Should SDMBA Remain a Chapter of IMBA?

Written by Kevin Loomis on 

$35,000 could leave San Diego from your “SDMBA Membership Dues” this year.

When I took over as President of the SDMBA (San Diego Mountain Biking Association) 2 ½ years ago, we already were an IMBA Chapter (International Mountain Biking Association).  To entice clubs to join, IMBA promised many benefits for their 60-40% IMBA/SDMBA membership dues split.  Clubs could fall under IMBA’s 501c3 (non-profit) status – important for smaller clubs.  IMBA also took over membership management and became a hub for advocacy and created resources and professional development opportunities for Chapters to grow.  They had a national Trail Care Crew to train land managers on building sustainable trails and were our voice nationally.  To remain locally relevant, IMBA hired Regional Directors representing local MTB interests.

IMBA’s goals were/are noble.  They united Chapters – collectively making our mountain bike voice stronger resulting in many national wins.  SDMBA benefited from multiple Trail Care Crew Visits building out SDMBA’s expert team of trail builders.  IMBA also helped us with the hiring, training and oversight of our Executive Director, Susie Murphy.  They also hired a California Regional Director, Laurel Harkness, who is deeply involved in the political arena to push back Wilderness Designations on National Forests and State Parks.

Looking at all this, $35,000 going to IMBA sounds almost OK, but is it?

That is the question we’ll be asking SDMBA members in the next few weeks.  While times looked good, for years IMBA had been in an unsustainable position.  The previous Executive Director – Mike Van Abel – ignored calls to shore up finances and stiff armed Chapters growing concern with trails being lost to Wilderness.  Furthermore, the IMBA board charged with overseeing the executive team failed to establish processes to oversee IMBA’s finances and strategic plans.  Until recently, they did not even have committees or metrics in place – resulting in a net loss in the Chapter Program for 2015 of $500,000!  Facing serious concerns to remain an organization the IMBA board belatedly started developing a plan.   

Mike Van Abel for years relied primarily on a single donor – Subaru.  When the Chapter program was established, it was to be self-sustainable – it was not.  Ignoring red ink and calls for a more sustainable plan, Mike downplayed the tenuous financial health of IMBA.  Even though the board was also alerted – they too ignored calls to shore up finances while backing Mike as the IMBA Executive Director.  Once Subaru left, IMBA had no plan.  They immediately reduced personnel by a third, eliminated the Trail Care Crew and fired most Regional Directors (local IMBA reps).  IMBA released some proposals to chapters in order to rectify their situation. They are considering raising membership dues 40% to $49.  For Chapters, services currently offered for free would become ‘pay-per-use.’ To add insult to injury, the new Executive Director, Dave Wiens, publicly stated IMBA cannot support any organization which promotes a change in the Wilderness Designation – allowing bikes in Wilderness.  For many Chapters (SDMBA included) which support a change in the Wilderness Act, this major policy difference could potentially force Chapters to leave IMBA.

Over a year ago, SDMBA had increasing concerns with IMBA.  After creating a SDMBA committee to review the issues, we pushed for the firing of Mike Van Abel along with the unification of California into one region headed by a California Regional Director.  SDMBA also pushed IMBA to conduct a member survey which they did.  IMBA shifted Laurel Harkness to represent the entire state.  Due to this progress, the committee advised the SDMBA board to remain a Chapter – conditionally.  The committee also identified weaknesses SDMBA needed to address if we decided to leave.  Since then we’ve migrated to a new website and software platform allowing us to fully run our organization.  Many IMBA back office benefits can now be done locally.

However, splitting from IMBA also has consequences.  Leaving will require SDMBA to become self sufficient.  Marketing, membership and payroll will need to be brought in-house.  Furthermore, members will no longer have a joint SDMBA/IMBA subscription –  both organizations will vie for your membership.  If too many California Chapters leave, we’d lose our state representation.   To remain relevant, CA MTB groups would need to create a stand alone State CA MTB organization – outside of IMBA.   While the benefits are obvious, we’d also be pulling resources from IMBA.  This would hurt IMBA when they need our support.  IMBA is a critical international advocacy organization for mountain biking which has done amazing work.  I’ve spoken with Dave Wiens, Bruce Alt, Dan Brillion along with others at IMBA to discuss potential solutions.  While we do not know what IMBA’s ultimate solution will be, we have suggestions:

  1. Board Representation – the IMBA board for years has operated anonymously lacking Chapter or Executive Director representation.  This needs to change with forward thinking, successful Chapter Presidents and  Executive Directors being added.
  2. Board Terminations – any IMBA board member serving over three years needs to resign.  Their leadership failure helped foster IMBA’s financial demise.  IMBA needs true leaders with real vision for IMBA’s rebirth.
  3. Wilderness – IMBA needs to drop their opposition to organizations promoting a change in the Wilderness Act.  Their current stance could require Chapters to drop their opposition or be forced to leave IMBA.  Ironically, IMBA is out of touch with their own membership based on their survey.  Roughly 48% of IMBA national members and close to 70% of western members want the 1964 Wilderness Act restored.  SDMBA wants the Wilderness Blanket Ban on Bikes lifted.  
  4. Revenue Share – the split of membership dues needs to be adjusted.  IMBA cannot expect Chapters to pay the same while reducing services.  
  5. Membership Rate – IMBA needs to drop the proposed 40% membership dues increase.  Roughly 40% of SDMBA members pay $35 in dues – we desire to increase memberships not decrease them.  Furthermore, IMBA’s model showed little additional revenue being created by the increase.
  6. Transparency – IMBA has been notorious for their lack of transparency.  IMBA needs to  publicly release on their website all IMBA board minutes.  In addition, IMBA needs to fully and publicly open their books.  Had these simple actions taken place, Chapters would have seen these problems years ago.  

Circling back, what are your thoughts?  There are no easy decisions here.  Until we know what IMBA decides, we are in a holding pattern.  Between now and then – get vocal, ask questions and demand change!  We suggest you start at the top.  Please email:

As things transpire, we’ll keep you informed.  Please forward this to everyone along with every group you know.    

Kevin Loomis – President – San Diego Mountain Biking Association