At the Mountain Bike Ontario Trailblazing Festival, a few weeks back we held the second in person Regional Leadership Advisory Council (RLAC) meeting. Attendance was less than our last meeting at the Toronto International Bike Show; only 5 IMBA affiliates had members attend. But we did have a couple of guests at the meeting as well, some guys from Lindsay are looking to get mountain bikers organized in their area.

I gave an update on what I had been working on since our last meeting. If you recall, one of the main outcomes of that meeting was to develop a “land policy atlas” that would give us the complete picture of where mountain biking was permitted on public lands, and what the attitude towards mountain biking is with all of the various land managers. Things started well, we have a mostly complete list of who rides where, but more importantly, who owns that land. But that’s as far as it got. Despite good intentions, and the desire to get it done, life has deigned to make me too busy with my non-IMBA work, family, etc. Which leads me to the main point I made at the meeting; that if we (meaning mountain bikers in Ontario) are going to get anything meaningful done we are going to have to do some fundraising and hire professionals to it.

Then we opened it up to the floor. Some of the clubs provided updates, and while I always like to hear what is going on, some felt that this isn’t really the best use of the limited time we have at the RLAC meeting. We all agreed. I’m going to try to connect with IMBA affiliates more frequently on an individual basis to keep up on what’s going on. Then we can use the time at RLAC meetings most productively. But don’t be shy, if you’ve got something going on in your area, good, bad, ugly, or merely just interesting, let me know. We’re not just here to give advice; we like to know what everyone is up to.

The overwhelming message from the attendees, well as overwhelming at 7 attendees can be, was they the RLAC needs to facilitate coordination of our efforts province wide. That is why it was founded, but it is not living up to that intent currently. I would say that it is still early days, but point taken, let’s try to do better. How? By focusing on exactly what our efforts should be and by meeting more frequently.

What exactly should our first efforts be? The consensus was that we need to develop our “message” and hone it so it can be delivered in differing lengths by any IMBA affiliate club, or even individual member. What’s part of our message? Well that is part of what we have to hammer out, but I think it includes:

  • why mountain biking matters to a town or land owner (tourism, economics,  health);
  • how mountain biking trails are different, but complementary, from rail trails, hard surface trails and bike lanes (infrastructure);
  • how mountain biking is different, but complementary, to road based recreational, utilitarian, and commuter based cycling (recreation);
  • the need for more trails, of different difficulty levels, than currently exist to meet user needs and expectations (gateway trails, bike parks, destinations);

That’s good enough for now, but you can already see how this list is going to grow and how each item is going to be rather subtle and nuanced. We will have to come up with different approach for our message depending on just who, and how much time, we have to pitch it. A 30 second pitch for when you pump into your local councilor. A 2 minute “elevator pitch” for a phone conversation. A 5-10 minute length when you form a delegation to your local board of trade. A 20-30 minute pitch when you have a meeting with a land owner. I think you get the idea.

Who we pitch to is just as important. Here’s a short list of the types of people we’re going to have to talk to and work with: politicians, bureaucrats, business men, public land owners, private land owners, land stewards… The pitch will be slightly different to each of these, because they all have slightly different concerns. Some will be amenable to a recreation and health based pitch, some an environmental conservation oriented pitch, some a tourism and economic pitch…

Who to pitch first? Well there is an upcoming political election. It might be worth trying to get on the political radar with trails (OTC), park & recreation (PRO), and cycling (Share the Road).

When do we get started? That brings me to the final point everyone was in agreement on. The RLAC should be meeting more frequently, but not necessary in person. We think monthly for an hour to an hour and a half for now. We even set a tentative date for our first RLAC conference call. It’s coming up in two weeks, I look forward to it. The agenda will be just what our “message” should entail, the long version. Then we’ll decide on the pitch lengths and trim the message down to its essence for each length.

Is your club an IMBA affiliate? Does it have a delegate at the RLAC? Don’t know, please get in touch with me and we’ll sort it out. Affiliating with IMBA shows your support and gets you access to our resources. Participating in the RLAC gives you a louder voice in our advocacy efforts.