Mountain bike community members gathered at Kamloops Museum and Archives, May 9, to expand discussions about the history of mountain biking in the region and where the sport is headed.
Around 20 people participated in an intimate evening, with seating interwoven within the current museum exhibition, Mountain Bike Mecca. Guest panellists included Cheryl Beattie, owner of Bicycle Cafe, Dana Heyman, a founding member of Dirt Chix, Dustin Adams, founder of We Are Composites and Ian Barnett, representing the Grasslands Conservation Council.
Moderated by museum educator Meghan Stewart, the panel touched on why Kamloops is so famous for the sport, the socio-economics of the region, conservation needs, gender and how accessibility needs are changing trail development.
Matt Macintosh, the curator of the museum’s exhibit, began the night by touching on how the items displayed have commonalities but don’t fully represent the diverse history of mountain biking in Kamloops. The evening’s discussion was intended to spur critical and positive discourse around mountain biking from within the community.
Stewart began by asking panellists why the Thompson-Nicola is popular for mountain biking.
“Dirt,” Beattie declared to laughs from the audience.
“Your bang for your buck is extended here more than anywhere and there’s the most diverse amount of terrain,” Adams said.
Beattie expanded on her assertion that dirt is key, by emphasizing the ease of access for biking in Kamloops, which sets the city apart. Many other locations require people to drive out to access trails, but folks in Kamloops can often ride to trails from their homes.
Another topic raised by Stewart was the socioeconomic demographics of Kamloops, with high-paying jobs in the mining and rail industries helping to fund people’s passion for a sport where the bike alone can cost thousands of dollars.
While panellists agreed socioeconomics could play a role in the sport’s popularity in Sun Peaks and Kamloops, they also noted that many people would cobble together gear with what is available to them, in order to participate in their passion.
However, Beattie acknowledged the high gear cost is a barrier that could make people feel excluded. Panellists agreed more work needs to be done to include all mountain bikers, regardless of the gear they show up with.
Gender also plays a role in the sport, with a rise in women participating and engaging together as a group. According to Heyman, there is a confidence boost associated with riding with other women who share similar life experiences and are more advanced. Additionally, Heyman said women tend to go out in groups together for a sense of safety.
“There’s safety in numbers for women,” she said. “You’re not only learning a fairly dangerous sport – you’re also going out in the woods alone.”
Conservation efforts within mountain biking were also discussed amongst the group. Barnett told SPIN he would like to see more education for riders relating to the natural landscapes they spend time in.
He said the Grasslands Community Trail would be useful for more education about diverse habitats that could benefit from interpretation efforts, such as signage.
“We need to do more,” Barnett said. “We need to have more areas with signage and with information so that people understand [the ecosystems] and respect [them]. You don’t respect unless you understand.”
“I think the demographics of biking would probably lend itself to listening [and supporting] conservation,” he told SPIN.
One of the panel’s most important topics for discussion was accessible trail development.
Beattie explained during the talk, that grants-funding for new trails goes to the most accessible projects with wide paths. While these styles enhance accessibility and revenue from increased visits, they often require large financial investments for environmental assessment, archeological approvals, machinery and related environmental impacts.
This style of trail isn’t sought after by all riders, which leads to unsanctioned trail building on lands often slated for development. Advanced riders often prefer narrow trails, whereas wider tracks provide opportunities for adaptive biking.
Adams says funding opportunities must exist for riders who still seek single-track trails. More funding needs to come from the city and the province to provide trail options for different user groups, he explained.
“There’s still a lot of work to do, and a lot of funding is lacking, both in the city and then in the province, to back and fund and pay attention to what needs to be done for these user groups,” Adams explained.
While Heyman highlighted the importance of accessibility on trails, she said the evolution of the sport to broader groups also comes with a loss of the original culture around trail building.
“We are moving as a society toward accessibility for all, which is great. As a sport, we have to accept that we are losing some of that uniqueness.”
Kamloops Museum’s mountain bike exhibit
After the event at Kamloops Museum, Macintosh said his vision for Mountain Bike Mecca is to amplify community members’ voices.
“My approach as a curator is to try to amplify other people’s own stories speaking on behalf of their own communities,” he said.
However, creating a full historical record of mountain biking in Kamloops is difficult, with some submissions showing robust representation and others less so, Macintosh explained.
“How do you frame those two in the same space when you’re trying to give people equal billing? And then how do you make the show [the exibit] maybe not so much about just the figures, but what is interesting about mountain biking itself?”
As a non-mountain biker, Macintosh resonates with the evening’s discussion around land use tensions and environmental concerns.
“I’m a skier, so I know what it’s like to have this tension where you care about the environment, and you also have an appetite for new terrain,” he said. “So I think that exists in a similar way with mountain biking.”
Mountain Bike Mecca has been on exhibit since February 24 at the Kamloops Museum and Archives and runs until June 10.
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