Welcome to the Soapbox – a place where we invite you to express your opinion, no matter how well or ill-informed. A chance to vent your spleen, sing your praise, or chuck a tantie.
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There’s been plenty of talk lately about the ‘dumbing down’ of trails and a desire to ‘keep them organic’. As someone who has been riding mountain bikes for over a decade now, I can appreciate the sentiment the authors of these articles express and I acknowledge that they reflect the views of a large portion of the riding community – especially those riders who have been around for a while. As Founder & President of South East Queensland Trails Alliance (SEQTA) (www.seqta.net.au) I also have a responsibility to tell the other side of the story.
We can’t forget that in many parts of Australia we are relative new comers to the ‘legitimate user group’ club, and that even the mere allowance of MTB riding still makes some land managers nervous. But huge progress is being made, thanks in no small part to the tireless efforts of local riders willing to play the long game, building relationships and trust. It’s also important to note that many of the ‘design flaws’ of modern trails cited in previous Soapbox pieces do indeed serve a purpose – for example a new trail needs to be built wide to allow the riding line to develop naturally over time. Many modern design features are also a necessary response towards massive growth in trail traffic over recent years and the trend towards ‘trail centre’ style riding.
Until mountain biking reaches a level of maturity where trail building and maintenance is fully funded and carried out by paid professionals, the responsibility for the trails you ride is yours. Right now, grabbing a shovel is as equally as important as grabbing your handlebars. If you’d like to see trails look a certain way, the only way to have that input is by being there when they’re being built or changed. But that doesn’t happen… According to Facebook’s analytics, there are over 26,000 people in the greater Brisbane region who list ‘Mountain Biking’ as one of their interests. Contrast this to recent working bees in the region that have seen as few as 3 people show up and ‘pathetic’ is the only word that can be used to describe the current level of on-the-ground involvement by the MTB community.
I’m also the first to acknowledge that the trail care movement needs to take some responsibility for this situation. Poor consultation and shoddy work in the past has lost the trust of many veteran riders, whilst on the other hand we’re not that great at engaging new riders either. What we do needs to be promoted and explained better, and innovative new ways of having riders participate explored. That is the reason I founded South East Queensland Trails Alliance. But the missing ingredient is you.
The real threat to mountain bike trails in Australia is not legalised trail care, it’s ignorance and apathy. If every rider put in one hour a year for their local trails, we could create things beyond our wildest dreams. It’s time for the riding community to stop talking about the problem and start being part of the solution.