Wait, wait! I thought downhill mountain biking trails destroyed ecosystems, what are you selling here? Isn’t downhill mountain biking all about young kids skidding down sheer cliffs, creating huge ruts that carry all the dirt off the mountain? In a word, no.
Gravity trails are another term for steeper than average trails designed for descending. They are indeed typically frequented by the younger portion of the mountain biking demographic that is more endorphin driven. I’ve heard of these riders referred to as the Red Bull generation more than once. This is the group most often targeted as bad for the image of our sport and are at the nexus of the trail access controversy. They are sometimes identified as the “rogue trailbuilders” who are cutting lines on the hillside that are most prone to erosion. They are often ostracized within the sport and targeted by authorities for ticketing on the “illegal” trails that they prefer. And they are our best hope for environmental advocates for generations to come.
Without trails or representation the gravity set will continue to be pushed to the margins of our sport except in the handful of mountainbike parks and enlightened trail systems here in America. History shows that marginalized populations push back against convention which creates conflict that often results in police action and a negative perception by the community at large. And if convention succeeds, they relent and move back into the shadows and abandon what they love. Do we really want more kids spending their lives inside playing video games rather than outside, getting fit, working in the wilderness?
Now instead of a circle of kids around a police officer with his ticket book out imagine them lined up with shovels and McLeods in hand on your favorite trail. Imagine your city council meeting packed with high school students taking their turn in front of the microphone imploring the need for more sustainable trails. Imagine your kids training all year on local trails to tune up for competition around the country. Isn’t that a better picture? This is a reality in Canada and New Zealand, and a rare sight here in the US.
Sustainable gravity trails exist around the world and they are spawning an enlightened environmental ethic. Not only do these trails provide opportunities to learn about building trails and protecting wilderness, but they lead to wiser personal choices that benefit the environment (think re-useable water bottles, trash cleanups, and diminishing carbon footprints). Activity in the outdoors provides time for reflection and provides a perspective on humankind that can’t be had in front of the TV, in the car, or in the boardroom. Gravity trails aren’t just for the youth either, there are plenty of aging adrenaline addicts out there. And we need to get the ball rolling.
The future of our planet rests in the generations to come. The next John Muir is taking the bus to school today and will ride their downhill bike afterwards. And she desperately needs a legal place to ride that bike. If we criminalize their favorite activity, their love for the trail, who will be left to take care of it? Gravity trails can save the environment. Please join me in supporting the development of more gravity trails. Learn about what is happening in your area to support trails by joining your local mountain biking club or visit IMBA to see what they are doing nearby.