IMBA

Has IMBA Lost its Soul?

Mountain Bikers, Has IMBA Lost its Soul? Become Too Powerful?

As a 20 year supporter of IMBA I decided not to support them in 2013 (still supported a few clubs though). Last year alone BetterRide gave IMBA and quite a few of it’s local chapters over $3,000.

Honestly, it really wasn’t a tough decision. I joined IMBA to help them fight the good fight, keep trails open and gain access to more trails.   This seemed to be their focus for all of the 1990′s and early 2000′s as they are a nonprofit advocacy group. Slowly over the last 10 years they have been acting more like a for profit business by straying from trail advocacy and using their considerable clout to compete with private businesses. They started straying by marketing themselves as trail builders and competing with for profit trail builders. The sad thing about this (in my humble opinion) is that they charge more than the for profit companies and create predictable and boring trails! They have also dumbed down quite a few trails that I once greatly enjoyed. I realize some of this was done to make the trails more sustainable (which is good) but often it seemed like it was done to feed someone’s ego as the great “Trail  Dictator”. “We know how to build great trails and what people like!”, seems to be their motto, but, I and thousands of other riders were not consulted and they obviously don’t know what I like! There are two things I really enjoy, flow and challenge and many IMBA created or fixed trails lack both of these (many SORBA and MORE trails do have both, props to the local chapters!).

I heard a Ranger at South Mountain Park justify trimming back a Stag-horn Cholla Cactus way off the trail by citing IMBA trail maintenance guidelines. That cactus was easily avoidable at reasonable speed and likely helped keep riders speed in check, which is a good thing on a mixed use trail.

Development of trails and parks expressly for the purpose of mountain biking is cool, but we must not fool ourselves into believing that such development is crucial to mountain biking. Mountain biking can be done across the land with no trail, it can be done on animal tracks, and can be done on hiking trails as well as jeep roads. Much of the beauty of mountain biking is that one can traverse the land under their own power. When one encounters terrain that they can’t ride, a mountain bike can easily be walked.

Often what they seem to be doing is “protecting ourselves from the world” as in the video below. I realize the world is a dangerous place, I walk sections of mountain bike trails where the risk reward ratio is not in my favor, it does not detract from my ride in any way to get off and walk. I don’t need a go around!

Why not have a bid system for trail projects where all the trail building companies can bid on the project? I know quite a few trail builders and some of them create phenomenal trails! Beginner trails that are fun and flowing (even for experts), intermediate trails that flow and provide moderate challenges and expert trails that challenge the rider (yet can be ridden with short hike a bikes by advanced beginners) all while being sustainable! Why not let the trail builders build and IMBA be the advocacy group. There is a huge conflict of interest here, as a friend said, “It’s like the places out here in California that’ll smog check your car- there’s a reason they aren’t allowed to perform the repair.”.

Now IMBA has started a trails website with a database of mountain bike trails! There are already a few great for profit sites that do this and do it well. Also as friend pointed out many local shops get a lot of their business from selling maps or selling a tube or t-shirt when you stop in for some free trail advice.

Personally, I think IMBA should go back to being an advocacy group! Why give money to a company that competes with other businesses (in an unethical way, “well Springfield County, this trail is going to erode pretty badly. We can fix it for $200,000 now or $400,000 later.”)? What do you think? Still love IMBA? Never loved IMBA? Like them but wish they would make some changes? We would love to hear your take on this!

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88 replies
  1. Markk says:

    I am pretty new to MTBing and as a newby have a limited perspective, lack a solid opinion on what the IMBA should or should not get involved in. What I see going on here is the same thing that happens in any passionate enthusiast group. To put it short – As people become passionate about their activity and become involved they also take ownership and develop strong opinions, they dig in This makes them resistant to change. Any organization must change and grow in order to remain viable. Anything that does not grow, dies. As well, the résistance keeps growth in check which is also a very good thing. What does this mean? Decide for yourself, but keep an open mind and remain viable yourself. Accept that as MTBing moves to be bigger and better than ever that change is inevitable and unavoidable. And this is a good thing.

    As for the newest addition to MTB mapping and online trail finding goes, I am all for it! What a great resource for MTBers to find and explore new trails in new areas they have never explored before. Nudging MTBrs to travel and explore MTB communities and support those local economies while experiencing the beautiful places America and the world have to offer. I say hooray MTBing, the new and the old. Preservation of what brought us here as well as where it’s all heading.

    Just sayin’

    Reply
  2. JR Nolan says:

    IMBA means little to nothing to me. In fact they are in part responsible for the trail closure of the new Wilderness Area- Dolly Sods North

    Reply
  3. Vineet says:

    I may be wrong, but In my opinion, those days are gone when people and industry were working with full dedication for the sport. Now that the sport has developed so much… Its time for them to make some profit.

    Reply
  4. shaunalex says:

    If every mountain biker were consulted prior to a trail design, no trails would ever be built. Once you use words like “dumbed down”, you’re showing me your bias and you’ve lost me. Heard and been through that for years in my neck (MORE) of the woods. Mountain bike trails are way different than legacy trails built for hiking/jeeping/etc. Not all new mtn bike trails are built the same, but they are all built more sustainably than most legacy trails whether they are built by private PTBA builders, non-PTBA builders, or IMBA.

    Reply
  5. shaunalex says:

    I’m pretty unhappy about Dolly Sods too, and don’t think IMBA had anything to do with that other than fighting it

    Reply
  6. Brian Mulligan says:

    Good read. I like IMBA for their lobbying efforts but given that none of my favorite trails would fall under their building standards it’s tough to get very excited about supporting them. I’d rather support WAFTA, Copmoba, Dixie Trails, Moab Trail Mix, etc.

    Reply
  7. Lukelus says:

    Volunteered for an IMBA chapter in a Colorado national forest to see what they are all about. It was very from other trail building experience in the PNW. It was not my cup of tea. Seems the trail planning process and flagging are all done by a few top chapter people in accordance to IMBA guidelines- make trails like buttery sidewalks without catering to different riding styles. This IMBA chapter sought no input from the riding community and most of the riding community are unaware of the process. You cannot make minor suggestions, even on dig days, because the project has been planned behind closed doors. They are the ultimate trail dictator. In terms of trail advocation, etiquette and education, the IMBA has failed miserably in is own town of Boulder. If you look at IMBA’s website, it is more like a marketing consortium for the industry; lamer version of bike parks BC.

    Reply
    • mark says:

      Sounds more like you want a say but don’t want to take on any responsibility. If we as a club were to confer with all the riders on what they want, we’d never get anything built and what we built would look like crap. If you want it changed then you need to “get involved” with that club and take on more responsibility. Then you’ve earned the right to have a say in what does and doesn’t get built.

      Reply
      • Gene says:

        Hi Mark,

        Thanks for the comments.

        Did you guys build the trails at Renaissance Park in Charlotte? Great use of small acreage!

        Curious if you lost your insurance like Dale’s club did in the previous post?

        Cheers,

        Gene

        Reply
  8. Jeff says:

    We have so many killer trails in the southeast around Atlanta because of their help that I have no complaints. Could there be a jerk in a chapter? Sure, but that’s not a reason to bash IMBA. I support them.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Yeah Jeff, as I mentioned in the article SORBA has built some great trails in Georgia! I just got back last night from a skill progression in Ellijay and I have ridden, Blankets Creek, Little Creek, Conyers, Fort Yargo and quite a few other fun riding areas developed and/or maintained by SORBA. Unfortunately for me and many other riders in other places they have taken it upon themselves to change trails that many people didn’t feel needed to be changed.

      Thanks for your thoughtful response.

