Guest Article: Riding against the machine

Guest Article: Riding against the machine


A manifesto of sorts, by The Ümabomber.

Publisher’s note: This article was written by The Ümabomber and was originally published on her blog.

I’ve been a cyclist for over 25 years and a dedicated mountain biker for the past 8 years. I have ridden trails all over the Western US. And I have never poached a trail that was closed to riding. Ever. Until today.

“People — especially conservative people — love to hate what they don’t understand… When we ride bikes, we are perceived as less human.”

Today I popped my poaching cherry.

People who know me can’t believe I’ve never poached. I’ve been an outspoken advocate for bike access on trails since I started riding dirt. I’m a noisy upstart, an outspoken firebrand, and I rail against the machine. I’m good at rallying the troops and making noise, and with a name like The Ümabomber, it’s easy to see why people would expect me to ride rogue.

But I’m also possessed of some weird conscience that feels horribly guilty if I go against the law. Partly, it’s that I didn’t want my actions to negatively impact the work others are doing to create positive change. I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

But there’s a problem with that problem.

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The problem is “the problem” is manufactured. The problem is a matter of perception. Mountain bikers (and cyclists in general) are perceived as threats to most non-bike riding humans in the United States. People—especially conservative people—love to hate what they don’t understand; gays, people of other nationalities, other belief systems, other social classes.

When we ride bikes, we are perceived as less human. We are perceived as earth-raping, road-sucking monsters whose only purpose is to create havoc and ruin other people’s lives. We are in the way. We are obstacles to other people’s enjoyment of reality—or their escape from it.

After the recent Portland Parks & Recreation decision to ban bikes from a trail system where bikes had not been identified as threats to the preservation of a large city park, it was clear that railing against the machine would no longer be enough. It was time to ride against the machine.

So, today I rode my bike on single track trail in one of the largest public parks in the country, on trails that are closed to anyone except Nature Conservancy hikers, their (illegally) off-lease dogs, and uber-fit long distance runners in safety orange day-glo running shoes.


From last night’s protest ride.
(Photo by Vince Rodarte)

From last night’s protest ride.

I took about 55 friends with me. My deflowering was public: the loss of my poaching virginity made the evening news. Even more poignant, the trail is named Wild Cherry.

We were courteous. We made way for people to pass. We said hello. We didn’t descend upon them—wheeled hellions from the sky—screaming blood curdling death cries, snatching up their soft, furry canines in our talons to rip to shreds and feed to your young. We didn’t hate. I can’t say we met the same courtesy in everyone we encountered. And don’t look now, but according to the comments left on the news channels who covered our ride, there are many people who feel they can and should run us over with their cars and trucks.

You’d think we were pedophiles or rapists instead of people who ride bikes, that’s how much mainstream America has in their hearts for us.

As rides go, it was anti-climatic. Short and sweet-ish. The purpose was to show our numbers and to take the trails with the same unapologetic ownership other user groups take for granted. As we headed out for the trail, I climbed up on a garbage can and delivered our message:

Dear Portland: We’re here. Our numbers are growing. We are not terrorists. We are people who ride bikes. We live here. We work, and pay taxes, and volunteer in our communities. We vote. We probably do more trail work than you do. And we build better, more sustainable and environmentally beneficial trails than you do. You need to stop treating us like we are some kind of criminal class. We are going to ride. Get used to it.

As [Bike Magazine reporter] Vernon Felton mentioned in his recent article, Portland does not deserve to be awarded any kudos for being “bike-friendly”. The truth is, Portland is “bike-friendly” if you are a commuter, sort of. Certainly, Portland does not deserve the League of American Bicyclist’s “Platinum Status” for Bike-Friendly Cities when she systematically and repeatedly refuse to accommodate or include an entire user group.

I propose a new designation: Prohibition Status.

In the 20s, prohibition supporters were referred to as “Drys” and anti-prohibition adherents were “Wets”. Here in Portland, as mountain bikers, we are under siege by a new breed of “dry crusaders”; conservative NIMBYs who reject reason and logic and refuse to share what isn’t even theirs to give.

So while I applaud my local trail advocacy groups for their letter writing campaigns and ongoing conversations with city policy makers (and especially for filing suit against the city) I think my days of playing nicey-nice with the Drys are over. I simply refuse to be part of “the problem” any longer. I refuse to play into the expectations forced upon me by other, more entitled user groups, these new prohibitionists.

See, I’ve had my trail poaching cherry popped, now. Amanda Fritz made me do it. And now there’s no going back. I’m going to ride more… wet and dirty.

I asked The Ümabomber to clarify whether or not she and the 60 or so other riders who showed up to the protest ride last night actually rode bikes on illegal singletrack in Forest Park. Here’s how she responded:

“I can neither confirm nor deny ‘reports of riding on illegal trails’.

I can tell you this:

While some of the hikers we passed were courteous and friendly, others were not amused and downright pissed off. It doesn’t matter if we ride or walk from a user conflict point of view. People who don’t ride bikes do not want to share with people who do. Now now. Not ever. Not anywhere.”

Check out the TV news coverage of the ride via KATU and KPTV.

Publisher’s note: This story was originally posted with a different title. It was changed after it became a distraction and many readers contacted me to say it was offensive to them. — Jonathan

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