Mountain bikers are an interesting lot. We'll drive two vehicles for fours so three people can ride shuttled laps. We don't think much about loading our bikes up and hitting the road for the day. "Close" trips are anything within an hour and "reasonable" trips are anything under three hours one way. Driving and shuttling become almost as important as the ride itself and we have awesome set-ups to prove it ... Dakine truck pads, coolers full of ice for post-ride brews, and then there's the whole #vanlife crew out there with their amazing retrofits.
So when do local trails become local? What does local even mean?
For a few years we lived in Vancouver, BC and the whole North Shore mountain bike scene hugs the outskirts of North Vancouver sloping down to the Burrard Inlet and sits a quick ferry ride across from the high density downtown of Vancouver. Local trails are truly local. But in many other places not so much.
In terms of accessibility and even equity within mountain biking I sometimes feel like a hypocrite where I'm speaking out of both sides of my mouth. This rears its head particularly every fall when I teach an undergrad class called Bicycles, Equity, and Race. While I address this conversation from the standpoint of life in cities and access to affordable transportation I can't help but think of mountain biking. Thoughout the semester I'm teaching on such topics as the costs of different modes of transportation (car vs. bike vs. public transport), wage and income inequality, racial and socio-economic clustering in our cities, and the like. I take students to work and volunteer in a non-profit bike shop in far east Portland in a world away from the hipster image that the city has.
For households making under $50,000 a year they spend more on simply getting to and from work than they do on housing. More and more the poor (and minorities) are being pushed into low-density and sprawling parts of our cities away from good public transportation and even a robust bicycling infrastructure such as bike lanes, cycle tracks, and the like. If they wanted to bike to alleviate transportation costs it is not really feasible because of spotty access and sprawl. But what does this have to do with mountain biking?
Mountain biking is already expensive and cost prohibitive for many. This isn't a rant against the bike industry nor anything like that. Technological innovation is costly and engineers earn their keep and rightly so. One of the major barriers really isn't as much about the bikes as it is access to nearby trails. While not everyone has the car ... and bike rack ... and gas money (or time) to drive hours to go for a ride they can potentially pedal their bikes over to hit up local trails (if there are any). Again, it's not always about the bikes. Besides, your childhood probably resembled mine where we rode whatever crappy bike we had while hucking ourselves off anything we could build. Maybe the brakes worked (or maybe not unless you had coaster brakes), the wheels were out of true, one grip was replaced with duct tape, and we stickered up our frames. But it didn't matter. We had a bike (with or without knobby tires).
We weren't limited by anything. Now did we have access to beautifully machine-built trails out in the boonies? No, but that's because there weren't any. We simply rode around town, in the nearby woods, and built our own stuff. But what happens when there are little to no accessible trails in and around a city? Maybe a better way to rephrase that question would be, "If you only had access to public transit or riding out from your garage what trails are accessible to you?"
I'm all for rides and adventures deep into the woods that require a bit of a drive. However, what can we do to ensure easier access in and around our cities for those who don't have the means and those who're happy just to have any kind of bike whether its from Dick's Sporting Goods, Target, or from a garage sale? We need more local trails.
Words by Sean Benesh, Loam Coffee Founder and Brand Manager. Photos by Grant Benesh.