      Create your best ride yet,

      Gene

      Reply
  9. skipper mulligan says:

    I would say it is what it is. We should be thankful for what imba has started even with us losing our favorite places. If it wasn’t for them people like the ones whom posted above wouldn’t exist. We all have our views on how trails should be built and what direction imba needs to go in but in the end we do get to ride places we never could and have great trail builders maintaining them. Praise the lord…

    Reply
  10. Bill Cooper says:

    Agreed on all fronts, Gene. IMBA is turning into a trail dictating, trail sanitizing, power hungry monster.

    You even failed to mention perhaps the most impactful IMBA effort to your operations. IMBA bought Shaums March’s International Mountain Bike Instructor Certification so that they can now compete with the likes of Better Ride in the emerging MTB instruction industry.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Bill,

      Thanks for the input. IMBA does not compete with us at all, as a matter of fact their instructors fill in a gap that we could never fill, inexpensive instruction for beginners. Anyone can become certified by IMBA (regardless of personality, comunication skills, previous coaching/teaching experience and regardless of riding ability) and they offer a lot of riding “tips”, we don’t give a single riding “tip”. Our skill progression camps are three full days long and very intensive, structured learning environments taught by coaches that I hand picked from our students for their personality, ability to communicate, passion for helping others, previous coaching teaching experience and the ability to demonstrate the skills in our cirriculum. We have had a lot of students take lessons from IMBA coaches before taking camps from us and students who have taken camps from us become IMBA certified instructors and they will all tell you we do two completely different things (at very different price points)! Our curriculum is completely different as are our target customers. Our students want a structured skills progression that completely changes the way they ride not riding tips.

      This IMBA coach and student of ours said it best:
      “Gene I took your Core Skills clinic from Andy and Chip 2 years ago and it changed everything about my riding. Without going further I want to thank you sincerely. My riding is more fun, safer, faster, in more control, and better in all ways because of you. I wear your shirt and bumper stickers proudly and tell anyone that sits still for too long about it. Since then I’ve purchased multiple books and taken multiple skills clinics. I recently got certified by IMBA as a level 2 instructor and teach for Boulder Mountain bike Alliance. After all that I finally feel ready to take a Core Skills 2 in 2014 (near Boulder?? please!!…;) In all the clinics I’ve taken and all the books I’ve read (2 from Lee (McCormack) and 1 from
      Shaums (March)) it’s your class that has been the standard that no one else has reached. I’m totally psych’d to hear you finally plan to write a book. Sign me up for a copy, no matter the price.

      David Holshouser”

      Reply
  11. Chance Glasford says:

    Well I kind of see your point on some of this but I do want to point out that if an organization or city wants to build a trail they will most likely have a bid process and have the right to go with whomever they want. If it is built with federal money they have to have a bid process. You set your qualifications and peramitors and then choose your contractor from that. So if IMBA is the most expensive then that should play right into the hands of other pro builders.
    Also many nonprofit organizations have for profit sections of there organization that help bank roll there other agenda. I’m not sure IMBA could survive at the level it is operating at with out trail solutions. The money they make from that goes into the organization for use on advocating. I’m not sure how much of this blog is built on fact and how much is built on emotion….I will continue to support Imba. They have had a huge positive impact on the MTB scene in MN

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Chance,

      Thanks for your well thought out response! That is what I was looking for when I asked the question, “Has IMBA Lost it’s Soul?” It is an honest question and I wanted to hear from more riders.

      Create a fun ride,

      Gene

      Reply
  12. Ric says:

    I’m not a fan of IMBA because they went and gave us (Park City) a gold level ride designation award. That award serves to justify the poor trail building practices we have been trying to overcome for years. “The beginner trail, that is fun for an expert rider” is a great sign of good trail building. Our main way of building trails has been bulldozing grades in straight lines til it is time to turn and then putting in a switchback. No creativity, no passion, and no thought put in to the riding experience. The more I look at the IMBA award, the more I see them selling out to $$$ and profit at the expense of the sport. Park City has good trails. We (Basin Rec, Canyons, and pirates) have been working to put in better stuff, but the quality is sparse and the quantity is huge. So, If you don’t know how to ride a mountain bike; If you believe the ride is over when you get to the top; If you think riding is about maintaining target heart rates and high cadence, then pc is a gold level destination. If you are a mountain biker, pc is maybe bronze. IMBA is like ski magazine. ski magazine says the best ski resorts are the ones with the best hotels, restaurants, night life, and other things that cost a lot of money. They consider anything but skiing. IMBA is really starting to suck.

    Reply
  13. ed jack says:

    all I know is I wont give labor or $ to a dumbed down no feature trail or organization. labor and $ only goes towards the trails with free ride features and jumps and great single track with the jumps. soon as pharasees and authoridiots come to save me or profit, Im diss appeared….

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Wow, I cannot believe the offline response I have gotten to this article from people in the industry afraid to speak up! I asked one to please post what he emailed me here (on this blog post)and he replied, “Ha Ha I am in enough trouble with IMBA plus now being on the inside of the industry I think it might be best that I just tell you what I see personally sorry! I thought you should know my feeling please do not post ok! Just for your eyes!”. Here is his comment (name with held at his request): “Gene You are spot on about IMBA by the way! I have watched and seen it first hand at the World Summit between trailbuilders and IMBA trail builders! I congratulate you on this article.”

      And another:
      “Gene,
      We’ve never met, but I really respect what you’re doing and read your email/site a lot. On the IMBA and the ‘29er viewpoints, while controversial, you are right on in my opinion, I’m not a big website poster but wanted to reach out via email to let you know that I too have quit supporting IMBA and think my 6” 26er is more fun.

      I think that’s more b/c we come from similar backgrounds of what we want out of mountain biking, so thanks for being that voice for many of us.”

      Scary that these and three other well connected people within the bike industry are afraid to voice their feeling in public!

      Reply
  14. chance says:

    I will agree to the point that some things being built these days do feel “dumbed down” but I would ask how much of that comes from the land managers discretion and the specific builder… Each builder has their own style, desires and comfortable level of trail in which they build. I wouldn’t call Copper Harbor “dumbed down” built by IMBA…. I don’t know there are pros and cons to everything but in the end the person paying the tab has the choice on who they choose to build whatever….

    I can’t speak to the ride center title but it comes down to a set of qualifications trails are one but amenities are another but really it’s just a title… if you don’t like those trails don’t ride them… Or advocate/build some new ones….

    Reply
  15. chance says:

    bottom line person holding the check book calls the shots, so unless IMBA is paying for the trails and building them , the land manager/owner tells the build what they want and if the builder doesn’t build what they want they will be required to fix it. Most builders insure their trails for 1 year.

    this discussion has now gone off topic…

    original question: is imba too big and powerful? answer no

    thread rant question: does everyone like how imba builds trails? no, you can’t please everyone…

    solution: join an organization that builds the trails in your area, get active and advocate against hiring IMBA trail solutions as the contractor to build your new trails… as Gene mentioned there are tons of other qualified pro builders… you can all find one that has a style you like. Then discuss with your land manager what they will and wont allow on their land, then when you hire these pro builders explain what you are looking for and what their limitations are!

    Reply
  16. chance says:

    The other funny thing on this is that IMBA sub contracts out a bunch of the building stuff… like flow line trail design and progressive trails being in duluth building spirit mountain… that is an IMBA contract but to add diversity and because they don’t have an endless supply of builders they sub contract out…. Valmont is a good point… there were a few different contractors in on that. Alpine was one of them.

    Now is that preferential treatment for those builders? i don’t know i’m sure they have a list of preferred building companies that they work with, should we not choose them either?

