Thursday, May 10, 2012

English and Politics (and Bikes)

I think I've only posted one socio-political bicycle rant here, and that was back in the nascent weeks of this blog.  So just so you know, don't mess with bikes.  Or the English teacher will critically analyze your prose (and probably say a few mean things about you).

A local forest preserve just two miles from my home is the proposed site of many "improvements."  (Just how man is supposed to "improve" a forest, I'm not sure.)  The county's master plan includes a map of what might happen to the forest (and an adjacent non-forest piece of public land), and a list of crazy ideas like music venues and snack stands and restrooms between every tree.  Yes, those ideas are inane.  However, the master plan also includes one completely reasonable goal:  making mountain biking legal in Fabyan Forest Preserve.

Mountain bikers proposed this part of the plan.  Real people who ride bikes, build trails, and care about trees, erosion prevention, and wildlife.  Most of the other big ideas were proposed by people who want to make money.  The mountain bikers simply want to ride, and they want it badly enough that they got themselves into the spotlight.

Somehow, a group of local homeowners and nature lovers has gotten into their tiny minds that the mountain bikers are the instigators and masterminds behind the "master plan" (or at least that's how their website reads) and that riding mountain bikes (which are, like two feet wide at the handlebars and up to three inches wide at the base, in case you have never laid eyes on a bicycle) requires clearing vast land masses and killing all of the deer and chipmunks in Kane County.  (FYI there are already trails in those woods, and the bikes fit quite nicely on them.  It's called singletrack.  In some places, singletrack can be so narrow a fat person couldn't walk on it without getting stuck between two trees.)

The nature lovers (I am a nature lover too, but I'll call them that just to separate them from the nature bikers) have launched an awful website at that misrepresents just about everything about local mountain bikers' involvement in the plan, which some how translates into citizens' misconceptions about what a bike even is.  The home page of the site contains all the info you will get out of them, but most of it is not even info -- it is blathering.


My students had to write a critical analysis of an article this semester.  Not all of them did so hot, but I think many of them could pick out the problems with's rambling argument.

They are considering allowing a Mountain Biking organization from Chicago to create trails through the forest for both pleasure and competitive mountain biking. These trails will be wide enough to accommodate fans, who will cheer them on from trail side. The county will receive monetary consideration for allowing this invasion. Currently, biking of any kind through the forest is prohibited.

This starts out true, then turns into speculation.  Where do you get the idea that thousands of fans will show up to these "competitions"? And did the county or CAMBr really mention "competetive" mountain biking?  Articles on the plan only mention "mountain bike trails"  People mountain bike for pleasure all the time, and putting in trails does not necessarily mean a band of slovenly X-games types are coming to your town. Next, your military rhetoric is kind of clumsy.  "Invasion"?  Do the mountain bikers have spears and shields?  I don't see how people on bikes in a forest is any more of an invasion than people on skis, on sleds, leading dogs, or trail running (which are all things your supporters repeatedly say are A-okay, and all things that are currently legal).  If anyone is invading, then it is all of humanity, the most invasive species on the planet, and we should just hermetically seal the woods up -- I mean really preserve that shit.  And "monetary considerations"?  That is just another "get mad at the greedy people" kind of thing.  But you haven't made it clear who is giving money to the county or why. I don't get it.  The mountain bikers are operating as a non-profit in this plan, and they can't afford to bribe anyone, if that's what you're insinuating.  But yes, one point for you, "biking of any kind" is prohibited.  But I'm not sure that means anything unless you make a cogent case for why it should stay prohibited.  (To keep it topical, that's like saying, "Currently, gay marriage is illegal" and expecting your audience to think "Oh, well there must be a good reason for that because lawmakers are so smart! So let's not change it. Ever.")

Aside: The length of my above paragraph and the breadth of its topics just made me realize how disjointed their argument already is.  Bike races! Undesirables!  Felled trees! Bribery! It's all illegal!  Onto the next one!

I almost forgot, check out the ambiguous "they" in this one (the same "they" that starts the above excerpt):

The boards of both the County of Kane and the Kane County Forest Preserve have unveiled plans for Fabyan Forest Preserve which stand to destroy the very elements they have pledged to preserve!

Okay, Onto the next one!

It is interesting to note that they recently publicized plans to place a Ravinia-style venue in the very same forest, as they went about discussing plans with the mountain biking club from Chicago. Now, we are told, the concert venue is off the table and the plans for the mountain biking organization are well along . Draw your own conclusions.

By "interesting" you mean j'accuse!  So the music venue builders are in cahoots with the mountain bikers?  How does that leap happen?  What are you saying? ...Ohhhh! I'm supposed to draw my own conclusions.  I conclude that you are terrible at this.

Aside: By this time the writer(s) has established that the mountain bikers wear the black hats, and are plotting world domination.  They feinted with that music venue,  and went in for the kill with the trails!  (Trails that are already there, that the cyclists just want maintained and perhaps made more usable for any forest visitor)  Those things (mountain bikers, land development corporations) are completely unrelated, at least in the case of this forest.  I am just flabbergasted by this one.

The County of Kane will generate revenues by allowing the various private entities to operate within their boundaries...

