Civility in Debate with Mountain Bikes In Boulder

I’m opposed to opening up Eldorado Canyon Trail to Mountain Bikes. However, when I read the article titled “Boulder open space official: Return to civility in West TSA mountain bike debate” I was infuriated by the tone of some of the people opposed to mountain bikes on these trails.

My partner Seth Levine is a huge mountain biker. He and I had a thoughtful exchange about the issue of MTBs on the Eldorado Canyon Trail. We disagree on this issue but it was a substantive exchange. As a long distance runner, I explained that while most MTBs were good actors, a small percentage weren’t. Even on reasonably well shared trails, I’ve been run off the road numerous times by MTBs careening around a blind corner on a downhill or when someone somewhat out of control flies by me. Single tracks are tough to share and I spent much of my time on them paying attention to traffic if I run mid-day, but I’ve had this problem on all shared trails. Worst of all, I’ve been hit several times by MTBs and I can only think of one case where the person stopped and checked to see if I was ok (I was, but pretty sore the next day.) Seth and I ended our discussion with agreement that we’d go hike Eldorado Canyon Trail together and discuss this further, which will be fun regardless of whether we end up agreeing on a position on the issue.

In general, I’m very comfortable with trails being shared. Over time, I’ve learned how to anticipate when to pay more attention to MTBs and often just run off trail when I can (on the side of the trail, which of course is not what the Open Space people want but it’s safer for everyone.) But I still really struggle on single tracks, or tight trails, especially when one side is mountain and the other side is a steep drop. Having run Eldorado Canyon Trail about a hundred times, it’d be a really rough trail if it became mixed use, and I’m pretty sure I’d stop running it. That’s part of why I’m opposed to MTBs on the trail – I just don’t think it’ll work.

However, when I read the article in the Daily Camera today, the folks arguing against MTBs represent the kind of hostility in debate that undermines their entire position. Their attacks are emotional bordering on hysterical (in the “not funny definition of the word”) and excessively polarizing. It’s not dissimilar to the type of language we often see at a national political level in the extreme partisan case and I find it incredibly distasteful.

The other day I had a difficult meeting with someone who was upset with me and a decision I had made. While we were having the discussion, he referred to the meeting we were having as “date rape.” I was momentarily furious because the comment was completely over the line. I understood that he felt fucked by me and – while I didn’t agree – he was certainly entitled to his opinion. But accusing me of date rape was unacceptable to me, especially given that I’ve had first hand experience on the receiving end of rape. He backed off when I asked if he was sure he wanted to use this language (and if he had said yes, we would have been done talking), but it undermined his argument to me based on the personal attack that I didn’t think corresponded in any way to what was happening.

The vitriolic in the MTB debate has a similar impact on me. It doesn’t help the discussion, undermines the position opposing MTB’s on Eldorado Canyon Trail, and is generally offensive to anyone trying to understand and think through the issue. It also shines a bad light on the community in Boulder which I think is a special place that embraces incredibly diverse people, perspectives, and behaviors. And it creates emotional justification for the small number of bad actors in the MTB for their behavior (e.g. “they don’t want us on their trails so fuck them.”)

Boulder, you can do a lot better than this. Let’s have a real debate about this issue and make a rational decision about whether or not to open up these trails.

  • RV

    Good post and nice to read. While you don’t want bikes on the Eldorado Canyon Trail, others don’t want bikes on their favorite trails either. So, this has led to no bikes on any of the West TSA trails. The discussion should be centered on, should bikes have any access to trails from downtown Boulder? Most non-hysterical types would say, yes. I would like to ride to all of the great trails outside of the city from downtown Boulder on trails. How do we do this without someone exclaiming, NIMBY?

    Now, let’s talk about banning horses or having a law requiring owners to pick up their horse’s poop on trails. πŸ™‚ We may be able to agree. πŸ™‚

  • Michael Taliaferro

    I’m not sure what it is, but Boulder hates mountain bikes… on trails. It’s interesting the amount of money being spent on the Valmont bike park, while there was little expansion of the trail system.

    Why do Nederland, Lyons, and Golden all have better systems than Boulder? I think its because of the hiker majority. I moved away from Boulder in September and when you look at it form the outside, it’s completely ridiculous. Comparatively, Boulder seems to have solved all real problems, so people must invent outrage.

    Derry, Maine.

  • Aaron

    Anyone who knows the Eldorado Canyon Trail well knows that there is absolutely no room for bikes on that trail – period. And I can’t imagine that the freaks who live in Eldo Canyon (yes Brad, that includes you) would want to encourage even more traffic through town with all kinds of idiot bikers (I know that most of you are not idiots). If you’ve ever driven thru Eldo at 7am, you’ll see random dogs sleeping in the middle of the road, etc and I’d prefer to keep it that way as opposed to opening up the trails to even more humans. You have Walker Ranch – let the hikers have Eldorado Canyon. So there you have it!

    • RV

      The mountain bike debate is not about driving 20 miles up to Walker Ranch or to Golden or to Nederland. It is about having access from the city of Boulder.

  • Anonymous

    I have lived in both Boulder and Fort Collins and know very well the Golden area. Boulder has one descent trail, Walker Ranch that is (30mn away from town by car). Fort Collins and Golden have hundreds of miles of excellent MTB trails. The Boulder county and city could have done a lot more over the years to expand a larger networks of trail with which conflicts would be minimal. The harsh feelings you’re talking about would be solved through density consideration. 10/20mn drive or bike ride west of Boulder to access a larger trail network would certainly satisfy MTBer in the backcountry and many good trails. It’s only a density issue which seems to have been solved in Larimer and Jeffco counties. It’s also interesting that IMBA (international mountain biking assoc.) is in Boulder doing amazing work all over the country/world but MTBer need to drive go to Nederlands, Golden or Lyons to get trails.

