Skip to Navigation

Facing our Biggest Threats as Mountain Bikers

I have mixed emotions spinning around in my head these days about mountain biking.

On one hand, mountain biking has never been more important to me or more fun. I see how valuable and meaningful riding bikes on trails is for so many people: young and old, as well as new riders and even grizzled vets like me. All across the country, NICA high school racing is expanding like wildfire, IMBA Trail Solutions and other professional craft trail builders are creating amazing riding experiences, and more and more people are finding out how mountain biking can change their lives for the better. For many of us, riding is our rock. Riding resets our bodies and minds.

However, more and more, I’m feeling mountain bikers are divided. Two topics in particular are resulting in drama played out in print, online and over beers across the country. I’m referring to the blanket ban on mountain biking in congressionally designated Wilderness areas and the concern over pedal-assist electric mountain bikes (eMTBs).

IMBA takes both of these topics very seriously and, regardless of how simple they are believed to be by some, IMBA considers them to be complex and pivotal to the future of mountain biking. I ask that you respect the cautious positions IMBA has taken with regard to Wilderness and eMTBs. I know I have learned a great deal about the nuance of both in my short time as Executive Director.

My promise to you is that we are looking at every aspect of IMBA and how we can best move forward our mission of creating, enhancing and protecting great places to ride. Our entire extended team is engaged and working diligently on Wilderness and eMTBs, and updated positions on each are expected this year.

That said, while these can feel like the climactic issues facing mountain biking, there are bigger movements challenging the places we all ride. And hike, climb, ski, paddle, name it.

We’re facing an administration in Washington D.C. hell-bent on pursuing radical changes to public lands. This includes selling off our land and grossly underfunding land management. Under these threats the current Wilderness discussion could become a non-issue. And believe me, these champions of change love seeing us divided.

So here is my ask: keep the conversations going, keep them civil, and also consider acknowledging our common ground. That common ground, at the very base level, is that we are all mountain bikers. We can be stronger when we stand as one. Join us.

Stay tuned for a mid-May blog.

+ Comment On This Post


New to mtn biking, IMBA and a proud eMTB owner

Hi Dave,

I've read your blog/post, and found the title a bit concerning. Reading it further, I was disappointed that it showcased part of the division in the MTB community is around eMTBs. As such, I wanted to share my thoughts, especially being new to mtn biking, IMBA, and an eMTB owner.

I'll be 60 in a few months. Within the last 9 months, I was stricken with a debilitating heart condition that evidently runs in my father's side of the family. I was unable to even walk up a flight of stairs without great exhaustion and was in a very serious, life-threatening condition. After three heart surgery/procedures and $145K in medical bills, I'm fast on my way to recovery! Part of my recovery is getting back to exercise and more strenuous activity. While my real passion is scuba diving, its something I have not yet been able to do. Therefore I've been looking for something else that can help me along.

Recently, a friend let me ride his eMTB. What a great experience! As a youngster, I rode my bike everywhere and have many memories I'll always cherish. I also was an avid and frequent hiker. Not easy hiking, but extreme hiking in rough terrain and wilderness areas. Riding that eMTB, it became obvious that it could combine two things I dearly loved in the past. I knew it was something I should start doing immediately.

I bought two Monster E FS bikes. One for my girlfriend and one for myself. We started dirt-road riding and found there were many bike trails nearby (we live in the Carolinas). We tried a few of those trails and WOW! It indeed was putting two of my childhood passions together and even better, something I could do to help me recover my health. My eMTB is a level-one type and I challenge myself every time I ride to not use the electric assist, or as little as possible. The bike itself weighs 52 lbs and without any electric assist, its a workout on the trails. Each day it gets better!

I've done hours of research on trails, etiquette, access, laws and regulations (that's how I found out about IMBA). Doing this, I was very disappointed to learn about the polarized views of some regarding eMTB. While I do understand how people can see things differently, I do try hard to accept others opinions, as long as they don't adversely effect me.

