How I Killed Mountain Biking And How You Can Save It

Forgive me, for I knew not what I’d done. I thought I was helping friends and strangers find great places to ride mountain bikes. How was I to know I was killing the sport at the same time? A little back story to explain my guilt and hopefully earn your forgiveness.

Back in my magazine days I came up with a reoccurring featured called “Destinations.” It became a popular feature in the magazine and it was pretty obvious why. “Destinations” focused on must-ride mountain biking locations and the stories were more than cool photos of guys riding sweet singletrack. The articles outlined how to get there, places to stay or camp, bike shops for emergency repairs and restaurants for refueling. Bike recommendations and trail choices were also included. I felt like the Rick Steves of mountain biking.

Written from the saddle
Many Destinations-type stories are planted. These stories are made available to media outlets by public relations (PR) firms or tourism boards who supply the information and photos (and sometimes the complete text). Ever notice that when you read about a new bike or product or destination, the same information shows up on a dozen websites or magazines? Thank a PR professional for that.

The difference with “Destinations” was that I (or one of the magazine’s staff) actually traveled to the location, rode the trails, visited the bike shops and ate the local blue-plate special (and paid for it). Imagine that? Instead of a PR company spinning a tale, we were actually spinning the cranks!

The death blow
So how does this kill mountain biking? My last visit to the McKenzie River Trail, a destination that “Destinations” pushed because it was so much fun, was depressing. The summer of 2017 trip found the trail to be crowded. So crowded that land managers have plans to build two separate trails to the famous Blue Pool (one for mountain bikers and one for hikers). Plans call for expanding the infrastructure and road into Gooseberry Mesa that was another “Destinations” favorite (I’ve even written about it here). Last time I was there in the spring of 2017, the trails, still super fun, were showing signs of heavy traffic.

Sorry, I’m not telling.

Social media magnification
“Destinations” started before social media was your best friend. My guide to fun riding may have reached 30,000 riders. Telling that many riders about a trail was bad enough. Then social media comes into its own and the 30,000 riders I hipped to the Goose tweet, instagram or Facebook the ride to their 300 closest friends. Telling 30,000 riders about a trail is like scraping your leg on a cactus. Telling 9 million people about a trail is like falling into the cactus.

I thought it was a service to mountain biking to share cool places to ride with other riders but now I’m not so sure. My feeling is to let everyone discover great riding places and then keep it to themselves. That is wishful thinking because a few taps on a keyboard is all it takes to discover hundreds of rated and ranked rides. So it is probably too late. Singletracks are going to get wider, rocks are going to rise through a once loamy trail, braking bumps are going to form before turns, it will be harder to find a parking space at the trailhead and worst of all, “on your left” will be heard way too often.

Yes, I helped kill mountain biking, but it was going to happen even if I had been as secretive as a surfer guarding his favorite break. Still, from now on, I’m not telling and neither should you. Guard your favorite rides like the treasures they are.

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