IMBA and the art of the Bait and Switch

And neither does the IMBA.

The International Mountain Bike Association throws the term “singletrack” around in all of their marketing materials, the above photo being just another hilarious example. I’m on their email and direct-mail lists, so every week I get something from the IMBA that says “give us money so we can build singletrack. If you don’t give us money, you hate new singletrack trails.”

In the past five years I’ve seen:

  1. Very few new trails opened by the IMBA, none of them singletrack.
  2. Existing singletrack trails closed or access restricted thanks to bargains or promises with land managers made by the IMBA or it’s affiliates.
  3. IMBA showing up and turning existing singletrack trails into “sustainable” sidewalks “for riders of all abilities.”
Because “Likes don’t help us make boring trails and tenuous and often-times unrewarding agreements with land managers” didn’t have the same ring to it for IMBA’s social media campaign.

I don’t even care about singletrack that much. It’s not my favorite-ist thing to ride, and it’s certainly not my cause célèbre. If it were up to me all trails would be downhill trails, they’d be 20 feet wide, filled with death from start to finish, and you’d be happy to survive. Maybe the climbs would be singletrack, but that’s sort of an afterthought. The climbs could all be gravel roads and that’d be cool too. I like riding singletrack trails I guess, but it’s certainly not my calling in life and not what gets me up in the morning. If I had to choose between snapping my fingers and riding 20 miles of new singletrack or snapping my fingers and having a Taco Bell Beefy Crunch Burrito Box, I’d have to think about it for a while. I’d probably go with the new trail over the Taco Bell, but only because the Five Buck Boxes come with a 20 oz drink, and I need way more than 20 oz of Dew to wash down all that Taco Bell.

So much gastric distress for only five bucks.
The point is that my preference for or against singletrack doesn’t enter into it. And maybe the IMBA does lots of good things for trail advocacy. I don’t really know if that’s true, but lots of people who I trust and respect insist that IMBA’s lobbying efforts in Congress, in state houses, and with local land managers across the nation have done immeasurable good in changing the climate for legitimate trail building in the U.S. And maybe that’s all true, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about the IMBA and the very simple, very tangible idea of singletrack trails. What the IMBA is doing with their singletrack guilt trip campaign is the oldest trick in the book: the bait and switch.
Remember when Discovery Channel went on every talk show and radio show in America to make sure we tuned in to watch some guy get eaten alive by an Anaconda? And you were all, “yeah, I’ll watch that. Homie could die, that would be awesome.”
And he’s going to be covered in pig’s blood too? Put the TV on mute and turn up the Cannibal Corpse.

But then more and more information came out, and it turned out that instead of getting eaten alive and having to Steve Erwin his way out of there with nothing but pure grit and elbow grease, instead he was going to wear some massive zero-risk carbon fiber pressure suit with it’s own oxygen supply, a complete diagnostic kit broadcasting his vital signs to nearby stunt handlers via bluetooth, and probably a shiatsu massage function and foot warmers.
And then you were all, “yeah, that’s kind of weak, but I guess I’ll still watch this spectacle because maybe the snake will die trying to swallow carbon fiber Darth Vader, and then it’ll be great to watch these guys try to justify their excuse of ‘raising awareness for anaconda conservation efforts’ after they just killed one of these great majestic lumbering beasts with a 4th-grade circus act that could have been dreamed up on the back of a napkin while sitting around a table at the Denny’s across the street from Motel 6, probably while eating pancakes at two in the morning after watching cable reruns of the original ‘Anaconda’ starring the great but Cajun-accent-challenged Jon Voight.”
That’s where my brain went, anyways.
Jon Voight had an airtight plan in “Anaconda” and he still died at the end of the movie, so there’s still an outside chance that everything goes horribly wrong on this Discovery special and we have some quality television. I’ll take that chance. So I’m in.

