Thursday, March 31, 2011

Should rail trails be classified as road biking?

Route of the Hiawatha trail in Idaho
In addition to my own trail website, I enjoy contributing to other trail communities. After all, it is my hope that we all have the same general goal: to promote the enjoyable and healthy lifestyle that trails offer.
However, I am having trouble convincing other websites that there should be a third category of biking besides mountain biking and road biking.
My most recent foray into this topic was with Russell of Alltrails.com. First, I want to thank Russell for replying to my request. I appreciate that he took the time to consider the issue and give me a detailed reply. As with all people in the internet trail business, he is most gracious and helpful.
Here is what Russell had to say about my request:


"Thanks for the suggestion Kevin. Today we classify most of the rail trails under road biking since as you pointed out they are paved surfaces that require little to no mountain biking skills. When we spoke with users most people found adding an additional category for biking to be confusing. That being said, we do appreciate the feedback and we'll make sure to revisit this in future updates to the site."

This is similar to the replies I have gotten from other websites such as Everytrail, Trails.com, Mapmyride, Ride with GPS, etc. So my intent is not to say that Alltrails is out of line. In fact they are right in line with all the others. Instead, I would like to offer my own suggestions regarding this issue and hope that I can convince one of the major trail-information websites to take the bold step of adding a third category of trails called trail biking:
  1. Rail trails should definitely not be classified as road biking!! The obvious reason for this is because it does not involve a road, but a trail. In fact, most people who ride on rail trails are doing so to avoid riding on roads.
  2. It would not confuse people to add a third category. Much more confusing is to classify rail-trails as road biking. By definition, a trail is basically the opposite of a road when it comes to biking and hiking.
  3. Although many rail-trails are paved/concrete, many (possibly most) are not. Some are gravel, some cinder, some ballast, some dirt... Each one is different. But they all have one thing in common. They are all family-friendly and they all cater to the needs of all demographic groups, unlike mountain biking and road biking.
  4. Both road biking and mountain biking, at least in the minds of many people, offer some element of danger and risk. Trail biking, once again, is quite the opposite. It is relaxing and extremely safe. It attracts a completely different type of user.
  5. It is estimated that only 1% of Americans ride bikes on a regular basis. Despite the fact that bike riding is fun, healthy, environmentally-friendly, inexpensive, and (potentially) relaxing, something is keeping people from riding bikes on a regular basis. It is my firm belief that our stringent policy of categorizing all biking into the two narrow categories of mountain biking and road biking is a major factor in the limited biking habits of most Americans.
  6. I first became interested in trail biking (I was already an avid mountain biker.) when I took my one-year-old daughter on the Hiawatha Trail in Idaho. Of course she was in a bike trailer and I was pulling her behind my bicycle. It was a revelation to me. I loved the idea that I could enjoy trails with my daughter while avoiding the risks of road biking and mountain biking. Our father/daughter biking trips continued on trails such as the Withlacoochee Trail in Florida and others throughout the country. We were biking together, but we were not mountain biking or road biking. My daughter has never been interested in the rigors of mountain biking, and I don't like the odds of serious/fatal accidents involved with her biking alongside large, fast-moving, often distracted drivers and their automobiles. (side note - Believe me, I am the polar opposite of an over-protective parent, and I would gladly allow my daughter to road-bike if she had such an inclination.)
  7. As I travel the country and ride the various family-friendly trails, I can't help but notice that they attract a completely different type of recreationalist. In general, these people are incredibly friendly, laid back, nature-loving, slow-paced individuals and families. That's what they have in common. What they don't have in common is age, income, background, or lifestyle. They seem to come from all walks of life and have varied ages, backgrounds, and socio-economic status. Most of them have no desire to risk life and limb on a road or mountain bike trail. They just love getting out and enjoying the laid-back offerings of a safe and simple trail.
It is for the reasons listed above and many more, that I started the trails network website. I wanted to help other people find the joy of these trails without the risks of road biking and mountain biking. Trail biking is as different from these other two categories as hiking is different than backpacking or trail-running. Alas though, my website is just a small fish in a big pond and doesn't attract the  visitors that the other big websites do. And since my objective is to introduce as many people as possible to the joys of trail riding, I'd prefer to have at least one other site promote trail biking.

It isn't my goal to change all of the various trail websites to my way of thinking. In fact, I hope that there remains variety and choices among the different sites. However, I hope I can convince just one of them to add the category of trail biking so we can spread the word about a third category of trails. It is my dream to raise the percentage of regular bikers in America from 1% to 50% or 75% or, what the heck, let's shoot for 100%. Biking does not have to be dangerous, competitive, or mundane. I am so glad that I get to experience, on a daily basis, the joys of trail-biking throughout America. I look forward to seeing more people join me in this healthy, green, and enjoyable pursuit.


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4 comments:

Charles said...

I only ride on paved rail trails in Florida so a car doesn't pop me. It is so dangerous to ride on highways. Excellent blog. All the best.

trailsnet said...

I feel the same way, Charles. Rail trails are by far the most relaxing way to go with no fear for cars, ruts, roots, and rocks. (The dreaded 3 r's of mountain biking)

I've also found that rail-trails are scenic and nostalgic, taking users to places car drivers never see and at a pace that is conducive to observation and enjoyment.

You've got some awesome trails in Florida. My daughter & I had a blast on a rented tandem recumbent while riding the Withlacoochee State Trail.
Florida is definitely on my "must go back for another trail ride" list.

Charles said...

I only ride on paved rail trails in Florida so a car doesn't pop me. It is so dangerous to ride on highways. Excellent blog. All the best.

trailsnet said...

I feel the same way, Charles. Rail trails are by far the most relaxing way to go with no fear for cars, ruts, roots, and rocks. (The dreaded 3 r's of mountain biking)

I've also found that rail-trails are scenic and nostalgic, taking users to places car drivers never see and at a pace that is conducive to observation and enjoyment.

You've got some awesome trails in Florida. My daughter & I had a blast on a rented tandem recumbent while riding the Withlacoochee State Trail.
Florida is definitely on my "must go back for another trail ride" list.