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Thanks Chance, that is the kind of input I was looking for when I asked the question, “Has IMBA Lost it’s Soul”.

      Reply
  17. chance says:

    There very well might be an issue with IMBA over stepping its boundaries but IMHO if there is an issue with “sanitizing” of the local trails that is 100% the local trail group/club/chapters fault for not working with their land manager in a more direct manner and educating the people hiring and writing the check that there might be better/cheaper options that will please their users more.

    The chapter/clubs/trail groups should be building trails to what their user base wants or demands with in the limitations of that states regulations and requirements and not to build them to what they think they want. Now if there is some disconnect between the land manager and the trail group or the trail group in charge and their users… I don’t see how this is IMBA’s fault directly.

    I am all for, 100% advanced trails and I am 100% against sanitizing of trails! I agree on this that we don’t have enough advanced trails…. but this is more of club/chapter issue than an imba issue

    I see this not only in mtb trails but skate parks as well… every land manager wants “something for everyone,” while that is great but they refuse to see the bigger picture that the beginners will quickly become intermediate and then advanced and now you have an obsolete facility as your entire user group has out grown it and if no land manager is willing to think outside the box and provide for the upper level participants there will never be progression beyond mediocre….

    there needs to be something to get them started= green, something to get them hooked= blue and then something for the long term= black and double black and then when they no longer dig the risk at the peak they can step back to a comfortable level… progression is super important but you can’t cut the tip of the pyramid off!

    I’m not sure taking a stab at IMBA, a group that has done so much for MTB is the right approach. It could be argued that there would be no need for you, or your type of occupation if there wasn’t imba in the first place. Also you made a point of that MTB could happen any where :

    I’d also argue that you and others in your business wouldn’t likely have a successful coaching business if the only type of mountain biking available was hiking trails and jeep roads.

    I think there is room for all trails and these trails should be dictated by the local clubs and not by IMBA, however IMBA will naturally influence the trails as they have since day one…. Again if you don’t like something join your local club get active and make a difference…..

    also some one pointed out they wont support IMBA because they don’t do freeride? who do you think built Valmont? They totally support freeride… again it comes back to what the owner or manager of the land wants… that is what gets built

    Reply
  18. Greg Mazu says:

    Chance,

    Many of your points are not correct about how Trail Solutions is operating. The PTD project in Duluth is not a sub-contract to IMBA. Their contract is with the City of Duluth. Flowline is a sub-contractor on many projects for IMBA and as far as I know, they have no prime contracts this summer. Also, IMBA did not build Valmont. There are a lot of projects that IMBA had nothing to do with, that they receive credit for.

    You are correct that the land agency/check book holder holds the final say on a flavor of a trail. However, most of them refer to “IMBA standards” as the final product. Though the guidelines are good, it does not allow for a professional trail builder to implement what might be better for a given trail and flavor.

    Trail Solutions has used Trailbuilding funds to underbid professional contractors in recent years on publicly bid projects. I would love to be able to do this myself with my business (Singletrack Trails). However, the IRS will not allow me to create a 501c3 to fundraise money to supplement projects and get trail done cheaper. So why is it okay for a non-profit to go the other way?

    I was a long time supporter of IMBA. I voiced an opposing opinion to IMBA and IMBA Trail Solutions and have since been publicly called a Hater by IMBA staff at a conference to a potential client.

    IMBA is broken. IMBA needs a new Executive Director that can right the ship and continue to do good advocacy work.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Greg,

      Wow, thanks for having the guts to speak up! I have been amazed at the number of emails I received from people in the industry who have had similar experiences but who are to chicken to stand up for what they believe in.

      Thank you,

      Gene

      Reply
  19. chance says:

    Thanks Greg for the incite… you are right if IMBA is using the inside track to under bid people that isn’t cool. That wasn’t perception that I had. As for the Duluth project… I guess I made a jump to conclusion that Flow line was sub contracted as IMBA did the over all master planning and built 2 of the trails there…. flow line was hired by imba to do the bike park in steam boat as part of the IMBA/Bell Grant …. Thanks for your input

    Reply
  20. Greg Mazu says:

    This is a disagreement that I have been having with them for 3 years. It hurts me that an organization that I believe in and used to support will be so quick to dismiss a differing opinion.

    Right now, IMBA is crafting a response to this blog post about how we have it all wrong. That I am correct that Trailbuilding Funds were used incorrectly and that the employee who was responsible was dismissed. And that Gene just doesn’t understand how to build trails correctly because he most likely has not been through a TCC seminar.

    Really, the most important issue to understand is this: People who voice opinions that differ from IMBA are shouted down and called haters. This has to stop. If IMBA wants to grow as an organization, it needs to listen to people, learn from differing opinions, and implement a new strategy that implements all points of views.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Thanks Greg, your last sentence says it all: “If IMBA wants to grow as an organization, it needs to listen to people, learn from differing opinions, and implement a new strategy that implements all points of views.” Their response to me was that I should of contacted them with my concerns instead of “bashing” them in public. I explained that I and one of my coaches (on his own, completely separate from BetterRide) have contacted them on various issues for years and after a polite reply to the likes of, “we’ll get on it” or “we politely disagree they stop returning calls and communicating. Funny that with an hour of posting this they were emailing me and asking me to call them. When I didn’t return their call right away they found my unpublished personal number (probably in their records from all the money I have donated to them) and called me this morning.

      For the record, I asked a question here and then explained why I asked the question. As I stated before and will state again, I don’t hate IMBA and do credit them with doing a lot of good! I simply feel they have lost their way and need to change their direction and return to focusing on advocacy at the state and national level. When they do so I will restart the 1% For the Trails Organization we (BetterRide) started last year in which I challenged bike companies to match BetterRide in donating 1% of their gross sales to IMBA and their various chapters.

      Reply
  21. Charly says:

    I totally agree here. Leave them solely to advocacy, and leave out the trail building. I agree with the “emissions test” analogy. Perfect. And Greg I’ve seen you twitch when people point out that we need to do things by IMBA standards….the last few years I’ve really started seeing what you have been talking about. Good lookin out.

    Reply
  22. Sean O'Neil says:

    Nice post, Gene. I agree completely.

    To those commenters who are defending IMBA, I would like to ask — is there anything IMBA could do that would cause you to doubt their integrity or mission?

    What would it take for someone to begin seeing IMBA skeptically?

    My experience is that IMBA looked great at a superficial level, but the more I got to know IMBA and its work, the less impressed I was. Their trail standards are far too cautious, thus rewarding the most vanilla trail designs. They work hard at defending these vanilla designs, rather than acknowledging the paucity of trails which provide suitable challenge to anyone above a novice level. In my town we worked with IMBA on two trails — one a fully new construction, the other some long-needed changes to an existing trail. The first project, done with Joey Klein, worked out well. But that was over 10 years ago. The second was more annoying, with the Trail Care Crew being bossy and dictatorial, rather than helping us design interesting new improvements to a beaten-down trail.

    In the meantime their well-publicized activity across the country has soured me even further.

    I’d like to say I can support them now, but in my view they’ve become like the Sierra Club — once the leading enviro advocacy group, now the primary apologist for industry & development with a “green” spin.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Right on Sean! You made some very good points. Thanks for taking the time to explain your views and not being afraid to express them in a public forum.

      Reply
  23. ptba member says:

    I no longer support IMBA. My company builds trails for all users and specializes in mountain bike trails. The problem I have with IMBA is that by supporting IMBA I am supporting their local IMBA rep program and those reps funnel all of the “sweet” (profitable) projects to their for profit company Trail Solutions.

    Therefore if I support IMBA I am supporting a company that is in direct competition with my company. Also sick and tired of IMBA taking credit for every trail project even if they don’t have any input in the project.