  • Biker here- thanks for your call for civility. Bikes seem to provoke all kinds of craziness, and I suspect it is indeed due to the few bringing a bad reputation to the many.

    Instead of ruining it for everyone, I wish everyone would work together more to make the situation better for everyone: identify places where mountain bike trails are sustainable, and find ways to restrict everyone who breaks the rules about trails and roads – bikers who don’t respect hikers, drivers who don’t give bikes their space. We’ll only exacerbate problems by indiscriminately attacking entire groups based on minority behavior that can be remedied.

  • I made this comment on Seth’s post, too – jbminn

    I have another perspective – I don’t [generally] use trails for running or riding mountain bikes, but I *do* use colorado’s vast set of open space + back country for both motocross + snowmobiling (sledding).

    While much of my motocross riding is on private, established tracks, some is in Rampart Range, some on forest service roads in Buena Vista etc. & my sledding in always on established winter trails, I certainly wouldn’t want to lose my ability to ride those trails in favor of another’s desire to keep me off them.

    The debate abt sledding rages on annually in North Yellowstone – the views expressed can be extreme, but there’s no denying that limiting (or excluding) the sleds has an immediate economic impact on the area.

    Not sure if there’s a corollary here – is there?

  • There is a really solid take away in this article, even if you don’t live in Boulder, mountain bike or run distance trails.

    “I asked if he was sure he wanted to use this language” – Way to deescalate and not engage in an argument, turn the focus of the angry participant back on his own behavior and language and re-engage his brain. Smart and effective and often very hard to do without practice (I’m sure Brad’s had plenty of practice). I see that technique used very rarely, anywhere. I just had to point it out. Some of my most effective negotiations and even a lasting friendship has come from defused and re-focused arguments.

  • Civility is an extremely important component in any discussion or negotiation. Emotional involvement certainly challenges one’s ability to remain calm, respectful and civil, however the lack of calm and civil behavior surely weakens the position of those who fail at such components of citizenship.

    Eldo. Canyon Trail is a great trail and I can understand why bikers want access. The sad fact is that it’s not a great system for sustainable use by mountain bikes. In addition to safety, erosion is an unfortunate side effect of any usage, but occurs more rapidly when bikes are added, and in most areas aggressive bikers tend to cut switchbacks (as a challenge) making it worse.

    In my opinion communities and regions need to find a balance where each use-case has opportunity, but reasonable environmental impact must also be considered. In my area (northern California) we have the Western States Trail, a 100 mile endurance trail used by horsemen and runners (under different events). Mountain bikers come in at times on certain sections, but are not allowed in some areas. It’s interesting and sometimes disturbing to see how each user group interacts on the trail system, how little they know about trail etiquette (horses have right-of-way for safety, uphill traveling people have right-of-way over downhill travelers, etc.), and how little respect some users have for the environment they’re ostensibly enjoying.

    Respect and mutual consideration is needed and most effective in reaching a solution.

    Thanks Brad. Great post.

  • RJK

    Great post on the importance of civility. Civility is, in my mind, an underpinning of mutual respect which leads to trust. Trust is critical to our society’s success and stability. Similarly, it is critical to the success of businesses. It also happens to be critical in every facet of one’s life.

  • Working at startups for over a decade after working at large government lab and large corporations, I’ve noticed significantly higher level of emotions clouding debates. Well, it’s because people REALLY care about the issues.

    It took a long time for me to get this simple concept, but once you give people time to publicly (or openly within a closed group) declare in writing their arguments for/against issues WITH their name WITH ability to revise it by a decision date, smart and reasonable people will cool off and present good pros/cons for the team to make a decision.

  • Jjjmiller46

    Why not just allow bikes every other day. Odd numbered days for bikers, even number for everyone else. If you’re scared of bikes, go somewhere else that day.

    • DaveJ

      I was going to post the same comment. This is *successful in other communities* and yet no one is even talking about it here. Further, some of the trails (like the new ones off Doudy Draw) need to be one-way. This stuff is just not that hard.

  • Thinking back to my undergraduate days at the Colorado School of Mines, I vote no bikes. Can we also do away with jet skis in south beach?

  • See this everywhere. Especially politics. Why is that? Are we cry babies. We just want what we want and we want it now? I think part of it is about accountability. NO one is being held accountable for being uncivil.

  • Sevans99a

    I both trail run and MTB on all the front range trails and I think there are a couple fundamental elements missing in this debate. One, I live in Golden and observe Boulder County with envy that you can get a dog tag that certifies you can handle your dog off leash. Here in JeffCo, they prefer to manage to the slowest buffalo, assuming nobody can do this. Why can’t Boulder apply the same logic to MTB?

    Two: the reality of the situation most conflicts on the trails have to either do with ignorance or arrogance; often a combination thereof. I can’t count how many times I’ve been on my MTB, going up/down a technical section and a hiker out of spite refuses to yield and I have no option other than to plow through, otherwise it would be a painful exchange for both them and I. Conversely, we have all been on the trial on blind corners with an MTB bombing it too fast. A little knowledge, discretion and reason that us humans have would do a lot to mitigate most of the issues, so much so that this wouldn’t even be a debate.

    P.S. Eldorado Canyon Trial is not a feasible MTB use, just that simple.

  • Privte1

    Have similar debate here inAustralia, gets even worse with bikes ON THE ROAD! in Sydney.

    To my mind most issues ocur whther pedestrian v bike, or bike v car, when two inconsiderate and immovable people come together- a bit like two atoms colliding.

    Bikes aren’t safeeverywhere…but there is somewhere for everyone and the great outdoorss there to sare