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A timely message to IMBA members and supporters: Wilderness policy agenda

Since IMBA’s inception, the question of bikes and Congressionally designated wilderness (“Wilderness”) compatibility has been examined, discussed, and acted upon (e.g., IMBA Land Protection Toolkit and Wilderness Toolkit). Over the past decade, IMBA has devoted proportionately greater resources to advocacy activities that support and drive mountain bike trail access gains on public non-Wilderness lands as Wilderness accounts for only 2.7% of the total acreage in the continental US. As new proposals for additional Wilderness protection arise, IMBA steps forward proactively and raises funds, researches, guides and supports our association of local members and chapters. We lobby and testify in Congressional hearings in order to craft  win-win compromises. We work within coalitions that have common interests. That’s how legislation gets passed. Pressure on our public lands comes from a wide range of sources and by any measure mountain biking has enjoyed a meteoric rise in access and influence.  And while we know firsthand the pain of the occasional loss, we also enjoy the privilege of being a respected and credible member of the federal lands community with an active and growing stakeholder base that continues to succeed in maintaining and enhancing trail access.

The very recent narrative being fueled by a new advocacy group’s (the Sustainable Trails Coalition) effort to change the current policy on bikes and Wilderness has brought new attention to IMBA and its chapters’ advocacy efforts. To fully understand how and where IMBA invests its members’ contributions is to understand how IMBA is organized. IMBA is not a national mountain biking club. IMBA is the sum of its parts - a true association of more than 200 local organizations called chapters, with 30,000 individual and corporate members, as well as independent local groups that connect to IMBA in a less formal manner than our chapters. The arduous work of preserving and enhancing mountain bike trail access happens foremost at the local level. It happens because IMBA’s grassroots volunteer advocates invest in local trail stewardship and public land conservation that gets noticed at the DC level.  Today, with membership at an all time high, IMBA has invested in full and part-time field-based regional staff (currently 21 paid staff and growing) who actively support local chapter volunteers’ advocacy and trail stewardship programs.

In February, IMBA’s board will finalize an advocacy strategy that has been under active development over the past several months. It’s an augmented strategy that will build upon our solid record of decades of effective advocacy work. This strategy is being vetted by select local chapter leaders and key advocacy partners as IMBA is mindful and respectful of all points of view. For now we simply ask that the entire mountain bike community please engage with your local chapter; don’t believe everything you read in the media and social media; and most importantly, support our many truly dedicated local volunteers with some expressed appreciation of their hard work. Thank you. 


 Robert Winston signature.tif

Robert Winston, Chair of the Board, and


Michael L. Van Abel, President and Executive Director



+ Comment On This Post


IMBA and wilderness

I was involved in the California Wilderness Heritage Act. Some six million acres of wilderness was established in 2007. We lost uncounted miles of trails. There was not a single acre of "alternative designation". We accomplished very little in boundary adjustments or leaving trails out. In fact I would say we got one fifth of the concessions promised in the final bill. At present, there is some credibility to "alternative designations", but wilderness advocates continue to press for more wilderness. We are at a continued diminishment and will be if wilderness is off the table for bikes. I was of the present mind on "grandfathered" wilderness as far back as 2002. Jim Hausenaur wrote a good articulate piece on it around then. It would have been a better position in the California Wild Heritage act legislation. This latest "beating" in wilderness losses is a continued saga, not an isolated failure.

So these questions are not new. IMBA has developed a thoughtful policy. But are you listening to your constituency?
I support IMBA, and have since 1992. But I feel we headed down the wrong path with this a long time ago.
A poll of individual members on the Wilderness issue is long overdue.
It would be easy to assume IMBA means the Isolated Mountain Bike Association.
Individuals and "clubs" feel isolated and marginalized.
A poll of members would be a valuable outreach. It could support this proposed legislation.

It's in Our Name

Having just read Bike magazine's article "Sucker Punched" in their December 2015 issue, they laid out what appears to be a real conundrum for IMBA. Certainly, through the web of local members and chapters, Wilderness land managers see and can advocate that mountain bikers are part of the protectionist crowd looking to preserve and enjoy these precious natural resources. However, the way the Wilderness Act was written and subsequent rules written have now been indoctrinated into Wilderness land management as a no bikes allowed mentality. Bucking, this position puts IMBA at peril of being accused of being against the protection of those natural resources we all covet and enjoy each in our own authorized way.