    Reply
  24. ffelix says:

    It’s not just IMBA. I’ll call it like it is and say that recent “improvements” to classic Moab trails like Jackass Trail (the exit from Porcupine Rim) and the Portal are the worst sort of vandalism. Trail Mix apparently bowed to pressure from the BLM and flattened much of these expert classics that have been drawing us back for 30 years.

    It seems that riders now only like “flowy” trails where you never have to walk. But flowy also means easy. If you can’t ride it in one season, it apparently needs to be “corrected”.

    By all means, build easy new trails, but hands off the existing hard trails. This era reminds me of the chipping and gluing phase of sport climbing. It’s theft from the future, pure and simple. We need an organization that will protect that future, and I can’t see who that might be.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Wow, Felix, I had forgotten about how somebody (if you say trail mix I believe you) took a classic trail that thousands of us rode on our fully rigid bikes in the 1990′s (many in the 1980′s) and “sanitized it to make more accessible to the average ride on a 6″ travel bike!

      You nailed with you last paragraph, “By all means, build easy new trails, but hands off the existing hard trails. This era reminds me of the chipping and gluing phase of sport climbing. It’s theft from the future, pure and simple. We need an organization that will protect that future, and I can’t see who that might be.”

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts,

      Gene

      Reply
  25. Greg says:

    Hey Gene,

    I completely agree with the main sentiments behind this article. As you said, IMBA has started acting like a for-profit company, but then they turn around and make it seem like everyone who’s a mountain biker should be pro-IMBA and support what they stand for. Frankly, I think it’s ludicrous to take money that came from normal people that was supposed to be for a non-profit advocacy group and then turn around and pour those funds into a for-profit business.

    At this point, I’m sure Trail Solutions is turning a profit on their own since, as you said, they are super expensive, but what about the other IMBA ventures, like this new trail website you mentioned?

    I for one support my local trail advocacy and trail building group (who by the way, build some pretty technical trails), which happens to be an IMBA-affiliated chapter. However, until IMBA goes back to being an advocacy group and not a corporation, I will not be supporting IMBA on the corporate level in any way, shape, or form.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Greg,

      Thanks for taking the time to write a detailed response and share your opinion!

      Create a fun ride,

      Gene

      Reply
  26. itgotweird says:

    I believe that an organization that grows big and popular (powerful) by using such a noble mantra (non-profit, trail advocacy, etc.) should keep it that way. To turn around and use their immense following and marketing reach to crush for-profit businesses is unethical. I can’t speak for trail builders, but this is definitely the case with the new trail mapping site. By using a for-profit business (mountain climber site) to build a website affects many businesses in exactly the way that Gene describes. There are many IMBA chapters that rely on local paper map sales and online digital map sales to help support their organization and help pay to build new trails, in addition to trail map businesses that use their own advertising so that they can provide accurate and up-to-date trail maps free to their local IMBA chapters.

    The new trail project has all but destroyed that model. Unlike bidding for a trail building job, this project is done by a mountain climbing company that litters the site with advertising, but is essentially free. By leveraging the huge MTB community reach of the IMBA and using their noble mantra and non-profit status, they are effectively using their marketing muscle to fuel a for-profit business to crush other businesses. I think it is shady, dare I say corrupt. Now we are all stuck with half-baked trail system maps with incorrect trail names, inaccurate trail tracks, self-proclaimed local trail experts (that may or may not even know the area trails or have any good riding experience), trails on top of ski-run maps, and a closed/proprietary trail database. Any attempt to make a great interactive trail map online that is not engineered to sell you crap, is a futile effort in light of the IMBA trail map which is not great, but in many cases adequate.

    Not at all in the spirit of a non-profit or what I came to believe the IMBA represented in my years of mountain biking. Being in the position they are in, this would have been an amazing opportunity to hire a real GIS Expert and some software engineers with experience open source/open data GIS community to make this a great open source project. Fail.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Interesting, I haven’t visited the trail map site so I didn’t realize it was full of ads. Great points IGW!

      Reply
  27. Martha L says:

    With regard to trail building, I can’t say IMBA’s lost its soul. I’m saying this from my experience as a MTB advocate in the Tucson region, where we have a ton of multi-use trails to ride on various kinds of public land. Here, like everywhere, the land managers have the final say as to what gets built at the skill level their Risk Management team deems “safe”. Unfortunately, this level is often contrary to what the riders want/need, and this is what the trail builders are “stuck” building. This isn’t IMBA’s fault, yet they seem to get blamed for it. Mountain biking has evolved pretty quickly over the last handful of years and Risk Management hasn’t kept up.

    Reply
  28. Doug says:

    Interesting stuff Gene. I need to get more involved with my local trailbuilding and maintenance (MORE – Mid-Atlantic) – I’m not really sure who’s building what. While i’m all for sustainability in the trails – it does sometimes seem like the hard/fun stuff is getting smoothed out. Little concerned that’s what’s going to happen to the hard loop at Fountainhead – there’s some really rough sections up there that are super fun to ride fast.

    One thing I never liked about mountain biking was “amusement park-ification” if you will. I’m not a jump park guy (although pump tracks are so fun i’m softening on this stance). While it’s awesome to watch – that’s not what I want out of a trail. Nature, physical challenge, mental focus – are what i’m after. Thanks, Doug

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Doug, yeah, MORE has done some really good work, as have quite a few local chapters. I mentioned MORE and SORBA in my article as I am familiar with their work, I am sure there are quite a few local chapters doing great work that I left out because I haven’t ridden their trails (or if I did I didn’t realize it). Fountainhead is interesting as they definitely made it flow better but they took out some challenges I really enjoyed.

      I love your phrase “amusement park-ification” as it is hysterical to see riders out on their 6″ travel “all-mountain bikes” riding these perfectly smooth trails with groomed berms and jumps (where a 1993 hardtail would be a better bike)! I love jumps but you hit the nail on the head with that comment.

      Reply
  29. Ben says:

    If a trail builder can’t compete with another group that “charges more” and builds “boring” trails then it doesn’t deserve to make a profit or remain in bussiness. If you can’t compete in the market place it is time to go home and find something else to do with your time.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Great comment Ben, thanks. Please read Greg’s comments as sometimes the bidding isn’t always fair.

      Reply
  30. Dawn says:

