Simple pleasure mountain biking. Take a couple of wheels, a frame, brakes, add some great landscape and, in the words of the late, lamented George Cole, the world is your lobster Terence. No matter how hard the manufacturers try to complicate matters with different wheel sizes, wireless seat posts, fancy materials and lurid colours, it’s still just a bike, a transport of delight.
Unfortunately, the world of mountain bike advocacy works the other way round. It might begin with riders trying to convince a local council not to knock down some shonky dirt jumps or flatten a favourite trail but it usually becomes much more complicated. Land managers zero in on any sign of engagement from user groups like sharks scenting blood in the water. Before you know it, you’re up to your neck in stakeholder groups, Local Access Forums and management plans.
And you very quickly realise that you’re surrounded by people with significant political clout. The Ramblers, British Horse Society and the British Mountaineering Council have spent years building influence and establishing themselves as valued partners for everyone from the National Trust through the RSPB to the national parks. Which is why Ride Sheffield thought that a formal national group to speak on behalf of mountain bikers would be a good idea. Our original idea was for a northern alliance encompassing well established groups such as Peak District MTB, Singletraction, Pennine Mountain Bike Action and the Lake District Mountain Bike Association but it quickly became apparent that those same groups felt that we should aim higher.
Which is how Ride Sheffield ended up being a founder member of OpenMTB. Replicating the grass roots model that has served the British Mountaineering Council so well is the aim. Groups from all over the country like Chase Trails, Bristol Trails Group, and Tyne Valley Mountain Biking have already joined the group and the hope is we’ll eventually pull in groups large and small from all over the country.
What we’ve ended up with is an entirely volunteer group who genuinely want to speak on behalf of MBers countrywide. Because it’s made up of local groups, what it says should be decided by MBers who ally themselves with those groups. Being a volunteer group, most of whose members have day jobs, we’re not going to build an all-singing-all-dancing advocacy group overnight, it’s going to take time. Identifying issues that concern mountain bikers isn’t a problem, addressing all of them immediately is. We’ve already received support from CTC and British Cycling and tentative moves towards a recognisable structure are under way. We’re all active mountain bikers, we think we want what you want, more enlightened rights of way legislation, good relations with land managers of every stripe all over the country, good practice advice for MBers, an understanding of how economically crucial MBing is and a united voice for this ever-growing community. If you like the sound of that, tell everyone you know. If you don’t, tell OpenMTB!