When I hike up Madonna Mountain, I often encounter bicyclists huffing and puffing, spraying sweat, and churning dirt at a steady pace ... that is slower than my flower-sniffing amble.
I recently met my friend Gary for breakfast to discuss the state of mountain biking trails. He’s a dedicated member of CCCMB (Central Coast Concerned Mountain Bikers). The group started 24 years ago as a way to educate bikers and maintain trails in Montaña de Oro. Though Gary has been a member since nearly the founding, he’s not a mountain biker! In fact, his sole experience was at Johnson Ranch when Dan, head of the bike coalition, took him on a ride. Gary flew off a 36-inch wide bridge he had helped build, landing on his head. This was only the first spill. Though Gary sticks to the road, he understands there’s something special about trail biking: “You can see it in the way people’s faces light up. The dreaminess and grins that come over their faces when they talk of the quiet, the lack of cars ... .”
Gary explained to me that mountain biking gathers people together.
“One hundred and seventy people showed up at Froom Ranch recently to build a trail,” Gary said. “These weren’t just mountain bikers. Hikers, equestrians, SLO Parks and Recreation, and the business community attended.”
A quarter mile or so of path was etched that day.
Hikers and equestrians understandably freak out when a mountain bicycle shrieks around the corner, popping over rocks. In some places, such conflict led to outright animosity and trail closures. The etiquette: Equestrians come first, then hikers. Yup, mountain bikers are at the bottom of the food chain. Plus, you must yield to whoever is traveling uphill. The peacefulness of our trail relations can be attributed to our pro-active cyclists. These responsible bikers (and I’m not saying everyone is) work to avoid potential conflict.
One major step was the birth of the Bell Program two years ago on Superbowl Sunday. You may have noticed little wooden boxes at trailheads. Inside are tiny cowbells you can borrow, Velcro onto your handlebars, and return at the end of your ride. The bells are extremely helpful on blind corners, alerting people and animals a bike is coming!
Bill Jenkins helped create the program: “About six miles of new trails are being built at Montaña de Oro on the way to Hazard Peak. The supervisor out there is almost certain mountain bikes will be allowed on the trails when they are finished. The reason being, the bells are working!”
Building confidence and trust in hikers and equestrians, the bells avoid potential conflict. The bikers become more aware, too; they slow down and communicate. Apparently horses can hear the bells before their riders can—up to half a mile away.
Not only is SLO’s cycling community unique in the level of cooperation between groups including the Sierra Club, equestrian groups, and the city, our mountain bikers are cutting-edge leaders of trail design and maintenance. John Cutter, a custom frame builder in town and crew leader for CCCMB, explained the concept of a sustainable trail: “If the path is too steep, water runs down it, bikers skid, and erosion occurs ... but if you keep it under a certain gradient or carve small reversals, the water can run off naturally. It’s actually neat to have a flow and meander. There is playfulness to it.”
Building a sustainable trail allows the hillside to stay intact. It doesn’t require much maintenance. Traditionally, crews met once or twice a month to do trail work, monitor areas, and complete specific tasks.
Now when I’m hiking and mountain bikers struggle by, I’m not only impressed with their strength and perseverance, I admire their stewardship of the land. I appreciate our ability to share these rugged, coastal trails. I’ve even grown to like the clink of a bell following me.
Can you imagine a bicycle paradise?
What would it be like if we lived in a utopia in which people primarily pedaled or walked? Can you see beautiful, quiet trails connecting the towns in our county, far from car traffic? Send me your ideas or fantasies of what this would be like. ∆
Alycia Kiley’s Way of the Wheel appears the last Thursday of each month. Send ideas to email@example.com.