Could A UK Wide Trail Body Emerge From This?

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iBikeRide have been calling for a national UK body to come together to represent, develop and as importantly protect our exponentially growing mountain biking sport and the diverse needs and issues this creates. I read a press release recently on an initiative that did make me wonder if it could lead to this being realized (down the line). To me and it may just be confirmation bias, but it looks like there are some green shoots in this direction. The initiative is being run by Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland (DMBinS) and being funded by SRAM.

So what is the initiative. Well here is an excerpt from the press release to bring it to life: 

A new project, supported by an initial 3-year project manager post, has been created to support the mountain bike community, governing bodies, and land managers/owners to share knowledge, discuss issues and opportunities for greater collaboration, and improve the sustainability of the mountain bike trail network across the UK.

 

Scottish Cycling, through Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland (DMBinS), will manage the post, and project, and will be supported by a steering group including British Cycling, Cycling Ireland, Welsh Cycling, Forestry and Land Scotland, Forestry England, Natural Resources Wales, Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland, along with the project funders, SRAM.

 

The first step of the project will be to develop a UK wide ‘Right trail, right place, right people, right time’ report which will help audit the current number and position of trail groups and associations in each country and a deeper understanding of the opportunities to improve the management of the trail network. The report will also take cognisance of the pressures in supporting the trail network, particularly, for land managers/owners.

 

It is anticipated that following this report, the projects focus, objectives, target audiences, KPI’s, and messaging will vary depending on each nations needs and current situation.

 

There is, however, forecasted to be areas where there will be commonality across all nations with objectives to help grow resources through increased engagement with the MTB industry, public sector, governing bodies, and land managers. It will also help to develop the competencies of the MTB community, to improve the sustainable management of mountain biking activities.

 

This initiative is welcome and exciting. I realise it is not making any commitments to a national body (I'd just like that to be an output down the line) but it will look at needs across the UK and at areas of commonality which I suspect will be multi-fold. If its stated aim is improve the sustainability of the mountain bike trail network across the UK then this bodes well. It is also being led by DMBinS which has a great record of accomplishment and there is a pedigree board representing all the nations in the UK.

 

Across the UK we have some strong but inconsistent national bodies when it comes to MTB. Don’t get me wrong they are all committed to mountain biking I just think some have got it more right and have it as a more central facet of why they exist. Scotland is stand out in this regard, specifically DMBinS with strong political and local advocacy connected to local community interest groups. There is nothing similar on a national scales in Wales or England where unlike Scotland the national bodies we have there (i.e. Natural Resources Wales and Forestry England respectively) are focussed on Land Management more broadly with MTB as a subset of that activity as opposed to central. Again, not degenerating their individual or collective work. There is though no UK MTB body. That is unfortunately a fact!

 

Looking deeper these bodies represent either racing, club development or in reference to MTB trail riding mainly trail center development. The latter being an area that is now in the demise. Growth today comes from a few areas like commercial or community run local council endorsed bike parks but more massively from an explosion of off-piste unsanctioned trails. The latter is an area that frankly is always silent in representation and so open to existence jeopardy. One exception to the lack of representation is the Tweed Valley Trails Association representing the now famous Golfie as the endorsed off-piste sibling to the Innerleithen official trails.

 

So, the report will need to look at MTB facilities beyond the trail centre to succeed in driving sustainability and all these new areas of growth will benefit from formality, investment, and development. Without understanding why off-piste is so popular and incorporating those themes of demand into current development and a future plan will miss the opportunity. Worse expanding or consolidation the current trail centre model as is will be countereffect in driving sustainability. It will lead more beginners in and then offer them no future.

 

As a segway at this point It's helpful to understand why off-piste (and to a lesser degree why these other type of growth areas of MTB facilities) are so successful. We recently as many of the readers of this article will be acutely aware of ran the Trail of the Year campaign. We use this campaign to track over the years the sentiment of riders from the review content and the scores. This may be useful to the challenges this report is looking at especially in relation to understanding why the shift from trail centres to both off-piste and commercial or community run bike parks away from trail centres is occurring and hence why it is essential to really look wide at these area in their report to achieve their aims. Specifically those of gaining a "deeper understanding of the opportunities to improve the management of the [UK] trail network.... the pressures in supporting the trail network, particularly, for land managers/owners.". So, what we can share from that review content is some core themes:

 

  • Riders are frustrated in the lack of trail centre maintenance and investment.
  • Riders are turned off by traditional trail centres lack of investment into new trails diversity (mix of flow and tech required please) so look elsewhere as they progress.
  • Off-Piste is offering progression that the often-neighboured trail centres where these riders have now grown away from isn't. 
  • Where investment comes commercially to professionally maintain trails with strong facilities riders will invest in the trip and regular season passes.
  • Covid land local lock down led to an explosion of new riders, and off-piste digging very local to communities, and the demand has now been cemented into the core of the sport meaning MTB is more accessible without the means for trips and transport.
  • Strong tight knit communities with little to no revenues or big funding that are publicly promoted and visible (not hidden or underground) i.e. can shout and shout loud are sustainable and successful (think Bolehills BMX, Think Tirpentwys, think Golfie, think Western Park Freeriders, think Southampton Bike Park). 

 

Honestly, this initiative that has been announced is truly an awesome step. It would be good to see some others added to the board to represent the wider sport beyond those organisations and all the themes raised above which are key to addressing sustainability and manage growth. Here is my list to add to the board:

 

  1. I'd add some regional bodies like a SingletrAction or a Ride Sheffield.
  2. Pull in folk representing off-piste unsanctioned trails that have turned the corner to be sanctioned like the Tweed Valley Trails Association and / or TrailForks.
  3. Get the community run bike parks represented (like a Bolehills).
  4. Add some commercial bike parks like BikePark Wales or Dyfi BikePark.
  5. Incorporate some professional riders who have ridden all flavours to get where they are and can then connect with the communities personally like a Brendan Fairclough or Matt Jones.

Let's cover all the bases and flavours of our sport not just a narrow subset.

The secret sauce of most organizations is strength in numbers and so driving political representation. This is synergistic and an ecosystem. As, the political these numbers helped create in terms of influence then drives the numbers in that drive that strength. If over 6% of the UK population is mountain biking, then don’t underestimate that power. How do we unearth the power of this rider community in ALL its wonderful flavours is something I hope the report and the new role focuses on.

 

Good luck.

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