then you get upset when you have to slow or pass for a hiker, the frustration builds. You start to feel like it is a MTB trail, that other users should not be in the way, you keep going for it... And in going for it trail etiquette gets eroded, you don't slow down for other users, you spook animals, you don't show curtesy or a simple hello to other users.... and then the battles begin! Other users might sabotage trails, city and private land owners pull access and destroy trails and pretty soon large sections of trails vanish to our use. It happens, it has happened and it will happen more because there is now, more than ever more riders on the trails, new and old, plus more "silent" sport users than ever before. Covid has brought more people to cycling, and more people to escaping and enjoying the outdoors. We all are likely guilty of this, I know the competitor in me is guilty of this too, but moving forward into 2021 we all need to be mindful of our actions and how we help guide all the new riders into and through the sport.
So... where do we start? Well, as new riders hit the trails, we as the "OLD GUARD" need to acknowledge their eagerness and politely educate these new riders. They bring with them enthusiasm, they have been watching youtube influencer videos all winter getting jacked up on the prospect of ripping through trails, traveling to other locations, and maybe even building new ones. However, you know what is lacking in all those youtube videos.... pushing the Trail Etiquettes and how fragile our sport still is. Fragile it truly is... Mountain Biking for the longest time was more or less an illegal activity. to a certain extent it still is. A lot of cities and municipalities likely do not specifically have MTB trails in the master Recreation Plans, or for that matter acknowledge that multiuse trails include Mountain Biking. I guess what that could mean is that in the event of a personal injury or altercation with another trail user, there is no support or acknowledgment for your claim because of "illegal" use not defined by the City. But lets get back to the YouTube Culture....
I have never spent a lot of time watching mountain biking feeds on youtube until this year, and reflecting on those videos now as I write this I can honestly say I have not heard them promote these principles, ideals and realities, both from influencers and more organized channels alike. Its not to say they have not promoted them or do not recognize them, but at the same time I can not recall hearing about them. Likely it is no fault of their own, at a certain point we assume things are common knowledge, kind of like how there is no such thing as a "Standard" in the bike industry. We all love to hate the phrase "New Standard!" IMBA still exists promoting trail etiquette, but landing on the IMCA Canada webpage I have yet to find those principles, and new users would never think to look for them. I would love to see them front and centre on the homepage.
How about the origins of the sport? The fragility that existed??? Well if you are part of the "Old Guard" you would remember seeing and hearing about illegal trails, but today, aside from REDBULLS production of Builder, and The Moment, it is hard to recall any films that highlight the past like that.
So here is a call out to influencers, local riders and MTB Media biggies.... spread the Etiquette, spread the fragility of our sport and when you have the opportunity, post it, talk about it, remind and educate. If you are on social media, don't hammer, educate, don't belittle, engage. When you are riding, lead by example, live the etiquette and let others see you doing it. In a moments notice we could loose more local trails and established trail networks, cities could come down hard on "illegal" use and fracture and deconstruct our sport. Mountain biking is a huge sport, its growing exponentially fast right now, but despite those numbers it likely is more fragile now than it was only 5 years ago.
PINKBIKE, GMBN, SINGLETRACKS, ENDURO MAGAZINE, BIKE RADAR, BIKE RUMOUR.... and all the others, I call on you to help protect the fragility of our sport. Influencers and local riders should reinforce the ideals that have allowed the sport to continue to exists. I want to keep riding, and I want to see more trails for all of us to ride, and I am sure I am not alone in this desire.
I am just a 40year old MTB Punter... but riding has never been better, and I want it to stay that way!
Full Disclosure: I am a shop owner (INCEPTION CYCLERY) and have access to products at wholesale rates... No products reviewed here will have been provided to me free of charge for the purpose of review.
Furthermore, I sell to my clients what I have ridden and approve of.... if I don't like it I do not wholeheartedly endorse it.
I have no product commitments in any way to manufactures or distributors and thus am not using these reviews as a way to satisfy minimum orders or other industry products requirements or to do any favours that would benefit any relationships with brands or manufactures
So... if I love something... you will hear about it
If I dislike something... you are going to hear about that too!