In the MTB scene, we help each other. Tools, tips, cold drinks at the campsite – with pleasure! But when it comes to sharing your home trails, that hospitality often comes to an abrupt end. Often, your local spots are a strictly guarded secret. But is there any benefit to localism? And could it even be detrimental?
Mountain bikers can seem like a schizophrenic bunch. In the parking lot at the bike park there’s a sense of conviviality and togetherness as riders engage in a little tech talk and compare the scars on their shins, making you feel like you’re part of a big, loving family. Need to borrow a tool? How about some setup tips? Or you’re out of beer? Sure, help yourself! Oh, how good it feels to belong to this community, hanging out in flip-flops and dusty bike shorts. But wait a minute: this sociable coexistence that we all experience in the paint-glittering and free-wheel spinning hotspots of the mountain bike scene often comes to an abrupt end at the local spots of the hinterland. When cruising around a neighbouring town you might see woods that you’re absolutely convinced must have some excellent trails in them, but you won’t find anything on the official maps. And if you happen to spot some locals in the undergrowth, they’ll just hiss at you conspiratorially: “don’t post any of this on Instagram or – even worse – Strava!” Funny, isn’t that the dude from the other day in Finale Ligure? The same guy who was so generous with his expertise and beer at the campsite suddenly doesn’t even want to show you around on his local home trails. Doesn’t that sound all too familiar?
What happens to the talkative folks you met at the campsite in Liguria, where do they go when you’re not talking about the well-known Cacciatore trail, but about their small local spots? And are you like that too? Have you got a “my trail is your trail” mentality or a “KEEP OUT!” attitude? Why are some trails open to the public while others are treated as highly guarded treasures? To answer these questions, we peeked into the minds and listened to the opinions of local shredders, passionate trail builders, MTB daddies and bike newbies. And we found out what speaks for localism and about the detrimental effect it can ultimately have to keep your trails secret. Disclaimer: you know some of these riders!
Matthias, 37, trail builder and local legend
“We just do our thing here and as long as nobody gets on our nerves, we’re all good. However, this means keeping a lid on it and not marking every trailhead with signs (camouflaging them instead). Anyone who is serious and knows the right people is welcome to join us.”
John, 27, brand ambassador and lord of his secret spot
“I only ride on my own trails. I built and shaped everything myself. It’s a place where I can just ride my bike, film and let off steam. There’s no one allowed here except me and my closest mates. For everyone else, there are plenty of well-known local alternatives.”
Mike, 43, new eMTB enthusiast
“I love meeting new people, making new experiences and learning new skills by riding my bike. Of course, this can only happen if other riders are welcoming. I won’t destroy anything, so I find it narrow-minded to keep trails secret from other riders.”
Nadine, 28, guest shredder with the boys
“The guys occasionally take me to their secret spots. That’s cool because I get to ride trails that almost nobody else knows. I can understand why they don’t want to show them to everyone. Otherwise, all hell will break loose. You must be part of the inner circle to ride them. It’s part of the community and it makes me proud somehow.”
Jonas, 29, surfer
“I can only say how it is with surfing: everyone likes to pose on the beach and in the parking lot – but woe to you as a non-local on my wave. You’ll get your ass kicked!”
Roland, 48, MTB daddy and kids’ trainer
“The trails belong to everyone who uses them respectfully. No-entry signs are useless because the kids will eventually find the way in – or just build their own lines. It is better to teach them the right trail etiquette from the start, and how to appreciate, maintain and care for the trails. That’s what keeps the bike community thriving.”
Martin, 32, widely travelled trail connoisseur
“When the boys showed me where you can ride in the area, I immediately understood that it must stay protected. Even though I don’t often do any digging myself, I can at least keep my mouth shut and not give our territory away to non-local riders.”
When the warm and fuzzy feelings of togetherness end
We all like the feeling of being amongst like-minded people! Humans are pack animals and so are riders. We support and help each other with the important questions, like whether you should buy another bike (yes, of course, because of the n+1 rule). We gesture wildly as we tell our stories of how we crashed or overshot that jump by miles and still saved it. It’s just nice to share! Whether it’s with biking or anything else. And we can occasionally be good at it, not just sharing our knowledge and tools but also our favourite trails. When your riding buddies come to visit, you obviously show them the finest that your local trails have to offer and when you see their dusty, grinning faces, high-fives flying in the air and hear them saying how cool the trails are, it makes you proud and happy. They’ll be on their way tomorrow anyway, so it’s only the best for your buddies, right? But what if they send you a message and ask if you could just send them the .gpx file of those amazing trails because they know some guys who’d like to check them out? Erm… Hold on! Can you hear the voice in your head saying “no” when you read this? Then we’ve hit a nerve, which is on the thin line between genuine hospitality and the local gatekeeper mentality. Admittedly, there’s a little bit of this in all of us.
Let’s hope biking doesn’t end up like surfing!