(The ambiguous "their" returns!  Not important here though.  Free pass.)   I understand that if there were a music venue, snack stands, ski slopes, whatever else the master plan proposes, that if it were all approved and realized one day, the county would make money from it, to be sure.  The ski slopes and the music venue would probably be operated by private entities, yes.  But no one "operates" a mountain bike trail!  God, how stupid can you be?  The trails are there.  People use them whenever they feel like it, as long as the preserve is open (sunrise to sunset).  No one stands at the trail head taking tickets, no one asks to see your membership card.   Where do you get these ideas?  (And now I am starting to think you have never been in the forest, and certainly have never walked those trails.  And still, I don't think you've ever seen a bike.)

The rest of your blathering covers traffic jams and private entities, blah, blah, and I'm assuming (hoping) most of that is directed at the parts of the project that I agree are pretty out there, like the music venue.  But you have laid the blame on the bikes three times now, and that association has been made.  The "citizen comments" are full of misconceptions and misled ideas thanks to this.  Maybe that was your goal, but this rant remains rhetorically unethical and without focus.  If we follow any of the arguments of merit, we forget who or what we are fighting against (and it doesn't help that we don't have link to the plan itself, but just a map).  The mountain bikers have been mentioned so many times, either explicitly or lumped in with "private entities" (of which, you want us to remember,  they are the prime movers), that we cannot think of who else to blame.  I read the comments, and this effect became evident when I saw it working on the audience of the rant. (And many of the commenters don't even know that forest!)

Aside: One rhetorical feature I did not critique is the org's use of eco-pathos, which is perfectly acceptable here  They say things like "the plan would destroy our ancient trees and plants and drive away the wildlife."  I'm not sure how "ancient" any tree in Illinois prairie land could be, but point taken.  I am sad when trees are sad too.  But no mountain biker wants to hurt the damn trees!


Beside beer and sandwiches, they just want to ride.  Money has nothing to do with it.  And most of them really love them some trees.

With legal mountain biking all that would change about the trail use in Fabyan is that there would be signage (good for anyone on a trail, regardless of means of conveyance), and there would be actual plans to maintain the trails.  People who take their dogs in there to shit under a pretty tree do not care about keeping the trails healthy, and even if they did they would not know where to begin.  Mountain bikers are some of the best stewards of the environment you could ask for in an "invader." 

The riders want legalization for two main reasons.  First, they don't want to get ticketed for it anymore. Far more destructive and disturbing individuals use that land for God knows what.*  And the hikers and dog walkers traipse around the place without the slightest idea that they need to stay on the trail or pick up their dog's crap.  Second, they want to make it legal so that they can keep the trails in good condition: trail maintenance would be made official, bikers would democratically discuss what kinds of trail features work in the forest, destroyers of trails and builders of dangerous, basackwards trail features would be held accountable, the mountain biker's code would be upheld!

*On "God knows what" and the mountain biker's code:  Weird stuff happens in forest preserves.  It's the woods, for Chrissakes.  When someone backs into the parking spot, do you know what that means?  The mountain bikers do.  Do you know that a teenager without a bike helmet is liable to kill himself against a tree?  Mountain bikers do.  And they are not afraid to say anything, to perverts or to teenagers.  Mountain bikers, moreover, tend to be imposing fellows.  The teenager will go home. So will the pervert.  Having responsible, observant adults (many mountain bikers) recreating in the woods is a good thing when it comes to keeping out the riffraff the locals are so worried about.  I picture the dog walkers running away or turning their heads if the come upon anything untoward, and just being completely oblivious to someone doing something dangerous or destructive.

Now, in order to gain the critical mountain biker mass needed to get this idea into the plan, a local mountain biking organization took up the cause.  CAMBr (Chicago Area Mountain Bikers) is a non-profit org dedicated to keeping mountain biking alive in these godawful flat suburbs.  This confused the nature lovers even more. thinks that CAMBr is some kind of corporation out to make money from mountain biking.  Have they seen their rickity-ass website? Ain't no corporation.  Ain't no six million dollar operation.  What CAMBr does is organize biking events (on legal trails*), organize trail building, educate the public about mountain biking, and provide an online forum and info hub for local bikers.  They collect nominal dues from their members.  And they do not own the land on which the members ride!

This "forest for sale" idea is one of the zaniest the commenters came up with -- "We've sold too much forest already!"  And this wasn't even suggested in the homepage blathering!  See what bad writing does?  Your argument goes off the deep end once people start rephrasing it and amplifying it. (Another example is a comment that reads like an old lady, an old lady who thinks mountain bikes have motors: "Think of the noise!")

*On legal trails: Oswegoland Park District boasts the best mixed use trails in the far western 'burbs.  Saw Wee Kee trail system allows hiking, biking, and horseback riding on the same trails.  No trees get cut down.  No crazy "fans" show up to watch races.  No bribery takes place!  The forest is clean and safe, and I've never seen anyone backed into the spot at that trail head. But I have seen tailgating, picnicking, and good times. CAMBr maintains Saw Wee Kee.


The socialist in me feels the need to let you know that was possibly thrown together by the McMansion dwellers in the Fox Run housing development behind Fabyan, and they are probably more concerned about their property value (pshh!) and the view from their verandah than anything.  They are the true invaders.
At Fabyan Forest Preserve in 2006, tree-hugging. (A storm, not a mountain biker, killed this tree.)