    I own a trail design and contracting business, Blue Sky Trails, LLC. I have both sub-contracted for and bid against IMBA on various projects. I have known many of the Trail Solutions folks for many years and consider some of them friends.
    That being said, there is a growing resentment in the professional trail building world against what is perceived to be IMBA’s unfair “business” practices. IMBA is a 501(c)(3) non profit organization. Trail Solutions is a program within IMBA. It is not a for-profit business, it is simply a program within a non-profit that more than likely brings in more than its annual expenses. Quite a bit more, if I had to guess.
    IMBA, in its advocacy role, has the opportunity to work with land managers as projects are still in their conceptual stages. Often, they end up getting paid for planning, design, and construction management. They also frequently have the opportunity to offer their construction services via Trail Solutions before the project if let out to bid.
    It is a basic tenet in this country that projects paid for out of the public till should be let out for open, fair, and competitive bidding. There is often an amount, say over $25,000, which for most agencies is the line above which the project must be advertised and opened to all qualified bidders. The idea is that those who have obtained the required licenses, insurance, etc shall be afforded the opportunity to compete on a level playing field for the job.
    That is difficult to do in an environment where one entity has an edge from the get-go during the planning process and is able to insinuate itself into the job without the project even being let out to bid. It is also difficult for a for-profit business to compete against an entity that pays no income tax, enjoys non-profit rates for its workers comp insurance, and non-profit rates for its liability insurance. Those are all really big bills that real businesses have to pay. I ran a trails advocacy non-profit in Colorado for 5 years, and trust me, there is a huge difference in insurance rates between non-profits and for-profits, even if they are doing more or less the same thing. I am also sure that were we exempt from income taxes, many of us in the trails construction business could happily lower our rates accordingly…
    I have seen good work and bad, and everything in between over my many years in the trails business. I am not going to comment on the quality of anyone’s work. I am just pointing out why many professional contractors in a growing field truly resent projects being handed to IMBA because they got there first, or because of their name, or whatever. If a government entity using tax dollars has a project that they cannot handle in-house, it should go to bid.
    That being said, there are many “non-profit partners” in the trails world doing work for the government. The Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, Wildland Restoration Volunteers, I could go on and on. Generally, though, those groups are local or regional in scope, rely a great deal on volunteerism for their labor force, and are not consciously and systematically in competition with for-profit business. These organizations exist in a “gray area” that always has and always will exist in the land management world. I do feel, however, that IMBA has squarely stepped out of the gray area and into the black, openly or not-so-openly competing with an unfair advantage against legitimate for-profit business. This is not what the IRS intended with the creation of the 501(c)(3) designation at all. IMBA’s Board, for the good of the organization, should dismantle Trail Solutions, as it is fundamentally endangering the status of their organization and the high profile advocacy role that it has achieved.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Wow Dawn, if I knew you I would have had you write the article! Thanks for explaining what is going on much better than I did!

      I hope everyone reads this post.

      Thank you,

      Gene

      Reply
  31. Hank says:

    If I were executive director of IMBA I would get more local input before starting a trails project and then I would subcontract or hire skilled locals or the trail building business of their own choosing. As far as the trails map site, I would link to the local club’s websites that had complete local trails info so they could benefit by having grateful riders donate to their trail maintenance funds and become more aware of the locals efforts. I would not cow tow to ass kissers but would prefer to listen to ass kickers…we kick ass but don’t kiss ass which is why none of our trails are IMBA ride centers or whatever. I also would not want to be labeled as IMBA Vanilla where all you get is lip service. Think global but act local!

    Reply
  32. Dave Cichan says:

    Organizationally speaking IMBA has become a quasi-mountain bike advocacy organization.

    Yes. IMBA is horribly broken. Not only does IMBA not represent the interests of their membership, they are unaccountable to all mountain bikers, have become a competitor and a threat to non-IMBA advocacy organizations, and are now using their not for profit status to game all for-profit businesses related to mountain bike tourism.

    It has taken quite a while for this story to escape the editorial self-preservation instincts of the mountain bike propagandists and actually see the light of day… So what are we mountain bikers going to do about it?

    I’d like to propose that all of us who have participated in this discussion invest a little more time to collaborate and organize these thoughts and points into a formal response to IMBA in which we demand accountability and change.

    Based on my own recent experience I’m not expecting IMBA to change or even listen. However, I think we can all agree that IMBA need to be given the benefit of the doubt.

    If IMBA chooses to stay the course then there is a very hard choice to make:

    a) Suffer the consequences; a future of indentured servitude to apathetic land managers, while our trails become vanilla mediocrity imposed by IMBA’s ‘mountain bike central planning’ architects or

    b) Seek to de-fund IMBA and replace it with the kind of mountain bike advocacy organization that is accountable first to it’s membership and responsive to what we need and want.

    Thank you Gene for taking a risk and providing this forum to discuss a tough subject that we all care deeply about. Also thank you to all of you who have had the courage to speak up.

    Reply
  33. Steve H says:

    Welcome to the NEW WORLD ORDER, corporations don’t give 2 cents for their constituents / customers.
    Its all about $$$ and Ego’s.

    Hey Gene, I would love to see an article about what makes a LBS great or crappy. I have 2 LBS in my area and I have been frequently very disappointed with the service and value. The best thing I ever got from my LBS was to learn to do my own wrenching!

    Thanks gene

    Reply
  34. chollaball says:

    I live in Phx, for a few yrs I’ve gotten unimpressed with IMBA’s influence on trail design – like you said, very generic, lowest-common denominator. Not bad, and we’re thankful for the trails, but not all that exciting. They are providing a grant for a skills park to our local org, so I’m hoping they are listening to some of that feedback.

    I have given up on IMBA’s regional reps after the last year of actions in Sedona, where they basically sold out the locals and tried to claim themselves as the voice of the MTB community. Sedonaj was fun, but it became amazing in the last ~5 yrs thanks to some builders with vision for incredible trails. There were a lot of politics involved with the Forest Service, illegal building…but the facts are IMBA walked away from the locals who had done all this incredible building and inserted themselves between the locals and the forest service. Their position was they didnt want to jeopardize their overall relationship with the Forest Service by disagreeing with them in Sedona. Fine, but, leave…don’t ever sell out the locals. I ride Sedona a couple times a year, to me I’m much more connected to it and friends there than to out-of-towners from a National org.

    Reply
  35. Dean Williamson says:

    Hi Gene,

    Thanks for the thought provoking and discussion inspiring article!

    After reading comments from Lukelus, Ric, Greg Mazu, PTBA Member, Ffelix, Itgotweird, and Dawn; I now realize that it’s even worse than I had previously thought!

    Their comments also helped to add some understanding and perspective to IMBA’s recent abandonment and throwing under the bus of the Sedona Mountain Bike Club, an IMBA chapter with over 70 members. The Sedona incident was so bizarre and unwarranted, that it prompted me to demand and receive a full refund of my IMBA dues, dating back to the day I joined. I felt then, and still believe that my payment of membership dues to IMBA had been accepted under false pretenses.

    Prior to reading your article and all of the comments today, I was already all too well aware of IMBA’s propensity to build wheel chair accessible “mountain bike trails” as well as their penchant for dumbing down formerly great, intermediate and expert level trails in the name of “maintenance”, “safety”, “flow” “sustainability” or “co-operation with land managers”.

    It is my belief that the original trail builder(s) should get to determine the routing and level of technical challenge of a given trail, and that obstacles or features should neither be added or removed by others. To place a cheater rock (or handicap ramp, as I like to call them) in front of a rock ledge step up, pry a large rock out of the tread of the trail, sledge hammer something flat, or create a bypass around an obstacle all qualify as trail vandalism in my book. If a section of trail is routed straight down the fall-line, and changes over time from being rideable, into a huge, deep, un-rideable, boulder filled erosion rut and maintenance nightmare, that becomes a different story. But if a section of trail is far too challenging, or has a level of exposure that is too much for someone to handle, they should either find another place to ride, walk that section, or better yet, take a Better Ride skills clinic or three, and learn how to properly ride that section of trail!

    I also believe that trails are art. To me, they are 3 dimensional, interactive sculptures, which are only complete when they are in use. Using this “trails as art” perspective, let me share an analogy with all of you: First off, NOT EVERYBODY IS AN ARTIST, and likewise, NOT EVERYBODY can build a great, or even a good trail. If a really great, properly designed and well built trail, that is fun and challenging to ride, can be compared to a masterpiece like the Mona Lisa; which was created by a single great artist; then perhaps we could compare a club “trail work day” to the third grade class painting a mural on their classroom wall. Like the third grade mural, some parts of the club built trail will be really amazing, while other parts of it will frankly suck pretty badly. Now, compare that to a trail built to IMBA guidelines. What kind of art uses guidelines? Yes, that’s right, coloring books! And last time I checked there were no pages out of coloring books hanging on the wall of the Louvre beside the Mona Lisa…

    So, if you want really great trails, have them built by a single great trail artist, like the trails that Brent Thomson carved out of the rocky, jagged mountains surrounding Bootleg Canyon, in Boulder City, Nevada. If you want moderately interesting trails, with a wide range in the quality and style of the construction, get your local club to build them. And if you want crappy, generic, soul-less, coloring book style trails without too much coloring outside the lines, turn your trails over to IMBA… just be prepared to pay a huge pricetag in both terms of $$$ and future land management control and choices!

