Keeping the silent sports community informed and self propelled.
Yesterday's Wisconsin Bike Summit in Madison prompted me to go through my wallet. I found multiple cards indicating my membership with the Wisconsin Off-Road Bicycling Association (WORBA), International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin (Bike Fed), the League of American Bicyclists and the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.
None of these cards, incidentally, prove I'm a member in good standing with these fine advocacy organizations. Although each card is printed with an expiration date long since passed, I'm pretty sure I've re-upped with all these groups. IMBA and Rails-to-Trails still send me their publications, after all, and the Bike Fed hasn't kicked me off their board for being delinquent in paying my dues.
It is easy to lose track, though. I want to continue to support each of these groups as they work at the local, state and federal levels to maintain and increase biking opportunities. For some groups, the emphasis is on trail building and riding. Others work with land managers, run safety courses for kids or lobby government officials for access.
No one group has proven they can do it all. Yet their collective efforts get more people on bikes and riding safely, so I give a little to each of them.
But for some givers, writing multiple checks to several organizations is onerous. And with relatively few cyclists contributing to the groups working on their behalf, the groups find themselves competing for members and other resources.
Bike summit debate
During a panel discussion at the bike summit, a woman complained about all the checks she, too, writes to all the bicycling organizations I’ve listed. It would be so much better, she said, if people could write one check a year and see all these groups benefit.
“One check is key. We’ll solve this in Wisconsin,” predicted Bike Fed Executive Director Kevin Hardman later in the day.
How this is achieved, and whether it should be a goal of the bicycling community, remains unclear. But judging by a discussion between mountain biking group leaders at the summit, a merger between WORBA and IMBA looks likely.
WORBA has some 250 members in 21 chapters across the state. Meanwhile, 270 Wisconsin residents are among IMBA’s 35,000 members. The Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin has more than 3,300 members, only some of which are mountain bikers. Unknown is how many Wisconsin mountain bikers belong to more than one of these groups.
Despite thousands of miles of trail and a healthy off-road racing scene in the state, WORBA has struggled for years. The positions of president and vice president have been vacant for some time, and the volunteer officers who remain seem eager to relinquish many of their duties for the 22-year-old organization.
“I’d enjoy seeing WORBA move forward with IMBA’s Chapter Program,” said John Siegert, a long-time WORBA officer and membership coordinator.
The IMBA Chapter Program, a recent initiative of the Boulder, Colorado-based association, is now offering to handle administrative services for all participating state and local mountain biking groups in exchange for 60 percent of locally collected membership revenue. As IMBA chapters, local clubs keep all the money they raise for projects, and IMBA staff even help raise the funds.
IMBA Executive Director Mike Van Abel talked about the benefits of as merging organizations and bundling membership dues. He said few local bicycling groups make enough in annual membership dues to pay staff or keep up with the legal paperwork required of them.
But if WORBA’s 21 chapters can be convinced to become IMBA chapters, WORBA’s role would change, if it continued to exist at all. WORBA could change its name and function from an association to an alliance, or the Bike Fed could absorb/supplant WORBA.
“What would happen to WORBA? No one really knows,” WORBA’s Siegert said.
Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists (MORC) became an IMBA chapter last year, and a quote from IMBA-MORC Board Chairman Ryan Lieske tops the web page for IMBA’s chapter program: "The combined membership was really an easy sell for both our board and our individual members. Converting from club to chapter status has been a very positive experience. We were a strong local group to begin with, but we are becoming even stronger with this partnership."
Van Abel said the Michigan Mountain Biking Association Board has voted to join the IMBA chapter program but two clubs in the state are reticent. “The state group doesn’t want to leave those two clubs behind, so they’re doing due diligence, he said.
“Do I think there’s a need for a statewide alliance? Absolutely. There’s no doubt in my mind, so long as there’s state government,” Van Abel said.
With 62 chapters so far and 100 expected by the end of the year, Van Abel called IMBA’s approach “a business model. The need for advocacy will not diminish. We need more staff.”
Van Abel said he envisions an IMBA staff member in every state, someone like IMBA Midwest Regional Director Hansi Johnson, who attended the summit. Johnson, based in Duluth, Minnesota, has helped the Human Powered Trails Club of Lacrosse, Wisconsin, restore access to trails built on public lands; get a 20-mile trail in Copper Harbor, Michigan, designated an IMBA Epic Ride; and assisted the development of the $1.5-million Cuyuna Lakes Ride Center in Crosby, Minnesota, which opens in June.
Ron Bergin, executive director of the Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association (CAMBA), oversees 300-some miles of singletrack, most of it built to standards deemed by IMBA as environmentally sustainable. He said he doesn’t know how or if CAMBA would become an IMBA chapter.
Riders throughout the Midwest and beyond are drawn to the CAMBA trails, and the organization’s membership reflects that, Bergin said. “IMBA wants a share of individual and family memberships. But we offer business, premium and lifetime memberships, too. Would those folks not be IMBA members then?” he asked.
There’s little doubt the IMBA Chapter Program will be the subject of much more discussion at the IMBA Great Lakes Mountain Bicycling Summit in Upper Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, May 27-29.
Reducing competition for resources to improve mountain biking opportunities is the goal, whatever the outcome.
In the mean time, I’ll need to make sure I’ve renewed my memberships with all the existing bike groups working on my behalf.
At least my wallet search helped me locate my 2011 Wisconsin State Trail Pass and current U.S. Snowshoe Association membership certificate. So if the authorities ask me to present either, I’m ready.