In 1991, Kent Young invited a group of fellow cyclists to meet at University Bicycles, which he managed at the time, to talk about advocacy for the relatively new sport they’d taken up.
“Mountain biking was becoming more and more popular, but there was no voice in Boulder,” he said. “And generally across the country, it was the beginning of mountain bikers trying to represent themselves as a legitimate user group.”
“Without a voice at the table, there were opportunities that were just getting missed.”
A few meetings later, the group elected a board and became the Boulder Offroad Alliance, which changed its name in 2006 to Boulder Mountainbike Alliance.
Though BMA celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, the battles over bikes on trails in Boulder County started more than 20 years ago, when mountain biking was a fledgling sport, in the 1980s. A 1982 story in the Daily Camera reported:
“‘Mountain bikers’ lost their bout with the Boulder City Council Tuesday for open-ended riding privileges on city parks and open space trails and unimproved roads.
“The council voted … to generally prohibit the non-motorized bikes on trails, fire access roads and other unimproved roads in city parks and open space.”
Though some bans were lifted by the early ’90s, access for mountain biking was limited. Mike Barrow, advocacy director for BMA and longtime member, likes to compare a 1993 map of area trails to today’s map for an access perspective.
“On the back side there are ride profiles,” Barrow said. “There’s about a dozen of those on the back, and three of them are actual trails. The rest of them are roads.”
Now, a similar map would show more than 30 trails open to mountain biking, he said.
“Mountain biking was so new at the time, there was no organization, no constituency, no one taking up the lead for mountain bikers,” said Martha Roskowski, who was at that first meeting at University Bicycles in 1991 and served on BOA’s board for its first three years of existence. Roskowski is now the program manager for GO Boulder.
She said BOA’s initial focus was on doing trail projects with agencies. Their first was with Boulder County, she said, on a badly eroding trail at Walker Ranch.
“We had a group of 40 or 50 and built a new trail up and over Crescent Meadows,” she said of the group’s first trails day.
“There was a lot of positive energy in those early days,” she said. “It was really neat to see the mountain bike community come together.”
Today, BMA isn’t a huge organization, said Mark Eller, communications director for the International Mountain Bicycling Association, an international organization that is based in Boulder and works with local groups like BMA. But 20 years in, “they have the durability.”
“Boulder and Marin (Calif.) are probably the best examples of where mountain biking became popular early and then faced restrictions on local trails,” Eller said. “Mountain bikers in both places have had to take their lumps, regroup and figure out what they’re going to do about it.”
Barrow said BOA was less political in the early years than it is now.
“It was more about sweat equity and trail building,” he said. “It was about not rocking the boat.”
The organization became more politically active in 2000 and 2001 amid City Council elections, he said. In 2001, BOA became a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, which allowed them to endorse issues and candidates.
Looking back, Barrow said BMA’s greatest accomplishment is the Picture Rock Trail, which opened in 2008.
“Picture Rock Trail, and Wild Turkey, on Heil Valley Ranch, are two examples of where we really got it right, insofar as building a sustainable trail,” he said.
“It’s stacked-loop system where you can start in the same spot and get dispersed from the crowd quickly and get out there where the wild things are,” he said.
Young said in the early days of mountain biking, being able to ride a bike to a place like Rollins Pass “was high adventure.”
“It was a lot of discovery, trying to figure out what was out there, where you could go, what was legitimate, what wasn’t,” Young said.
“We were just taking bikes where they’d never been before and were just in awe of the whole thing.”