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Love the trail as “art” concept! Brilliant! If someone spends the time and back breaking work to build a trail it is that person or person’s art work. As long as it is sustainable there should be no changes made to it with the consent and hopefully participation of the original builder/s. If someone can’t ride a section get off and walk (I assure you I will be doing a lot of that tomorrow on mountain Lemmon!), if someone doesn’t like the trail, ride somewhere else!

      Thanks,

      Dean

      Reply
  36. Todd Melton says:

    So, does this mean you’ll be staying off the wildly popular new Trail Solutions built trail when you hold your camp here on Maui?

    Reply
  37. Mike Hufhand says:

    Great thought provoking article Gene. All mountain bike advocates should read this because for the most part, WE are IMBA, and IMBA is US. Most if not all IMBA employees are just local advocates who decided to take their skills(or lack there of!) to a national level. If we don’t like it ….we should change it.

    They’ve done a lot of good in our state, though they’re not perfect. I hate saying “they!” (See above)

    Reply
  38. Tony Boone says:

    The cat is out of the bag! Many of us that have supported Imba for over 20 years saw it coming. Call it rogue call it haters. But the reality is Imba. You sold your soul. I’m disappointed I’m disgusted and my business is doing well picking up the pieces of your inconsistent support of non sexy clients and locations. Since when do you not return calls to your clients because their project is not cool enough. Keep it up trail solutions your on a roll …….. Dig in deeper

    Reply
  39. Gene says:

    Thanks for your input Tony. Care to expand on your story? Uncool projects? Calls not returned?

    Thanks,

    Gene

    Reply
  40. Gene says:

    Wow, my QUESTION, “Has IMBA Lost it’s Soul”, has sparked quite a discussion, as I hoped it would. There are a couple of things I would like to clear up as a few people have either misread or only read pieces of what I wrote and then commented on the article.

    I have a lot of friends at IMBA and I believe 99% of the people working there are good, well meaning people who aren’t being paid enough for the abuse they take from other trail user groups and mountain bikers. This article was not meant in anyway to put them down or diminish their accomplishments in increasing trail access for mountain bikers (which have been great). This article simply asked the question, “Has IMBA Lost it’s Soul” (strayed from it’s mission) and then stated why I felt it may have strayed, then I asked for your opinion. Other than a one snide comment on their trails being boring (which seems to resonate with A Lot of riders) there was no IMBA bashing, simply a desire to start a discussion.

    In short, I wasn’t “bashing” IMBA nor do I hate IMBA. As a 20 year supporter of IMBA I feel they have strayed from their original mission or maybe I never understood their mission, either way I don’t like the direction they are headed and asked for your opinion on this. When I state that I am unhappy with something president Obama did or something president Bush did I am not bashing our country or bashing the president, I am simply voicing my opinion.

    Some very interesting side notes:
    1. Within minutes of the BetterRide newsletter that linked to this article going out we were getting emails from an IMBA rep asking us to contact him. I didn’t reply that day so he called me the first thing in the morning (I guess he got my personal number from my IMBA records as it is not published on our website).
    2. We received this email the following day: “I posted a note on your FB page about the current blog concerning IMBA. I happened to mention in it that I was an IMBA member. Within 12 hours of posting that comment I was contacted by an IMBA representative asking me if I would care to elaborate on my concerns. I am crafting my response. I believe you have gotten their attention.
    Cheers,

    John”
    3.We have received four emails from people in the industry saying they agree with what I said but, please, do not publish their name or their sentiments as they are afraid of what could happen. I asked one to please post what he emailed me on the first IMBA blog post)and he replied, “Ha Ha I am in enough trouble with IMBA plus now being on the inside of the industry I think it might be best that I just tell you what I see personally sorry! I thought you should know my feeling please do not post ok! Just for your eyes!”. Here is his comment (name with held at his request): “Gene You are spot on about IMBA by the way! I have watched and seen it first hand at the World Summit between trailbuilders and IMBA trail builders! I congratulate you on this article.”

    And another:
    “Gene,
    We’ve never met, but I really respect what you’re doing and read your email/site a lot. On the IMBA and the ‘29er viewpoints, while controversial, you are right on in my opinion, I’m not a big website poster but wanted to reach out via email to let you know that I too have quit supporting IMBA and think my 6” 26er is more fun.

    I think that’s more b/c we come from similar backgrounds of what we want out of mountain biking, so thanks for being that voice for many of us.”

    My favorite: “Gene: On a personal level I stopped supporting IMBA 5 years ago when I realized they would not support our local trails in Florida. We formed our own local support group and we fund our selves to the tune of +$40,000 a year through races. Now we have a great working relationship with the land managers and have never been happier. On the other side we rely on IMBA members for business so I can’t post this publicly but I am no longer an IMBA fan.”

    After reading all of the 50 or so responses so far I have a better idea of where I stand on this issue. If IMBA wants to give up on their trails website and spin off their trail building business and make it a separate for profit business that donates it’s profit’s to IMBA and simply return to advocacy at the state and national level I would return to supporting them (and I believe thousands of mountain bikers would do the same). Why? A new trail access website isn’t needed and would hurt local bike shops, local trail organizations and the existing for profit trail websites. If they were to make their Trail Solutions business for profit it would level the playing field and protect their non-profit status for their advocacy.

    Reply
  41. Jake Carsten says:

    Hi Gene,

    I have to ask. Have you actually taken an ICP certification class? I would have to guess you have not, because your comments are way off base. I have taken both a 3 day BetterRide clinic and the IMBA ICP Level II certification and can offer the following.

    Your statements are very misleading as you are comparing BetterRide coaches to students who have gotten certified through the IMBA ICP program, and not the coaches that teach the IMBA ICP certification program. You are not comparing apples to apples.

    1. The only real difference between the two programs is that a BetterRide camp focuses on teaching the student the riding skills (to be a better rider), while the ICP course focuses on teaching the student how to teach those skills to another rider (to be a better instructor).

    2. You say ICP clinics give tips and that BetterRide clinics don’t. 85-90% of what I was taught in both camps was virtually identical.

    3. You stress that your coaches are hand picked for their abilities. The IMBA ICP Certification instructors are also hand picked. As of right now, the only master coach that teaches the ICP courses is Shaums March. I assume you are alluding to the students who become certified….which is VERY different from someone who is teaching a certification course.

    4. You stress that your clinics are a full 3 days of instruction. The IMBA ICP instructor certification course is 3 1/2 days long and comes with a 160 page instructor manual.

    5. You also stress that the two are very different price points. A BetterRIde camp costs $600 for 3 days, while the IMBA ICP course costs $700 for 3 1/2 days (and includes the 160 page instructor manual). I’m not seeing much difference here.

    With all that said, myself and another coach (who has taken both your clinic and gone through the IMBA ICP program) recommend to students that want to become instructors to first take the BetterRIde clinic (to focus on their riding skills) and then take the IMBA ICP course (to focus on their instructing skills).

    I think you were way off base and misleading the public with your comments. I would encourage you to attend an ICP Certification course before knocking it. Myself and a friend who attended the ICP Certification course were completely blown away by how professional, thorough, and rigorous it was. And it does include an evaluation component (both a written exam and multiple instructor delivery exercises) for you to be able to receive your certification.

