We’ve all heard it, “I’m not an anti-mountain biker, I just think that…” Or maybe you have heard “calling me an anti-mountain biker is a pejorative”.
That raises some questions, of course. What is an anti-mountain biker and anti-mountain biking? Is it a pejorative to say a person or group is anti-mountain bike? If it is not a pejorative, why should anti-mountain biking persons and groups be correctly identified?
Defining anti-mountain biking
Does disliking or even hating the sport of mountain biking make a person or group anti-mountain biking? Simply put, no. Everybody has a food, or a type of music, or yes, a sport or recreation they don’t like, even hate. A person that hates mountain biking isn’t any worse than a person that hates soccer or trail running.
Does expressing a dislike or even hatred of mountain biking make a person or group anti-mountain biking? If we are talking about a verbal or personal expression, no. Just as a person saying, “I think golf is an awful sport”, does not make that person anti-golf. It just means they don’t like golf and are expressing that.
So where is the line that a person or group can cross that makes them anti-mountain bike? It’s simple really: when a person or group seeks to eliminate or prevent mountain biking in a location or locations and seeks to use the mechanisms of governance, public or private, to achieve that goal. That may take the form of trying to fight proposals within a city council or parks board. It would take in propaganda designed to persuade others to fight against mountain biking access. And it certainly includes directly or indirectly inciting violence against mountain bikers or supporting those that have committed violence.
Think of it like religious belief. No one (well, no one in modernity) cares what religion you are or are not. Nor do they care what you think that religion’s imaginary sky friend asks you to do, eat or live. Few people would care if you had a bumper sticker expressing a belief, a plaque doing the same or told them about your religious belief. Yet, the moment where it seems you are imposing your religious beliefs onto them, or if you get the force of government to choose which religion is the correct one, things get really dicey really fast. While most anti-mountain bikers don’t want to burn you at the stake as a heretic, whether a person or group is anti-mountain biking follows almost the same rules.
Let’s be clear here, a person or group that is working with mountain bikers and is discussing where access should be granted, under what conditions and what types of mountain biking would be in a location is not an anti-mountain biker. As we have discussed before, there are locations where passive use is all that is allowed and not all forms of mountain biking are passive use. Yeah, you may want that combination downhill/freeride trail system in your local urban wilderness, but that doesn’t automatically mean it can go there. So, a land manager explaining what kind of trails are acceptable or not does not make them an anti-mountain biker.
Is ”anti-mountain biker” a pejorative?
According to Wikipedia:
A pejorative (also called a derogatory term, a slur, a term of abuse, or a term of disparagement) is a word or grammatical form expressing a negative connotation or a low opinion of someone or something, showing a lack of respect for someone or something. It is also used to express criticism, hostility, or disregard. A term can be regarded as pejorative in some social or cultural groups but not in others. Sometimes, a term may begin as a pejorative and eventually be adopted in a non-pejorative sense (or vice versa) in some or all contexts.
The question to be asked is this: “Is my use of the term anti-mountain biker a ‘negative connotation or a low opinion of someone or something, showing a lack of respect for someone or something’ or is it an accurate description? Am I using that term as way to show ‘hostility or disregard’ and as a verbal hammer against that person or group?”
Again, not liking mountain biking or even hating it is not enough to be an anti-mountain biker. What is needed is active attempts to prevent or remove mountain biking from a location, spread propaganda against mountain bikers or to support violence against mountain bikers. Calling your neighbor an anti-mountain biker just because he complained about ‘those whippersnappers with their knobby tired bikes’ is using the term as a pejorative. But describing a group like the Marin Conservation League as anti-mountain biking isn’t a pejorative, it’s an accurate description of their attitudes and activities.
Some will protest and suggest that they are not anti-mountain biking, they have no issues with mountain biking, just not at this location. Yet, when you peel away the layers, is it really about the location or the activity? A good test of this protestation is the map test. Okay, you think there is a better location for mountain biking locally, here is a map, point it out. As one can guess, they are almost always left sputtering.
Yes, we want to be careful with the term “anti-mountain biker” and not defang its power by over use. As a society, we have done that with the word “Nazi”, calling everything and everyone who seems rigid a Nazi. We have created soup Nazis, grammar Nazis and time Nazis. In doing so we have defanged the term and made real Nazis so much less a negative. We shouldn’t allow the same to happen to the term “anti-mountain biker”.
Why we should call out anti-mountain bikers
If there are groups of people or individuals that are anti-mountain bikers, why should we call them out?
There are two reasons, the first being the simplest. The fact is that anti-mountain biking is a form of recreational supremacy, which like all forms of group-based supremacy, is based on a set of false beliefs and twisted concepts.
Think about this for a moment. Why shouldn’t mountain bikes be allowed on a trail? It’s not because they cause more erosion or harm wildlife more than hikers. Many studies and scientific papers done by nearly every Western government prove that. It’s not because of safety issues. Mountain biking safely co-exists with hiking in thousands of locations across the world, including some of the parks in the densest cities on earth. So, what is the reason? Is it because it breaks someone’s magical moment in the woods? Because it prevents someone from believing they are in the late 1880s? Why is one person’s recreational experience more important than another’s, especially when there is overwhelming evidence both can be accommodated simultaneously? The only reason to believe that is due to feelings of recreational supremacy.
