Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lead to where, exactly?

I was recently alerted to a 'think piece' (not sure if it is an editorial as it is not credited) in the April 2011 issue of Mountain Bike Action magazine, page 20, (may not be on the stands yet) that is titled "Lead Instead of Follow".  I will not try to copy all the text here, but I have to comment on what I think is a poorly thought-out and misguided proposal.

The basic idea is that, due to the great strides made in technology on MTBs, and specifically the longer travel 'downhill' bikes, it has allowed them to be ridden beyond the typical trail conditions that the average MTB can handle.  This has encouraged illegal trail cutting on public lands in order to keep the thrill level up, being that the typical user friendly trail is "not fun to ride" on a DH (Downhill Bike).  So, in order to police ourselves, we should allow enlightened individuals to decide what just exactly a DH bike is and then mandate that a head tube badge or label be affixed on the bike to declare it fit only for racing courses or dedicated DH trails.  We are urged to do this before the guv'mint does it for us.


I want to touch on a few specific points and respond.

  • Certainly technology has enabled bicycles to be ridden in terrain that is far beyond what would have been survivable (or practical at least) just a few years ago.   I can see how that type of capability can lead one to look 'off course' for terrain that gives the rider an adrenaline shot.  That happened when the typical Jeep 4x4 trail rig grew into a tube chassis rock buggy and drivers were emulating the comp guys on public lands.  
  • The article makes a statement that the issue arising from this is not user conflicts on multi-use trails (as DH bikes are not ridden there...too boring basically), but rather it is individuals creating new and un-authorized trails that give them a hard-core experience.  In response to this trail building, land managers will react by closing trails to all MTBs regardless of the type of bike it is.
  • So it is upon our shoulders to label these 'type' of bikes appropriately so that they will be...well, not sure exactly...labeled as for competition only or for dedicated DH trails only, etc.
  • This will keep the government from making those decisions for us.
There is more, but that is the gist of it.  So let me think about this a bit.  For certain, technology has leapt forward to where the modern MTB has great brakes, suspension, tires, etc, and is strong and amazing in what it can do in the hands of a good rider.  But just how do you decide what is a DH bike for Comp only?  Is it bigger brakes than 'normal'?  Bigger tires than 'normal'?  Slacker angles, slammed saddle, shorter stems, wider bars?  Is it 6" of travel?  7"?  8"?  I have seen guys riding terrain on a hardtail with a stout fork that I could not ride on a Knolly big bike.  Is that a DH bike now, a HT with a 120mm fork and beefy rims?  Is it what it can do or what it 'is'?

The author suggests that the govt cannot be trusted to accurately label a DH bike, nor can the manufacturer or the Land Access agency (IMBA, etc).  Rather, it should be judged by a jury of its peers; folks who show up for trail building sessions and grassroots MTB efforts.  Well, I am qualified then, based on my past experience, to label your DH bike as not suitable for public use on open trails.  Do you want me doing that?  My "definition and identification" of what is a DH bike would not agree with others just as qualified.  I guarantee it.  Who decides who is on that panel of Illuminati?  What standards do they use?  I have to disagree with the statement in the text that it would be a "not too difficult task".  Pretty grey area.

Who enforces this new exclusionary ruling?  Will there be a ranger standing at the trailhead looking for labels?  Then what?  If 150mm of travel is too much, can I reduce the travel on my fork and be OK to ride?  There is no way to enforce it, and if there was, what is the penalty?  A fine?  What?  Is there a code for this? We have enough rules and laws now that cannot be enforced.  Will you be the one to tell me that I cannot pedal my DH bike down a flat trail with my family just because I want to ride it (even if it is not "fun").  Trust me...somewhere, someone will take this as a 'qualified' reason to keep you off a public land somewhere.  I mean, "can't you read the label, son?"  "Says right there that this bike is only for...yada yada..."

Will the bike makers want to market something that I cannot ride down a normal trail or dirt road, but only on a race course or dedicated trail?  How many riders live near one of those?  Who can make them put the badge on the bike when it rolls of the factory floor?  Congress?  Can a dealer sell one and be held responsible for it being improperly used?

A label like this only benefits the lawyers.  Think that some trial lawyer would not love to represent the 'victim' of a multi-use trail user conflict that was harmed at the hands of a rider on a bike labeled 'for competition only or dedicated DH trails"?  Oh yeah.  Payday.

So then we are expected to believe that land managers will respond to all this 'responsible thinking' on our parts and rise up to build us dedicated DH trails.  Create a need and fill it, I suppose.  What a vision.  I am skeptical.  The bikes already exist.  The trails do not, for the most part.  A label will not change that as far as I can see any more than labeling a street motorcycle the same way would result in road courses being paved in the town near you.

"What is the alternative?", it asks in the end of the article?  Well, as always, it just comes down to responsible behavior.  That, common sense, and courtesy.  And you cannot legislate that. 

We have too many labels already.

1 comment:

Fonk said...

Responsible behavior? Now you're just talking crazy! We can't expect people to do that! ;-)