    How a student of the IMBA ICP certification program does or does not perform after getting their certification is dependent upon how that student prepares, studies, and trains to be a good instructor, and is outside the control of the IMBA ICP program.

    I will still continue to recommend the BetterRIde program despite your ill informed and slanderous remarks about the IMBA ICP program.

    Happy trails.

    Reply
  42. Gene says:

    Hi Jake,

    Thanks for your comments. I think we are actually on the same page here, if you reread what I wrote I wasn’t comparing our camps to the ICP certification camps, I was comparing what ICP instructors do once they are certified (as far as I know ICP certified instructors do not put on 3 day skills progressions) to what we do and trying to explain how we don’t really compete for students. We feel they are not competitors (again, the ICP certified instructors) and actually compliment what we do as we don’t offer short lessons and don’t have a curriculum for “never ever” mountain bike riders. In, short I was saying we do two similar but different things. I have great respect for Shaums as person and a coach and love what he is doing.

    Thanks again for your comments,

    Gene

    Reply
  43. Dorse says:

    Most of the best trails here in BC have been built by pirate builders and maintained by a group of volunteers. These trails have features that are in some cases more dangerous to hike than to ride. I have spent time in Sedona and Washington state and The trails south of the border most always seemed dumbed down. There were a few trails in Sedona that were challenging but most have now been closed down. Transept comes to mind.

    Now to answer the Question. Has IMBA lost is’ soul. Yes Mr. Kell is proof IMBA has no soul. Maybe they have become victims of their own success. But they in no way represent me or any of the desires my ridding buddies have. They do have cheap insurance for those who race.

    Reply
  44. Gene says:

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for the input. I had the pleasure of riding in Whistler, Squamish and Pemberton this summer and wow, what a difference! Will be moving up there next summer, great trails and great attitudes.

    Your final statement really says a lot, “But they in no way represent me or any of the desires my ridding buddies have.” I have been amazed at the number of responses I have gotten that say basically the same thing. I was expecting a lot of comments defending IMBA but have only gotten a few.

    Create a fun and challenging ride,

    Gene

    Reply
  45. Griff Wigley says:

    Hey Gene,

    I see your software’s trackback feature caught my blog post and linked to it in the comment thread but I thought I’d add a comment here anyway that alerts you and anyone else to it in a more personal way!

    Critiquing Gene Hamilton’s critique of IMBA
    http://mountainbikegeezer.com/2013/11/critiquing-gene-hamiltons-critique-of-imba/

    As you’ll see, I disagree with you. But I’m glad you’ve started the conversation about the issues and I hope something constructive comes of it.

    Griff

    PS – And please consider turning off the setting that forces a visitor to read the next blog post after x amount of time. It’s very disruptive when reading as well as when typing up a reply.

    Reply
  46. Griff Wigley says:

    ene, I’m guessing your site has a WordPress plugin installed that has a setting to rotate the posts, something like this one: http://wordpress.org/plugins/rotating-posts/

    You should have access to your plugins at:
    http://betterride.net/wp-admin/plugins.php

    The other problem in this comment thread is that each comment should have its own URL visible so that others can link right to a specific comment.

    If you’re still stuck, contact me via my page and I’ll try to help:
    http://mountainbikegeezer.com/contact/

    Griff

    Reply
  47. Emil Walcek says:

    If not IMBA, who? There is a need. Change on every level you can think of can only come by engagement, and that means involvement beyond your $35/yr membership, or sponsorship agreement.

    Reply
  48. Louie says:

    I live in eastern Canada where we have hilly terrain, perfect for mountain biking. 2years ago my local cycling worked to get IMBA here with the lead of a couple who attended a IMBA workshop the year before. Our municipality paid the fee to get IMBA here as the trail network is within the city and snakes throughout a central city park with trails built by guys like me over the years with little knowledge of proper sustainable trail building.
    I felt the knowledge passed on by the IMBA rep was good but not always applicable in our case such as building berms and using rock when we have very rooty wet terrain through a lot of trails where bridging or extensive rock work is the only answer. Of course IMBA expected us to join which we all did and I received emails asking for donations since so I responded and stated that while I see IMBA doing lots of work on the west coast and throughout the states they have yet to do any work in the east. The response I received was that they had been to a park in our region to design a trail but that was three years ago and it hasn’t been touched since. They really don’t seem to spread out the trail work unfortunately but they still want money from everywhere.

    Reply
  49. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you for writing this. You could not be more correct. And the Chapter program now serves to feed the process even more, by requiring local clubs to embrace the Trail Solutions rather than looking for local contractor. They have lost their Soul.

    Reply
  50. Gene says:

    Hi Griff,

    Thanks for your level headed response to my question.

    As for turning off the setting that forces a visitor to read the next blog post after x amount of time, I would love to. Any idea how? My wordpress skills are not the sharpest.

    Thanks,

    Gene

    Reply
  51. Griff Wigley says:

    Gene,

    How do you square your criticism of IMBA dumbing down trails and making new ones that are ‘predictable’ and ‘boring’ with the Sandy Ridge Trail in Oregon? See this See this PinkBike article from July (photos and video included):
    http://www.pinkbike.com/news/Oregons-Sandy-Ridge-Trail-System-2013.html

    Quote:

    “The BLM immediately engaged IMBA to design a varied, bike-specific system of singletrack that could stand up to regular heavy use. The BLM also involved the public and responded to requests for challenging options by building rocky, rooty, scrappy, black and double-black diamond trails, as well as a long line of jumps, berms, gaps and tabletops built in an old road bed.”

    Reply
  52. Gene says:

    Hi Griff,

    As you stated I did criticize IMBA, an organization I have supported for 20 years and last year gave $3,000 to. I never said they haven’t ever done anything good, after all I did support them for 20 years and still think they do a LOT of good. I simply questioned some things they have been doing recently.

    Having ridden the Sandy Ridge trail system this summer I feel fairly qualified to comment on those trails. They aren’t bad, a couple of them are really fun.Interesting comment about Black Diamond and Double Black Diamond trails though. In your opinion what percentage of mountain bikers should be able to ride a “double black diamond trail”? If a trail is a “double black diamond”, on a scale of 1-10 (1 being easy, 10 being only the top 1-2% of mountain bikers can ride it) what would a “double black diamond” trail rate? I ask these questions because I rode every trail there in the rain and none of them were that hard (compared to trails I have ridden and seen 100′s of other mountain bikers ride), are the trails I mention quad black diamond? Is the famous Oregon trail network called Black Rock eight black diamond? I ask these questions because I have ridden so many “expert” trails that would be called a beginner trail in BC it makes me think riders are labeling trails “expert” so they can tell there non-riding buddies that they wrote a bunch of “expert trails” over the weekend. Shouldn’t you have to be an “expert rider” to ride an expert trail?

    There are couple of original trails there that have some sweet table tops leading to some fun double jumps (pictured on the BR facebook page) that I rode but according to some of the locals I talked to they were built years ago without IMBA’s assistance. The table tops built on one of the upper trails were super scary and dangerous for table top jumps, they were small enough to invite riders that don’t know how to jump well to try them (I witnessed some scary riding on them) but not built in a such away that if you get backside on the first one you will have the right speed for the next one, Some were too short some too long. Great concept but poorly executed.

    There were also berms built on almost every corner! What a waste of manpower and such an unnatural concept! Don’t get me wrong, I love a well placed berm that helps a trail flow better (such as when no matter how good a rider is they can’t carry enough speed around a flat corner to clear a rise in the trail or jump) but leave some flat corners to challenge us and help us become better riders.

