Mountain biking is becoming a complicated business and, for once, we’re not talking about the endless 26 vs 27.5 vs 29 inch debate. No, the complications arise from the fact that we are victims of our own success. Thousands of us descend on the great outdoors every weekend contributing massively to the economy but also leaving our mark on this green and pleasant land.
As a result, numerous volunteer groups have sprung up all over the country often in response to requests from local authorities, land managers and national parks because they have recognised that they need to engage with the mountain biking community. Issues as diverse as bridleway maintenance, conservation issues and friction between user groups keep volunteers busy week in, week out.
But is an ad hoc response on a local basis enough? Each group fighting its own corner in isolation is not necessarily the way to influence decision making at the highest levels, whether in national park authorities, local authorities or at government level.
It is against this background that representatives of a number of those volunteer groups plus a number of other industry representatives and journalists gathered in Manchester recently to investigate the logic of giving the mountain bike community a national voice. Long standing groups such as the Pennine Mountain Bike Association and Singletraction were joined by relative newcomers such as Ride Sheffield, Lake District Mountain Bike Association and Peak District MTB, and since the meeting other groups have been invited to add their voice.
Discussions are at a very early stage, but there is a good deal of consensus that it would benefit mountain biking to have a national voice. Issues as diverse as archaic rights of way legislation, the economic benefit of the outdoor economy and the need for better understanding between different user groups were all discussed.
Further meetings are planned and all the groups concerned will be sounding out their members. Mountain biking has gone from being the unruly kid to a mature and widely accepted part of the outdoor world. It’s time that, just like every other sport, we had a voice that spoke for us at a national level.