With the rapidly approaching summer season, melting snow on mountain bike trails, and warming days, I figured it was high time to write a post dedicated to bike patrolling. Bike patrol, in the context of utility cycling, does not refer to police bikes or law enforcement by bicycle, rather it focuses on the use of bicycles to patrol public lands and trails for a number of purposes, including land user safety and etiquette, land management and safety, and much more. Bicycle patrol is not about enforcement, rather it focuses on educating, assisting, and informing land users. Although bike patrollers most frequently work with recreational cyclists, the bike patrollers themselves are very much utility cyclists, who use their bicycles to protect both the land and the land users. Bike patrol is conceptualized here at Utility Cycling as both an Emergency and Patrol Service by Bike, as well as a Bicycle Land Service. Header image credit: CORBA.
Image Credit: MTB Adventure Series
What is Bike Patrol?
Bike patrol generally refers to a group of volunteers who work together with local, national, and even international bike advocacy organizations, land management organizations, land owners, law enforcement and emergency personnel, as well as mountain bikers and other recreational cyclists to provide a safe, responsible, and fun environment for using public lands, trails, and roads. The term “bike patrol” often refers to the International Mountain Bike Association’s (IMBA) National Mountain Bike Patrol Program (NMBP), which “consists of dedicated volunteers partnering with land mangers, landowners and emergency personnel to assist, educate and inform all trail users in order to enhance their recreational experience” and encourages trail users to obey the IMBA Rules of the Trail. However, bike patrol can also refer to volunteers who assist riders during charity bike rides and other events, such as the bike patrol group of the Perimeter Bicycling Association of America. But whether it be NMBP or PBAA, bike patrols refer to organized and recognized groups, with some degree of formal training, that aid in creating positive and responsible environments for using bicycles on public, and sometimes private, lands. You can always spot a bike patroller with their brightly colored jerseys and identifying gear.
Bike patrollers, whether they be working on local mountain bike trails or in a charity cycling event, often have similar characteristics, such as the desire to help other riders, educate riders on proper etiquette, update land managers and owners on local conditions, work with local groups to maintain access to trails and roads, volunteer time and collaborate with other groups on local cycling events, assist in medical emergencies, and assist in minor bike repairs. Bike patrollers are usually certified in CPR and have passed local or national level certification courses and tests, although this varies to some degree depending on the context. IMBA, for example, has four requirements, including CPR certification, completing a training course, passing the national level patrol exam, and submitting a membership application and fee. And last, but certainly not least, bike patrollers like to ride their bikes!
Check out this short informational video about IMBA’s NMBP narrated by the great Dave Towle, to get a better sense of what bike patrol is all about.
A Brief History of Bike Patrol
Dirt Rag did a fabulous history of the IMBA’s National Bike Patrol called 15 Years of Service: A Look Back at IMBA’s National Mountain Bike Patrol, so I will just briefly summarize their piece, which I highly recommend you check out. The Concerned Off-Road Bicyclists Association (CORBA), which participated in the creation of the Mountain Bike Unit (MBU) in 1988, generally considered to be one of the first bike patrol units, played a huge role in the development of bike patrol in the U.S. CORBA was started in 1987 in response to new issues of land access and rights in the 1980’s in California, as mountain biking gained popularity. CORBA played a pivotal role in providing better access to trails in California for a variety of trail users. Meanwhile, the New England Mountain Bike Association (NEMBA) provided a similar role on the opposite side of the county in the early to mid 1990’s.
Image Credit: The Mountain Murmur
In 1994, the NMBP was formed by the National Off-Road Bicycling Association (NORBA). NORBA, along with being the primary governing body for mountain bike racing in the U.S., was also heavily involved in trail use advocacy, and worked in partnership with IMBA, the Bureau of Land Management, and other groups to develop a strong bike patrol unit through NMBP. The control of NMBP was later transferred to IMBA, but NORBA continued to fund trail advocacy for some time. Throughout the years, the extensive volunteer network of NMBP was developed through training and enabled by volunteer contributions. Today, the bike patrol network is upheld through a long list of local bike patrol groups, which work with local land managers and trail users to protect trail access and quality for all users.
Bike Patrol Groups
There are a wide number of bike patrol groups at the internat
ional, national, and local level. The most notable perhaps, is IMBA’s NMBP, but there are also bike patrol groups that are associated with charity bike events, parks, and more. To find a NMBP bike patrol group in your state or region, check out IMBA’s list of registered NMBP Groups. Another program that was recently introduced by IMBA is called the Trail Ambassador Program. Unlike official bike patrollers, who must pass medical training, trail ambassadors can provide many of the same educational and information roles to trail users, and land managers, but are not required to assist in medical emergencies like a registered bike patroller. There are also many trail care crews, that work directly with bike patrol groups to maintain the quality of local trails.
If you are interested in getting involved in a local mountain bike patrol, check out the NMBP homepage or look for a local bicycle charity event that may incorporate bike patrol.