    I short, the trails were pretty good (a couple were super fun!) and certainly a step in the right direction but what about all the terrible trails?

    Griff, so far you asked IMBA questions and they denied any wrong doing. Imagine that, a company accused of doing wrong denying it! (no offense but that wasn’t exactly investigative reporting, of course companies are going to deny doing any wrong) You have also mentioned one example of them doing good (in your opinion) in Minnesota and one example in Oregon, a pretty limited and biased sample size. Please, interview some of the trail builders and riders who have commented on this post that mentioned specific examples of IMBA not doing good. So far you have done a great job of defending IMBA by only mentioning and interviewing one point of view. When I asked the question, “has IMBA lost it’s soul” I never said they are terrible and only do bad, I stated that I have supported them for twenty years and like the advocacy work they do. I didn’t trash IMBA, I just explained why I have stopped supporting them and wanted to hear others opinion. I enjoy hearing BOTH sides of the story so please since you have done two pro-IMBA posts please interview a few of the majority of riders that have feelings similar to mine (again you can find them here and I am sure they would be more than happy to speak with you). Looking forward to reading your interviews with riders and trail builders who disagree with your view point in your next post.

    Cheers,

    Gene

    Reply
  53. Gene says:

    Good question Walcek! Who should I give my $35, urm, $3,000 a year to? I supported IMBA for 20 years, last year as you know to the tune of $3,000 and now I don’t know who will fight the good fight for trail access anymore. I sure which IMA would return to their roots of advocacy so I could continue my $3,000 a year donation!

    Reply
  54. Jeffrey O’Hara says:

    If Trail Solutions is truly competing with for profit builders, that is probably bad. I am seeing some grey among the comments here. I have to read up on Sedona. But my experience with IMBA has been good. They have books and classes. I was at a hands on seminar at Chimney Rock park near Bound Brook NJ. They were teaching flagging, following the flow and percentage of fall line and all that. I never heard them dictate that you must do this or that and often say it depends on the situation and sometimes a section may not fit guide lines and that is ok. If it works out it is good, it can always be fixed if it proves unsustainable.
    It seemed very up to the trail builders. I never heard it has to be this way or that during the local chapter JORBA trail build or maintenance sessions. Quite the opposite, they always seem open to constructive input. They make trails for all levels, some quite technical.

    IMBA is a good source for teaching and learning. I have one of their books. There maybe be others doing this service, but I am not aware of them.

    So it seems most will agree that IMBA got us to a good place, so the “Lost it’s soul” question seems to be the about Trails Solutions. If they are coming in when no other option is present that is a good thing. That means more trails.

    If they are pushing out other builders insidiously or coincidentally, we still get trails, but the for profits suffer and the more any one group builds trails the more similar they will be, like any artist, if you like that analogy.
    Trails are not set it and forget it situation. Sometimes even masterpieces need repair.

    I am a XC rider, jumps don’t do much for me and I am just learning to berm after over two decades on dirt. But I do like variety.

    Reply
  55. Dale says:

    Here’s our perspective. For some time, our local scene has been dominated by one mountain bike club, with a tendancy to cite IMBA trail building standards and the “s” word with a near religious fervor. There’s been a trend toward “fixing” sections of trail that are either “not sustainable” or are “not safe.”

    Those of us into AM/FR/DH recognized that our riding styles were not represented. So we formed our own club, contracted with a private land owner to build progressive freeride trails with bike park quality berms, jumps, ladders, drops, and Northshore style skinnies. We’ve even broken ground on a slopestyle course. I can confidently say that what we have is very unique within Texas and brought a whole new riding experience to our area.

    Starting a new club was tough. We seriously considered becoming an IMBA Chapter; yes, the program where IMBA takes 60% of the club’s revenues in exchange for access to back-office services to help recruit members, collect dues, etc. Ironically, they weren’t very interested in us. Why? As a new club, we had 3 members. I heard from an inside source that chapters should have a critical mass of about 25-50 members to get any attention. So we grew the member base on our own – and now that we had to do the heavy lifting to get the back office in place to support recruiting new members, I doubt we would ever go back and sacrifice 60% that could be invested in our trails.

    BUT without IMBA, we wouldn’t have been able to launch when we did. Our land use policy required that we maintain insurance. We joined IMBA as an affiliate club, got access to affordable insurance, shovels hit the ground, screws started turning, and now we have sweet trails that never would have existed. Now we just hope we can keep them open.

    You may be aware of the recent announcement that IMBA is not renewing the Insurance Program. The email sent cited cost as the factor: “IMBA can not afford to fund the difference of a $400,000 premium, less the amount reimbursed from clubs and chapters, that would likely be $200,000.” The email further stated that our insurance would expire February 28. We received the email February 13, giving us 15 days to go it alone and find our own solution. You can check out MTBR if you want to read the challenges currently being faced by the clubs.

    From IMBA’s email, I understand that the Insurance Program, which covers the IMBA clubs for building and riding activities, would cost IMBA $200,000 per year. IMBA deemed that to be too expensive.

    According to IMBA’s 2012 Form 990 (available on its site), IMBA had $4.5M in revenue (with $1.1M coming from membership fees and $1.37M coming from trail consulting). Expenses were as follows:

    $2.2M for compensation, pensions, and other employee benefits for IMBA’s officers, directors, and employees.
    $761K for travel, occupancy, conferences, conventions, and meetings.
    $625K for administrative expenses including $326K for membership printing/postage, $156K for office expenses, and $106K for legal and accounting services.

    Running the organization consumes $3.6M or 78% of revenue received in 2012. Of the remaining funds:

    $377K was spent on fees for “other” services rendered by non-employees.
    $204K went to grants and other assistance to governments and organization.
    $ 92K was spent on trail building and repair.
    $ 88K was spent on insurance and, as far as I can tell, I believe $52K of that was the premium for the Insurance Program. Thus, I would estimate the delta to continue the Insurance Program to be ~$148K.

    The brief description IMBA’s mission statement in its Form 990 is, “Encouraging low-impact riding, volunteer trailwork participation, cooperation among different trail user groups, grassroots advocacy, and innovative trail management solutions.”

    So here’s the point:

    No doubt $148K is a non-trivial sum of money. But it’s only 24% of what IMBA spends on adminstrative expenses, 19% of what it pays for travel and meetings, and a mere 7% of what IMBA pays in compensation and benfits.

    However, that $148K provides the liability protection that unleases the creative trail building of the “more than 750 chapters, clubs, and patrols” that IMBA claims as its base. In terms of Return on Investment for enabling the mission of “volunteer trailwork” and “grassroots advocacy,” my opinion is that the $148K for insurance premiums to cover the thousands of club members plowing shovels into dirt is at least as important as the $761K spent on travel, occupancy, conferences, and meetings.

    Has IMBA lost its soul? If clubs are the soul and other clubs are going through the same analysis we are – i.e. having to scramble and go it alone to find a last-minute solution to the our single greatest barrier to building trails – and they’re wondering about priorities and what other value we see from IMBA, then IMBA certainly will lose its soul if it hasn’t already.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Dale,

      Wow, thanks for the well thought out and detailed response. I did not know that the clubs were losing their insurance and with a nice 15 day notice! Amazing customer/volunteer service from IMBA. Really sorry to hear this! I wonder if this has anything to do with the fact they were insuring “volunteer clubs” that were competing with their for profit IMBA Trail Solutions Division?

      Keep up the good work!

      Cheers,

      Gene

      Reply

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  1. […] read this recently and it had me thinking: Mountain Bikers, Has IMBA Lost it's Soul? Not a big fan of IMBA built trail or IMBA guidelines or rather valuing them above all else. It […]

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