By Monica Alonzo
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Which cuts to one of the thorniest barriers between mountain bikers and increased trail access--the stereotype of mountain bikers as reckless trail hogs who bully hikers and ride roughshod over Mother Nature. To combat this image problem, national bike magazines and advocacy organizations such as N.O.R.B.A (the National Off-Road Bicycle Association) have called on mountain bikers to improve relations with other trail users, use minimum-impact riding techniques (i.e., stay on the trails, don't ride after a fresh rain) and organize trail maintenance programs.
As a goodwill effort, mountain bikers in some states, including Arizona, even work on trails where they're not legally allowed to ride (on the Rama Ride, the bikers made a game of cleaning up trash along the wilderness trail, leaning to swoop up litter on the fly like polo players swinging a mallet).
The success of such PR campaigns, however, has been incremental at best, and the mountain-biker access movement has split into two camps: those who want to keep working within the system, and those who have given up on it. "All we want is the same access rights as farm animals and mining equipment," says Rama, referring to the cattle and heavy machinery allowed in wilderness areas around Sedona that are prohibited to bikers. "The system doesn't give us that, and we've given the system enough time. Now we're going to ride where we want."
"Rather than follow the law, which is unfair, we follow our motto," says Wheeze. "'Hurt no one, and do as you please.'"
"Hurt no one, my ass," one angry fellow biker from Colorado wrote the Web site. "You hurt the credibility of us all. Off-road cyclists all over the U.S. are fighting for trail access, and we are fighting a war of reputation. When you pull a wise-ass stunt like this, you make us all seem irresponsible. You smeared mountain bikers everywhere. I wish they'd flown you to Leavenworth in leg irons."
Sitting Buddha-style at a stone table outside a Sedona coffee house on a recent Wednesday morning, Wheeze smokes hand-rolled tobacco-and-sage cigarettes (despite the asthma inhaler rolled inside his Lycra biker shorts) and holds forth to an audience of five or six locals on Sedona Jeep tour companies, and the preferential treatment he claims they receive from "the Forest Circus" when it comes to wilderness use permits. He is clearly enjoying his role as de facto spokesman and agitator.
"True, we didn't intend to start a snowball rolling," says Wheeze. "But intentional, unintentional . . . whatever. The fact is, we have generated momentum. And I'm into pushing this as far as we can just to see what gives."
The Sedona 5 may have accidentally built a soapbox, but only the Sedona one and a half have clambered up with something to say. The focus of life for Forest, Long Tall and Dangerous Dave has remained much the same after the canyon ride as it was before--drums to make, spines to adjust, trails to ride, bowls to smoke and berries to eat. Those three say they'll take part in future "Sedona 5"-sponsored protest rides, but when it comes to furthering the group's cause--and its notoriety--they're just along for the ride.
Rama is working with Wheeze to organize a sequel to the first canyon ride--a public civil disobedience action this time, instead of another stealth ride. He talks of the chance to channel the gut-level public response into an informed challenge to the Park Service policy against mountain bikes. But there is considerably more slack in his tone than in Wheeze's.
"The big question now is whether we'll be able to actually rally the mountain bikers or if we're just blowin' in the wind, and a year from now we'll be back to doing joy rides," Rama says. "Either way is fine with me."
Beyond a narrative description and photos of the original canyon ride, the primary feature of the Sedona 5 Web site is a specific policy proposal for opening the Grand Canyon to mountain bikes. The plan is listed under the heading "The Sedona 5 . . . Latest Solution for the Canyon," but Wheeze wrote and posted it himself.
Under the proposal, the Park Service would open the Grand Canyon's major trails on both rims exclusively to mountain bikers the first Monday of every month (the bikers agree it would be too dangerous to share the trail with mule trains). All other days, bikes would be banned as usual. Every biker would pay the same trail fee as hikers, plus whatever it costs to widen the paths in a few of the sketchiest sections.
The plan also pledges that the Sedona 5 will organize and manage a volunteer mountain-biker trail maintenance program for the Grand Canyon if the plan is implemented--a promise all five of the bikers say they'll keep.
Wheeze has not formally submitted his proposal to the Park Service or any other government agency. But he points out that the Sedona 5 Web site is regularly hit by government servers. "We monitor their propaganda," Herring confirms. The Sedona 5 plan, he says, has no chance. "Too administratively cumbersome. Too exclusive. There are no bikes allowed below the rim in part because they cannot safely share the trails, but also, again, because mountain biking does not fit with the philosophical intent of national wilderness."