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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!