By Vernon Felton
I’m not saying that British Columbia is a magical land full of unicorns that ride rainbows of sheer awesomeness dipped in maple syrup, but when it comes to access to mountain biking trails, the province to the north starts looking like something out of a fairy tale.
I know, I know … B.C. is overhyped. You’re over the North Shore. And Whistler. And Pemberton. And Rossland. And Squamish. And the Sunshine Coast. And Kamloops. And Nelson. And … wait, where was I going with this? Oh, yeah, the place is overhyped, right?
Look, I get that riders in the lower 48 have spent the last 20 years being inundated with pictures and videos of all the awesomeness north of the border and that it’s gotten more than a little annoying, but seriously, there’s a reason editors and filmmakers keep churning out all that B.C. content—the place is lousy with great trails. The number of towns in British Columbia that are home to hundreds of miles of absolutely brilliant trails is simply staggering. The place has no equal on earth. Seriously.
But it could. B.C. could have plenty of rivals.
Why doesn’t it? That’s the real question.
IT’S NOT THE TERRAIN
You might argue that British Columbia is simply blessed with the right landscape for mountain biking, but if being a mountain biking mecca were merely a matter of having hundreds of thousands of mountainous acres in your backyard, the world would brim over with places just as awesome as B.C. Here in the states, California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Montana all have the potential to be “the next big thing.” And, sure, there are plenty of great trails in each of those states, but none of them is home to as dense a collection of “legal” singletrack. It’s not simply a matter of terrain, but lack of trail access.
IT’S NOT THE ADVOCATES
You might say that British Columbia is great because it’s home to a lot of hardworking, enterprising trail advocates, and you’d be right on that score, but you can’t throw a stone in the states these days without hitting someone who’s busy trying to convince land managers that mountain biking is a healthy, positive and worthwhile activity and could we please, please, please have access to some of the trails around here?
Mountain bikers are organized and committed to building and maintaining trails. This is not 1976 or 1986 or 1996—we are no longer a horde of politically-disenfranchised kids who just want to ride on the weekends. Every town I’ve walked into is home to a brigade of riders who are conscientious, politically active and willing to do more than their fair share of trail work for the greater good. B.C. isn’t unique in that respect.
YOU, MR. LAND MANAGER, I’M TALKING ABOUT YOU
Here is what sets B.C. apart from the rest of the world—their land managers understand that mountain biking is not an inherently destructive force. More than that, they grasp that mountain biking is a powerful economic engine in its own right—capable of driving desperately-needed dollars into rural towns.
Many of the great riding centers in British Columbia are or were down-on-their-luck logging towns that have smartly realized that they can either try to derive all their income from moonscaping the landscape and fouling salmon streams with clearcuts or they can try and form a more sustainable revenue stream by becoming eco-tourism centers.
Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of Stihls and Husqvarnas ringing out across the northern lands, but communities like Squamish and Cumberland are clearly distinguishing themselves as savvy when it comes to reaping the benefits of having a constant stream of mountain bikers dumping $60 to $100 a day, per rider, into their local economies.
What’s more, British Columbia, as a whole, has a plan for growing mountain biking in the province. That plan has been in place for several years now. You can check it out here. In fact, I encourage you to click this link—it’s kind of mind blowing in its scope.
It’s not as if British Columbia was lacking for publicity in 2010 when Tourism British Columbia came up with a plan to “put BC on the mountain biking map and attract riders of all levels from around the globe to ride on the terrain we call home.” And yet they gathered the stakeholders—land managers, tourism boards, riders, trail builders and put their heads together. The plan they came up with is a logical, well-reasoned look at how the entire province could improve the flow of riders crossing the border and dumping money into local economies. Then they put their money where their mouth was. They invested in advertising. And, most importantly, they embraced mountain biking.
You might think that I’m full of shit with this whole article. Perhaps you live in a locale where the local government is on board with mountain biking—granting their seal of approval to the occasional new trail, but when was the last time that an entire chunk of the United States the size of several states sat down and asked itself: How do we become the biggest mountain biking draw in the world?
Sure, countless towns recognize that mountain biking is a powerful draw—that’s why you can always open up their tourism brochures and spot the photos from 1986 of smiling riders sporting neon green jackets and toe-clips. That’s not the same thing as actually investing in new trails and infrastructure.
Very few places in the states have taken that step. Kudos to towns like Downieville, Moab, Brevard, Fruita, Grand Junction and Sun Valley for embracing mountain biking, but those locales are the exceptions to the rule. Most municipalities walk a schizophrenic line between giving a lukewarm shout-out to mountain biking and all but banning riding from the majority of their trails.
So, yeah, I’m pointing a finger at land managers here. Get with the goddamn program already. Mountain bikers are not wheeled locusts. We pay taxes, we do trail work at a rate that few other user groups can dream of and, if you don’t give a damn about any of the above, we bring money to towns that desperately need it.
You want to tell rural communities to stop chopping down all the damn trees? You want to move away from poisoning the air and water, so that residents can bring home the bacon? Well, give them an alternative. Eco-tourism draws paying visitors to hike, run, climb and ride in the great outdoors. Eco-tourism is not just a nifty buzz word, it’s an absolutely essential part of the long-term solution.
Study after study proves that mountain bikers boost local economies. International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) has been touting success stories for decades now: Downieville, Moab, Fruita and Davis are just a few of the obvious examples of towns that have ridden to prosperity aboard the 26-inch wheel. Last week Lee Lau did a fine job on Pinkbike of compiling a comprehensive listing of economic impact analysesfrom mountain biking in Whistler, Squamish, the North Shore, Rossland, Golden and Williams-Lake. While the data varied slightly from town to town, Lau summed up the key findings.
*55 percent of riders had household incomes in excess of $80,000
*Riders stayed at each location three to five days
*Riders spent an average of $60 to $100 a day
Linfield College Professor Jeff McNamee found similar results when he looked at the revenue produced by just three mountain biking events in Oregon in 2012: the High Cascades 100 endurance race, a single-day USA Cycling Marathon Mountain Bike National Championship, and the three-day long Mountain Bike Oregon festival. Those events alone attracted more than 1,700 people and brought nearly $2 million into the Bend and Oakridge economies over the course of just five days.
LET US IN ALREADY
Mountain bikers are not knuckle-dragging troglodytes. We do not wreak destruction on the landscape. That mythology was never accurate to begin with and, more than 30 years later, it’s grown hoary and old. What’s more, that paradigm is hurting both riders and the rural communities that can benefit from mountain biking. Land managers need to catch up to that reality.
I know, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. I’m sure riders in British Columbia still face plenty of resistance from people who feel that the only way to enjoy the great outdoors is while walking, but if you look at the big picture, what truly sets B.C. apart is that the province has a vision in which mountain biking is embraced, not merely tolerated. It’s high time our land managers in the United States did the same thing.