This gatekeeper phenomenon isn’t unique to biking. It also happens with freeriding on skis and especially with surfing. But what exactly are we talking about? It’s locals taking full advantage of the splendour that they’ve got access to while keeping non-locals from experiencing that which they love so much themselves. No “real” skier will talk out loud in front of other freeriders about how to get to the fresh, deep powder on a slope that no one else has ridden and only they and their crew know about. You don’t just pass around valuable knowledge like that! And on the surfboard, catching a good wave is even harder when you have to fight a pack of locals who claim the spot for themselves. It’s not uncommon for fists to fly. Surfers are all cool and relaxed, aren’t they? Definitely not! You’ll be amazed to learn how aggressive things get out there on the waves: boiling with rage and tensions rising amongst each other instead of simply sharing the privilege of living out their hobby in a beautiful spot on planet Earth. The good news is that life on our trails isn’t yet as territorial as surfing, and we hope we’ll never get there! But you will experience some of that same mentality there, like when asking the local boys and girls if they know of any good trails and they just shrug their shoulders like they haven’t got a clue, instead of sharing their knowledge openly with other riders.
Where does this attitude come from? There are a lot of reasons for localism, some of which make sense and some of which don’t. They include things like belonging and culture as well as pride and a simple lack of communication. Let us question and understand the reasons for localism and make arguments against those that just don’t make sense!
Good reasons for localism?
Admittedly, as a passionate biker, it’s not easy to rid yourself completely from the idea of guarding your local trails. Maybe you’ve caught yourself keeping your home trails secret as you tell riders from out of town that riding isn’t allowed in these woods? And hey, this article isn’t out to demonise doing so, declaring all the painstakingly built and maintained home trails out there as a free for all – because that would be the end of many of our favourite spots! Rather, we want to find out where this local gatekeeper attitude comes from and what good intentions may be driving it. And we go even further by asking if there are other, better ways to achieve the same goals, which are more inclusive of other riders. Spoiler alert: there are other ways!
The trails will get ruined
The classic amongst the reasons as to why no one is allowed to ride your trails – except of course you and your homies. And you know what? It’s true! At least if all the others were reckless single-celled organisms with loud Bluetooth speakers in their backpacks, zero respect for the trails and nature and a permanently locked up rear wheel. But they’re not. There are some out there who have the same sincere enthusiasm for riding and the bike culture as you do. And they understand why there are some things you should do on the trails and other things that you shouldn’t. And why, if you ride a trail regularly, knowing how to use a shovel to maintain or even improve it is just as much a part of it. Instead of not telling them about the trails, you could just explain the “no dig no ride” rule the next time you go out to maintain the trails. Who knows, maybe you’ll make a few new friends who won’t just make a longer party train but also speed up trail maintenance and builds.
You have to earn it, bro
Caution, fragile egos ahead. Don’t step on them, please! A crew that keeps their trails secret from others for this reason is about as likeable as those sun-kissed surfer locals who chase the pale-skinned northern European out of their waves just because he also wants to have a go (we’re looking at our Art Director Julian in Portugal). Why not simply approach each other openly and with appreciation and let others enjoy something without first wanting something in return? Of course, if the trails in question are simply beyond your skill level, that’s another story. After all, we won’t complain to the likes of Sam Reynolds and Kade Edwards that they didn’t invite us to Darkfest. There’s no problem with hiding a trail that’s too demanding and dangerous for the vast majority of riders. But if you come across a mountain bike crew that just wants to nurse their ego with their secret knowledge about trails, then it’s best to ignore them and look for riding buddies elsewhere.
Get out of here, or you’ll give us away!
It may also be that the secretive attitude of the locals has nothing to do with concerns about wear and tear or an ego-driven gatekeeper mentality. Rather, you may be in a neck of the woods where the MTB community is generally unwelcome, and riders have to keep their trails on the low down so that they can ride at all. Unfortunately, this is the reality in many areas where mountain bikers are seen as rude and unruly instead of having just as much right to use the trails. However, keeping trails secret doesn’t help to solve the problem. Rather, stepping up as a community can send a positive message on behalf of all bikers. Instead of gatekeeping, what you need in situations like these more than anything is transparency and open communication with the local authorities and decision-makers. Instead of putting so much effort into maintaining a forbidden trail and keeping it hidden, you can start or join an initiative. That way you might eventually make your home trails legal. This saves you from having to be so secretive, allows the trail network to grow in the area, and has a much more sustainable effect.
Don’t just share the trails, share the spirit
So, are there good reasons left that speak for localism? Hardly any. If you can show others how to treat the trails, nature and other human beings with respect and the fruit that doing so bears, sharing your trails won’t do them any harm, they’ll probably get even better. This includes reaching out to others and communicating with them instead of being prejudiced.
Yes, our trails are alive. They’re sensitive and can be damaged but can also be cared for and improved. And just as the trails live and change, so do the riders who use them. What we pass on to the riders around us today will determine what our whole community will look like tomorrow. So, let’s foster more hospitality rather than secrecy! It’s not about losing a trail by sharing it with others, but about sharing the spirit and carrying the flame, trusting that only good will come of it. This includes discovering new things but also appreciating, caring for and preserving discoveries for those that follow. Let’s pay it forward!
Have you got a welcoming or a locals-only attitude on your MTB trails? If it’s the latter, the arguments against welcoming others are easy to debunk. We’ll all do well to pass on the spirit of riding instead of hoarding secrets. You might have more riders on your home trails, but you’ll also have more folks maintaining them and building new ones. Achieving this ultimately comes down to openness and good communication. And hey, we can get it done together!
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Words: Moritz Geisreiter Photos: Julian Lemme