The Culture of Mountain Biking Has Gone Astray

Earlier this week, at the end of a particularly exhausting workday, I wheeled my bike out the back door of the shop, turned out the lights, closed the door, and pedaled in the general direction of dirt. I didn’t have a set target in mind, just knew that I needed some downtime to decompress, sort out the chaos in my head, incinerate a few endorphins, hopefully even take a break at a silent overlook. All in the name of recharging the spirit within.

The closest trailhead is less than a mile away and my most frequent objective: Getting onto dirt ASAP tops all else, usually. But as I approached Highway 340 I could see a line of cars stretching all the way back to Riverside Parkway, all lined up to turn left, all heading more or less for that same trailhead. I aborted that plan and stuck to the bike path awhile longer, thinking I could head up Miramonte—a less used entrance only a little further away—but heavy traffic deflected me away from there, too. So as the bike path ran out I found myself merging onto Little Park Road.

LPR is fairly steep as roads go in these parts. I’ve climbed it literally hundreds of times in the 20 years I’ve lived nearby. It used to be my preferred training ground, then when racing ended it became the quickest way of getting to some of the lesser used trails. That would be it’s purpose yesterday. As I labored up the grade, breath ragged and sweat stinging my eyes, I was passed by a virtually endless stream of diesel dualies, #vanlifers, and mini motorhomes, seemingly all with a pile of bikes hanging off their back ends. Shards of music pierced the air as each motored past, puffs of cigarette and dope smoke escaped the windows, there was even a (potentially unrelated?) stereotypical Red Bull can in the gutter adjacent to the steepest bit.  

Given that it was 5 p.m. on a weekday I had no good reason to expect any of this to be different. People—you, me, us —have been blowing off steam after work since forever.

But something about this day really made it obvious that the demographic that is “mountain bike users” has changed, shifted. My hope is that there still exist people who use bicycles to get out, get away, to find silence and solace in the mountains and the woods. I know that they must exist, I just don’t ever seem to cross paths with them no matter how far out I go. Thus their existence remains hypothetical and seems less likely by the day, as each successive ride shows more evidence of shredding endurbros skidding into corners and cheater-line creating (and maintaining) dolts veering off the trail and through sensitive soils — all in the name of shaving a few seconds so that their name climbs higher on an online list populated by similar miscreants.

When did we become this crowd? How are these actions in any way morally defensible? Has our demographic gone completely batshit in the past few years, selling our soul in exchange for a map that no longer shows us the way?

These were the questions swimming through my head as I did, eventually, find a sliver of silence and solace on last night’s ride. I can’t say that I discovered any answers—I don’t even think I’m yet asking the right questions—but I did, in that one silent moment spent catching my breath while overlooking the Gunnison River, draw one solid conclusion: 

We are failing.

Failing to educate new riders on etiquette.

Failing to criticize the actions of fellow riders.

Failing to listen when they criticize us.

Our trails are being systematically shredded—yes, by skidding endurbros, straightlining shuttle monkeys, and shortsighted stravassholes. And by an industry that “sells” the sport largely by glorifying the above abusers. But also by you, and by me, by remaining complicit in the shadows and not saying “enough.”

Please note that in every way here I have said “we” and “our” and “us,” because while it’s easy to point a finger and place blame on others, doing so solves nothing. The problem is us as a user group. Ignorance is ruining the trails: Whether we’re actively doing the damage or standing idly by and letting it happen, we’re all to blame.

Riding bikes is something I’ve done my whole life. In ways big and small, intentional and not, bikes have defined the trajectory of my time on earth. I wouldn’t change that for anything.

Not to say that I don’t have regrets—I do. I regret that our sport hit the mainstream doing 100 mph and totally unprepared for the havoc that was about to be wrought. That our trails are being flooded by people who don’t understand what it took to get said trails, nor what it takes to keep them, nor do they seem to care. Mostly I regret that we don’t have the infrastructure to educate these people—not that many of them would listen.

What I would do, given a time machine and the ability to change the conversation in some meaningful way, is to slip back in time and plant some sort of a seed of understanding — some way of grasping what was coming—in the mind of someone influential in the sport 20 years ago. A John Tomac or Juli Furtado or Don Cuerdon or even—gasp_Zapata Espinoza. Maybe they could have done, or said, or pushed for something that would change the reality of where we are right now.

I don’t know exactly what I would say to them then. Nor does it matter now. Our sport has fundamentally changed, leaped the tracks you might even say, and nothing short of a wholesale reckoning is going to change that. Whatever words I might have conjured then would and do ring utterly hollow today, as we veer recklessly toward an unsustainable future.

I think most of us have been in denial about this wave of change even as it steamrolls our beloved local trails. It’s time to move on to acceptance—recognizing that the problem is real and not going away—so that we might begin to think about and craft a long-term plan. The biggest focus of such a plan would be on education, and specifically on recognizing that just getting people outdoors is no longer enough—you have to prepare them to behave appropriately and respectfully, toward both the land and each other, once out there.

I know better than to think that this little essay is going to be widely read. Nor do I believe that it will open the eyes of many who read it. But if it only reaches a few, and if a handful of those point the finger at themselves in recognization of the fact that we’re all to blame for our current state, then maybe we can begin to gain momentum toward a more sustainable future.



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