The point I want to make is a simple one. Riding an eMTB gives me access to do something I love to do, and may not have done without one. I'm proud of my health recovery and accomplishments so far, and I know that mtn biking is a new passion that will reward me for (hopefully) years to come. The last thing I would wish on anyone, is to be stricken with a health condition, later in life that restricts them from anything they love. I also hope they don't have to face anyone, or group of people who look down on them, because they are using an eMTB. That point of view is like saying people who ride a ski lift to go skiing down the slopes are somehow cheating and beneath others or not worthy of being there.

Furthermore, in a short amount of time I've spent a lot of money getting into the sport, and intend to take biking-focused vacations, which will feed those local economies and the biking industry overall. That can't be a bad thing.

Dave, so far, I have not come across anyone who has been negative towards me because of my eMTB. I've just had lots of questions, interest and positive interactions. I intend to be an ambassador of mtn biking and especially eMTBs. I will do my best to make sure anyone who meets me on my eMTB will have a positive impression. I just hope that's what I get back from everyone else.

Safe riding to everyone and, all the best!


Mountain Bike Realities

I appreciate your entry here, Dave- well-written and thought-provoking. I have a great deal to say on the matter of threats to mountain biking, but I'll keep this brief:

- While I have very strong views on the inclusion of mountain bikers in wilderness (very, very strongly in favor), I know others disagree. I respect this and believe that constructive dialogue can be had.

- With regards to "ebikes", there is no room for discussion. Those things are not bicycles. To pretend otherwise is to asinine, willfully ignorant, or both. Those contraptions are motorcycles. "Motor"+"cycle"="motorcycle." As much as I loathe those mechanized travesties on a philosophical level, I could probably accept them. EXCEPT for the fact that, as you know, the relationships between hikers, equestrians, and bikers has always been fragile. To introduce motorbikes- because, yes, they are motorbikes- into the mix will absolutely wreak havoc upon the delicate balance we currently have.

So: there is no need for discussion or contemplation or review or dialogue: let's acknowledge that these things are motorbikes, deal with them accordingly, and move on.


I think any device with a throttle that moves the device forward without the need of human power (other than operating the throttle) can legitimately be viewed as motorized, and a case can easily be made that they may not be a good mix with non-motorized trail users.

However, pedal assist eMTBs are an entirely different matter. I consider these to be non-motorized because they still require the user to move the bike with human power and simply offer a boost to people who are older, recovering from injuries, or otherwise need some help getting up the hills. I don't see any conflict at all with non-motorized trail users. I don't have a pedal assist eMTB (yet) but have run into people who do and they did not detract in any way from my own trail experience. The bikes are silent and the riders weren't going abnormally fast. The competitive riders blasting down the trails as fast as they can with no eMTB have been more of an annoying distraction. I'm not knocking the speedsters, but if you support racing, Strava, and other people who are striving for speed, it is unfair to single out slower people who may need some pedal assist to also enjoy the trails. I think IMBA should unequivocally support pedal assist eMTBs as belonging on all trails that are restricted to non-motorized users.

I guess IMBA needs to decide whether it will cater to some of the more militant members of the "Go Hard or Go Home" crowd who may scorn the use of pedal assist eMTBs, or strive to appeal the majority of trail riders of all ages and abilities who just want to get out there and have fun at any speed.

Needless to say, I totally support all efforts to get more bike trails in our National Parks, Monuments, and other wilderness areas.

Same Old Song

Stand as one? Just yesterday we were told that if we couldn't fall in line with the super liberal leaning we weren't invited to the table!
IMBA's move first, they are the ones way too fat for their britches.

Wilderness and ebikes

What have you learned about the nuances, do tell?

Don't keep asking us to believe Dave, we don't.

Don't try to scare us, we aren't. Fear is the tactic of evil.

Show us what you got for a change?