August 31, 2007 Features & Images » Feature Story

Going Big (part 2) 

click to enlarge Downhill Mountain Biking has revolutionized the bikes now used for cross-country riding. Photo by Scott Brammer, coastphoto.com.
  • Downhill Mountain Biking has revolutionized the bikes now used for cross-country riding. Photo by Scott Brammer, coastphoto.com.

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Mark Flint, who serves on IMBA’s National Parks task force, is less outspoken in his criticism. Still, he’s started MTBAccess, a small Arizona-based mountain-bike group that has pledged to work with off-road vehicle groups. The Southern Sierra Fat Tire Association of Bakersfield, Calif., and a mountain bike club in Idaho have also allied with the BlueRibbon Coalition.

Perhaps due to the saber-rattling from local bike groups, IMBA has become more aggressive in its access fights. The group has a growing legal fund and recently hired its first paid state representative — not surprisingly, to work on access issues in California.

The group walks a fine line. On one hand, if it wants to attract the new generation of riders, it needs to push for more access for freeriders and downhillers. On the other hand, its older constituency (the average IMBA member is 37 years old) tends to be more reserved.

"We get letters from members who say they are pulling their membership because IMBA is trying to get into wilderness," says Jenn Dice, the group’s government affairs director, "and others who are complaining that we aren’t doing enough for access."

Even Gary Sprung seems to have some misgivings. "I’m not a big fan of freeriding and downhilling, only because it’s more about the bike than it is about nature," he says. "It’s not the same as regular mountain biking. It’s almost like a different sport." Riders who build renegade trails "have caused some environmental impacts and made my job harder," he adds. "And it does not please me."

Rethinking bikes and trails

No one knows the tough position mountain bikers are in better than Garrett Villanueva. A civil engineer by training, Villanueva oversees 450 miles of very popular trail in one of California’s outdoor sports hotspots: Lake Tahoe. Villanueva constantly sees the damage caused by irresponsible downhilling and freeriding. He has photos of the jerry-rigged stunts he’s had to remove from national forest land. He recently closed "Jackie Chan" and "King Axle," two illegally built trails.

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