by Michelle Barker, IMBA Upper Midwest Region Director
I’m lucky, as I have one of the best jobs in the world—a job that is focused on bikes. As the Upper Midwest Region Director for the International Mountain Bicycling Association, I interact daily with volunteers, land managers and the cycling industry through conversations about mountain biking, how to make it better and how to create more of it. I regularly travel across the Midwest and—along the way—experience great riding in our backyards, National Forest lands, state parks, county and city parks, and even inside old warehouses that have been transformed into all-weather bike parks.
But mountain biking means so much more to me than just riding; it is a conduit for a variety of opportunities and itself represents opportunity.
In my line of work, bikes are an opportunity to engage with amazing volunteers who give generously of their time, energies and resources. Across the country, passionate volunteers set aside time on their weekends and take time off from their vocations to clear trail debris, meet with partner agencies and host exciting events—all because they desire to provide great mountain biking for themselves, their friends and their communities.
I have witnessed how mountain biking can also be an opportunity for youth to experience outdoor recreation in their hometowns. I have two boys, ages 11 and 13, and they travel on many of my mountain bike trips to places like Copper Harbor, MI; Cuyuna, MN; and the Twin Cities. But they learned to ride and love riding on their local mountain bike trails, like so many other young people.
Mountain biking also opens the door to community activism and advocacy. My previous career was in education and, so often as a teacher, I heard complaints about apathetic youth. Through mountain biking, I have seen students attend public input meetings, write letters to elected officials, work on mapping projects and engage in conservation projects, all because they love to ride.
Trails provide a unique opportunity to step off the metaphorical merry-go-round of a responsible adult life and just enjoy being outside on your bike. A quick lunchtime ride clears away the clutter in my brain and creates a happier, more productive me for afternoon work. Riding before work (or to work) puts me in a better place to tackle the day’s challenges and celebrate the day’s successes.
Riding singletrack is an opportunity to spend time with friends and family, and I absolutely love to mountain bike with my girlfriends! We all lead busy lives, so mountain biking is our opportunity to catch up, get outdoors, learn something new and sneak in some exercise. We come away tired, happy, re-energized and full of great, new stories.
Mountain biking also creates special opportunities for travel. I have traveled with my family across much of the U.S. and even into Canada simply to ride bicycles in each other’s company. Along the way, we experienced excellent trails in each of our destinations and met like-minded people who remain lifelong friends.
Bikes—specifically mountain bikes—create opportunities to meet wonderful, passionate people, ride amazing trails across the country (and around the world), engage in local advocacy efforts, experience outdoor recreation, decompress and enjoy time with friends and family. Bikes are my passion, my avocation and—proudly—my vocation.