We shouldn’t get carried away here, being anti-mountain biking isn’t the same as some sort of ethnic or religious animus. Anti-mountain bikers aren’t going to start burning hiking poles in your front yard or tattooing a Mannaz rune on their arms to show fidelity to the great Anti-Mountain Bike Brotherhood. Let’s not create any type of false equivalency.
But let’s also be equally honest about the fact that every year, small numbers of anti-mountain bikers attempt to maim or kill mountain bikers. Whether that be slashing riders with saws, placing punji sticks on mountain biking trails or stringing strangle lines between trees, there are far too many incidents. An even larger number of anti-mountain bikers praise these acts, excuse them or tacitly support them. You don’t get to the point where you are trying to harm fellow humans without mentally relegating a group to status lower than yourself and low enough that physical harm is an option.
The second reason (and the one that is the most obvious) with anti-mountain bikers is that they disseminate false narratives and conspiracy theories about mountain biking, mountain bikers and land managers who choose to work with the mountain biking community. We’ve highlighted some of these before.
The fact is that trail design, management and long-term use are complicated enough. Getting access to and creating trails in a piece of public property requires sifting through hundreds and sometimes thousands of decisions. In the best of circumstances these are a lot of moving parts. Its hard work to ask, research and answer all the questions if everyone sticks to the facts. It becomes even harder when a person or group is pumping as much disinformation into the system as they can.
This disinformation can linger far beyond the timeframe of its introduction. It tends to linger, making the possibility of future access that much harder. If you drill down into current situation at Portland, OR, while it is getting better, you will find the leadership of the Parks department regurgitating disinformation put forward in the 1990s by a few individuals, some of whom worked in the Parks department itself. The disinformation campaign continues even today with anti-mountain bikers like Marcy Houle and others. However, the real genesis of the lack of great mountain biking in what should be one of the premier mountain biking cities in America started nearly 30 years ago with some staff who brought in op-ed clippings from Marin, CA.
In the final analysis, we have to be careful about whom we describe as anti-mountain biker. But we shouldn’t be afraid to call out a person or group when they are, in fact, anti-mountain biking. We should be dispassionate and fair about using that descriptor. We should do this, not to disparage the person or group, but to correctly identify persons and groups that promote recreational supremacy. Those feelings of recreational supremacy are the main source of disinformation and propaganda against mountain biking. For a very small minority of anti-mountain bikers, this belief in recreational supremacy leads to violence. To protect ourselves, both personally and as a form of recreation, we should identify and make known to the public who are anti-mountain bikers, their agenda of recreational supremacy and flaws in their arguments.
We need to stand together
Currently, the natural world is being assaulted in a myriad of ways, often spearheaded by groups and corporations whose only concern is short-term profits. Unfortunately, these same groups also have a lot of money they pour into campaigns for political office and into “cocaine and hookers” funds for personal gifts to elected officials and policy makers in the government. The only way to balance that type power and influence is with numbers. Because of the relatively small numbers of participation by each of the nature-based recreation types, the only way to get the numbers needed to protect our wild public spaces is a broad-based coalition. That means that hikers need to stand with mountain bikers who need to stand with equestrians who need to stand with hunters who need to stand with bird watchers. Not only do these groups to save lands out in rural areas, but most especially in urban areas.
But the coalition, as tenuous and strained as it was, that existed between many of these groups is now crumbling. Recently, chances to create some wonderful wild places have fallen apart because of anti-mountain biking attitudes fostered by groups. From forced firings of employees that were willing to make deals with mountain biking groups to representatives of conservation groups told to tow the party line anti-mountain biking line even if it means losing the chance to protect hundreds of thousands of acres, it’s an ‘everyone for themselves’ mentality that only ends with every bit of wild space dug up, drilled or clear cut.
There is plenty of blame to go around here. From most American’s unwillingness to understand compromise means giving up things you want, to a growing number of urban voters who support conservation but in way that hurts groups like hunters and rural communities to a polarized electorate who cares more for their party than a government that works in the long run.
The thing is, when groups come together, they can defeat all sorts of odious proposals that destroy the natural world. In the last month, a coalition of hikers, neighbors and engaged citizens, spearheaded by a mountain biking club defeated a proposal to clear cut a city park and put in a multimillion-dollar tennis center. This wouldn’t have happened if the hikers didn’t want to work with the bikers or the neighbors didn’t want to work with hikers. Instead, 60 acres of greenspace and the included trails would be disappearing under the blades of bulldozers.
How you can help?
To help protect wild spaces for all of us to enjoy and to protect the native plants and animals, it’s important that we all do the following:
Be vigilant and be involved and help marginalize and defeat anti-mountain bikers where ever they exist.
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