Future proofing the trail ahead, Scotland leading the way
“Future proofing the trail ahead”. This was the tagline of the 2018 Scottish Mountain Bike Conference. A gathering of the key stakeholders, retailers, industry and riders who are shaping the Scottish cycling scene.
The cycling market in Europe is big business, estimated at 44 billion euros, and supporting 650,000 jobs. While mountain biking innovation and technology develops at a rapid pace, it’s still rare to see pathways between different companies and user groups being connected. Fast becoming a beacon in the mountain biking landscape, Scotland is developing not only an enviable world-class trail network, but also striving towards a collaborative platform to maximize the potential of cycling to the region. At the pointy end of this charge is Develop Mountain Biking in Scotland, hosting their second Scottish Mountain Bike Conference 2018. Here are the key highlights from the conference.
Managing Unauthorised Bike Trails
Scotland has enviable right to roam access rights, giving mountain bikers responsible access to its entire network of footpaths and bridleways. Even with this extensive trail network, there is still a strong culture of building unofficial trails in the woods. With trail access being the beating heart of the Scottish riding scene, unofficial trails are the talk of the conference. Illegal trails can present a huge problem to landowners, especially when trails are unknowingly built in sensitive areas. To help orientate landowners, Scottish National Heritage tasked the National Access Forum to address unauthorised trails and create a guide to understanding and managing unauthorised bike trails. Available on request, the guidelines provide assistance to help landowners deal with illegal trails, and how to open lines of communication with builders.
Tweed Valley 2.0
The Tweed Valley had already cemented itself as the centre of accessible mountain biking in Scotland. During the conference, DMBinS presented their ‘Mountain Biking In The Borderlands’ plan, an ambitious proposal to establish a Mountain Biking innovation centre in the Valley, connecting brands, product developers and academics under one roof. Along with this innovation centre, plans are afoot for the construction of a fully fledged bike park in a Tweed Valley hotspot. Funding is still not fully confirmed, but confidence seems high. We will bring more news as it drops.
The growth of eMTB’s and the industry response
By a show of hands it was clear that conference participants were already well versed with eMTB, showing how quickly they are sweeping through the market. Hostility has quickly switched to acceptance and Neil Walker of CUBE bikes UK announced that eMTB alone now represents 20% of sales by volume in the UK and if hybrid bikes are added that number rises to 35-40%. It’s clear that eMTB’s are breaking down barriers and connecting with a larger market. There are still barriers to the success of eMTB in the UK, specific trail development is key to open the full potential of eMTB. eMTB’s also enable riders to reach wilder places, so there is an education element required from both the retailers and riders and chipping is still a big problem. For more information, check out our UK eMTB Think Tank.
Leading by example, Surfers against sewage show the way
Drawing parallels with the connection with the environments around us, surfing and cycling have a lot in common. Surfers Against Sewage CEO Hugo Tagholm presented an inspiration presentation, highlighting the connection between surfing and mountain biking, and how to promote a movement to combat the cronic plastic and litter issues that face all of our outdoor sports. Between 2002 – 2012 we produced more plastic that has ever cumulatively been produced before 2002. The SAS connects 75,000 volunteers, and provides over 250,000 hours of volunteer action. Perhaps it’s time for mountain biking to follow suit. We are seeing the tendrils of these community projects beginning, and it’s time we took a bigger responsibility for the state of our trails. Inspire, engage and empower to give people the passion to take more responsibility for the environments around them. We need to create a change, and that can be only be driven by the community around us.
Taking a scientific approach
Develop Mountain Biking in Scotland is forging new links between the cycling industry and academic research. Gifted with a huge number of international elite athletes, Scotland is the perfect field laboratory, and Edinburgh’s Napier University is keen to tap into this valuable resource. Dr Lesley Ingram presented data on the immunological response of an ultra-endurance athlete, following Marc Beaumont on his trip around the world. Lewis Kirkwood presented data on the physiology of elite athletes, and the physiological demands of elite level racing. Vibration is was the focus of his talk, using accelerometers on the handlebars, Lewis has quantified the exposure to vibration encountered by elite athletes. Showing that elites encounter forces of up to 30 g through the bars, forces that would be considered highly unsafe in the workplace.
Mountain biking can change lives
Better known for screaming like a lunatic down WC DH tracks, Claudio Caluori runs Velosolutions, a pump track gave an inspirational presentation of the power of pump tracks to engage with local communities in some of the poorest locations. Claudio’s belief that building pump tracks in accessible city locations can provide a sustainable and positive resource for an area. With many new pump tracks popping up all over Scotland it’s impossible to ignore the positive implications of such developments. Continuing the theme, Fanie Kok, a trail advocate for Specialized talked about the soul of mountain biking, reaching out to communities to find out why they ride, sharing stories of trail building, organising dig days and creating awareness and stoke about trail building. Recognising that without trails we would not have bikes it’s time to give recognition to the unsung heroes.
The need for diversification
Women, where are you? The talk that promoted the most discussion was certainly Aneela Mckenna’s insightful and personal presentation on diversity in mountain biking and how to move to a position of equality. In Scotland, 20% of the qualified MTB leaders are female, but women are still hardly represented in the media. Aneela’s questions struck a chord with everyone in the packed room, what role do we play in encouraging more women into the sport, and how do we move away from the notion that desirability is the only key factor? Statistics show that 13 to 15 year-old girls are the least active group and 1 in 4 women experience mental health issues, cycling could have a very beneficial role in combating this. It’s time for more empowerment through achievement, a message that ambassadors like Katy Winton are championing. It’s time for a change.
The DMBinS has again shown its importance in the Scottish mountain biking scene and provided a valuable connection between the industry, political bodies and the riders themselves. Without their efforts, the disconnection between the rider and the policymakers who make decisions on how and where they ride will continue to grow. Chapeau DMBinS team.