For some direction on this, I see that the name of the organization is a guide post...the International Mountain Bike Association. We are not the International Wilderness Authorized User Association. IMBA does and should always advocate for mountain bikers, greater access to mountain biking and adoption of new technologies that allow for increased enjoyment of mountain biking.

I for one am a mountain bike user that belongs to and leads a local chapter for mountain bikers -- period. I see that there is a generation of IMBA members who are conflicted by the currently held anti-bike doctrine that causes IMBA's leadership to appropriately go a very thoughtful pace.

The Bike magazine article mentions that half the emails and letters IMBA receives are from members who support the Wilderness ban. If this is the case, IMBA is certainly in a tough spot.

The leaders of IMBA will then need to step in and make a decision on which path they take: advocate for mountain bike access in Wilderness areas or not. Should they bend to current anti-bike doctrine, along with their impending recommendations they should then include a name change.

I look forward to seeing the advocacy strategy in February and truly hope it will advocate FOR mountain bike users across this great country.

Brindley Byrd
Mid-Michigan Mountain Bike Association

Thank you for listening and acting!

Bob and Mike - thank you for your countless years of service to further our sport. As a new Chapter President I've seen tremendous change within IMBA focused on the desires/needs of their Chapters.

Early this summer monumental events took place within Wilderness areas resulting in lost access to spectacular trails. At the California Summit it appeared IMBA was asleep and unaware of the community backlash building. The recent articles and social media posts ignited into a firestorm with only one side of the story being aired. I personally was angry at IMBA's apparent lack of action and leadership. Fortunately IMBA is NOT a mothership and is always accessible to Chapters. To other Chapter Leaders - CALL IMBA if you have concerns/questions!

Last week I spoke with several leaders at IMBA - ending with Mike Van Abel. I was surprised, pleased and also humbled by the efforts IMBA was doing behind the scenes. IMBA has been re-evaluating their strategy on Wilderness for months but knows the importance of creating a full-vetted plan before releasing it to the public. Realize IMBA's stance is being scrutinized by everyone - our community, politicians, environmentalists and all user-groups. This may be the biggest public stance IMBA takes in the next decade - getting it right from the beginning is crucial.

We need to give IMBA the time and support needed to initiate their plan to the community. We only need to review all the wins, land opened and new riders to see IMBA is a trusted and outstanding partner. While we may at times disagree, they are always willing to listen and consider change. And change is what is happening at IMBA! Mike, Bob and the team at IMBA - thank you again! San Diego Mountain Biking Association is very excited to see your plan and is a willing partner to bring access to cycling in Wilderness areas.

Kevin Loomis - President - San Diego Mountain Biking Association

Thanks IMBA

While I would love access to anywhere I personally want to ride my bike NOW, I think that approach is closer to how my 2 year old reacts when he does not get his way on his timeline vs how most level headed adults approach life. I support IMBAs current stance and keeping an eye out for changing landscapes if opportunities present themselves in regards to wilderness access. I am also encouraged with IMBAs work to increase access to trails in National Parks. Thanks IMBA for all the hard work you do. You cannot please everyone. Especially not all cyclists.

Looking forward to the IMBA's

Looking forward to the IMBA's forthcoming advocacy strategy. However, I'd like to point out that the STC wouldn't be garnering so much attention if everyone was happy with IMBA's approach and results. At the very least that means that IMBA is not "selling" itself right. The open letter from NEMBA president Phillip Keyes: says it better than I ever could. Your attachment "Asking the Right Questions" brings up legitimate points, particularly on the political side, but if IMBA isn't willing to fight for what members want and is compromising for beliefs of sponsors and other groups (which seems to be the general perception here), it seems wrong to stand in the way of others giving it a shot.

PS also looking forward to the e-bike stance mentioned in the NEMBA letter, and think 99% of members (not industry sponsors) of the IMBA agree with the sentiments mentioned in there.