You bought the hype, you made a bowl of popcorn and tuned in to Discovery on December 7 to maybe watch someone die, but probably just to watch an anaconda gag for 45 minutes with commercials, and all you get is an anaconda-sized case of blue balls. The snake constricts Darth Vader for, like, an hour or something, in what uncomfortably reminds me of that one weird aunt of yours hugging you for a little too long as you’re saying your final goodbyes and trying to get out the door on what must have been the longest Thansgiving day of all time. And then once the holiday hugfest is over, right as the snake starts to eat Darth Vader the whole thing gets called off because it’s “endangering Paul’s safety.”
Let me break it down for you:
That’s what we want. That’s why we came here. I did not come to the Discovery channel to watch a guy be safe with a 27 foot 2000 pound killing machine for 45 minutes.
I came here to watch a guy potentially get destroyed, hoping that everything goes wrong and the handlers can’t get to him in time and we have an up close and personal HD view of that regretful look on his face as he realizes “hey, this snake is really trying to kill me right now.” AKA the reason people watched Steve Erwin. AKA the reason people watched Siegfried and Roy. AKA the only reason people have ever watched live acts involving big scary animals in small spaces with unprotected human beings. Because, just in case everything goes wrong, we’d like to have front row seats.
It would be fine if they tried all this snake-eating-a-person stuff in private, and then when it flopped because this Paul Rosolie Herpetologist guy got cold feet at any sign of danger, the head honchos at Discovery said, “damn, that didn’t work, I guess we’ll just throw all this footage out and chalk this one up as a big miss.” But they didn’t do that, did they?
“Paul, our latest numbers show that if we just lie a bunch we can still get people to tune in.”
Who knows, maybe they didn’t think they were lying. That possibility is somehow even worse. Maybe they thought this whole thing would be “educational” no matter what the outcome was. So even though we don’t get to see anything that could even be construed as scary or dangerous, or as I like to call it “interesting,” maybe the bigwigs at Discovery bought their own BS and thought the 4.1 million people who tuned in would learn a lot of useful stuff about snakes and nature and conservation. So Discovery didn’t “lie” (which is such a dirty word anyway) so much as they fudged the truth a little. It may not have lived up to our expectations, but weren’t our expectations a little unrealistic in the first place? I mean, who actually thought that this guy was going to get entirely eaten by a snake anyway? I mean, sure, Discovery’s own marketing materials were constructed in such a way as to lead you directly to that conclusion, but that’s a little naive on your part as the viewer, isn’t it? And really, it was for our own benefit after all, wasn’t it? We all learned something.
Pinocchio never mastered the art of rationalizing and self-deception.
Yes, it’s more disturbing and much more dangerous to deal with people who believe their own BS than people who just lie to your face for their own benefit. If you’re able to lie to yourself, even a little bit, you can justify doing insane things in the pursuit of your chosen cause. The ends justify the means, right? And anyone who takes issue with all those pesky little facts and half truths along the way, well, they’re just standing in the way of progress.
Great examples of little lies and half truths that, unchecked, got way out of control:

The Spanish Inquisition.

The Salem Witch Trials.

The rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, and ultimately WW2 and the Holocaust.
Matthew McConnaughey winning an Oscar. Someone should have said something before it came to this. Someone has to tell him he’s not a real actor, right? Really, nobody’s going to do it?!?
Anyway, that’s what it’s like talking to the IMBA.

16 thoughts on “IMBA and the art of the Bait and Switch

  1. Well, thanks a lot for ruining “Anaconda” for me…scratch that from Netflix. A-hole.

  2. In my area the IMBA affiliate club has built around 50 miles of singletrack in the last 6 years. The first round of trails were legit, but as time goes on (and I think the IMBA relationship was sealed) the trails have gotten progressively slower (flat, tight and twisty) and less technical.

  3. I wanna like IMBA. I do. Harsh reality is IMBA is out of touch with mountain biking. Every other part of the MTB industry pushes the edge–lighter, faster– crap, we have legit 35 lb. DH rigs now. If IMBA was a bike company, they'd be producing 29er hardtails with 72 degree head angles and canti brakes.

  4. I agree with everything but the Matthew McConnaughey thing, he was unbelievably good in “True Detective”!
    I think all those girly movies just made him look bad ^^

  5. “If it were up to me all trails would be downhill trails, they'd be 20 feet wide, filled with death from start to finish, and you'd be happy to survive.”


  6. You have got this all wrong. IMBA is your best friend! Why? Becuse like it or not this sport is starting to attract a lot of dicks and I mean a lot of dicks! You Don't want these dicks on your buff secret steep loose gnarly loam trails do you? These dicks need a home, an that home is these gravel all weather trails. That what they like, that's what they need. They can all gather there and be unsociable dicks together. Leaving the rad trails for the real riders!

  7. A-men! I've been trying to like imba for a long time, but the truth is they just don't build trails that real mtbers enjoy. They build trails for roadies who think they mtb. WE WANT MORE TECHNICAL TRAILS!!!

  8. I thought the Mission of the IMBA was to make money? Why else would they take 60% of membership dollars from their chapters and then not support them in any way when their insurance policy gets dropped?

    I thought it was a network of contractors in it to make money, not singletrack. Thanks for clearing this up for me.

  9. x2 on Matthew McConnaughey…Wooderson in Dazed and Confused makes up for a lot of bad roles.

Comments are closed.