The 2016 Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland conference was not all about power points and board rooms.

Far from your typical ‘conference’ we spent two days riding bikes and discussing the future of riding bikes off road.

Words by Pete Scullion | Photos by Ross Bell.

Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland Mountain Bike Centre of Scotland Scottish Cycling H&I Adventures Wideopenmag

Conferences bring together a motley assortment of industry folk, this one pulling in journos from the UK, Germany and the US, along with a host of Scottish innovative brands. We all speak the same language though, that of bikes. Here H&I Adventures’ Chris ‘Bear’ Gibbs herds some cats among some Cairngorm heather.

Not your usual conference

The bi-annual ‘Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland’ conference is an opportunity to showcase to the World what Scotland does well and how they go about tackling the important issues. It is also a unique forum to discuss with the key players in the Scottish scene and beyond how best to keep the ball rolling and making Scotland an even better place to ride a mountain bike.

For 2016 it focused this year on innovation. It was a chance to talk, to experience new products and to chew over some issues that are effecting cycling in Scotland right now.

Invited to the conference were members of the UK and foreign press, brands, public and private organisations, athletes, guides, coaches, the list goes on. Anybody that has anything to do with the cycling industry were welcome and to have their voices heard.

Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland Mountain Bike Centre of Scotland Scottish Cycling H&I Adventures Wideopenmag

A motley crew of road racers, stage race whippets, weekend warriors and every point in between took it in turns to make the others suffer. Aviemore’s mix of terrain flattered and insulted bikes in equal measure. Pete makes the most of a short downhill on a high-pace outlap.

All of the journos on the trip had access to products from all of the up-and-coming Scottish brands that don’t usually have direct contact with foreign press. Rather than a simple sales pitch, we would all have a chance to test the latest products from brands like Shand Cycles, Flaer, Active Root, VeloEye, Keela, Quickfire and a handful of others.

Workshops later in the week addressed issues such as getting more ladies involved in the sport of mountain biking, something that has been going very much the right way recently, but more to look at sustaining the momentum and moving forward.

Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland Mountain Bike Centre of Scotland Scottish Cycling H&I Adventures Wideopenmag

Our guide Chris stated with utmost sincerity, “it’s not a bike ride without hike-a-bike.” After a shady river crossing where a 2 foot trickle had been washed into a 40 foot ravine the ride became a proper one.

Talking point.

Two key issues approached in the workshops were illegal trail-building and how to get more women involved in mountain biking. The former is very much law and policy-based, and will take a shift in thinking from health and safety, liability/litigation and access standpoint. For the latter it was thought that there have been some drastic improvements in recent years but womens’ mountain biking is not the equal part of the sport that it should be.

Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland Mountain Bike Centre of Scotland Scottish Cycling H&I Adventures Wideopenmag

River crossing #2. Glen Feshie had seen some colossal rainfall mixed with melting snow in the last 12 months, so small streams are now ravines and footbridges don’t quite make the far bank… Everyone waits patiently to not be the first in the drink.

Non-sanctioned trail building.

A really interesting conversation was the ‘Is Unsustainable Singletrack the Key to Improving Scotland’s Trail Network?’ workshop.

The age-old issue in Scotland is that access to land in Scotland blurs the lines between what is acceptable and what is illegal. Wild trails and desire lines seemingly don’t pose a challenge to land owners but any element construction, building berms and jumps etc, increases the landowner’s requirement to manage trails, increasing their liability at the same time. That starts to cause issues.

Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland Mountain Bike Centre of Scotland Scottish Cycling H&I Adventures Wideopenmag

When the bridge is out, you need to get feet wet. Our Pete regretting not growing an inch in the last 15 years, getting the knees chilly when most hadn’t got 50% of their calves wet.

Where next?

Despite the excellent way-marked, official trails in the UK, many of the best trails, in our opinion, are not the ones you can find on a trail map. There is a veritable army of people crafting real gold in the hills and forests of the UK. Surely there must be a way to harness this resource?

We were asked whether the Tweedlove EWS has either set a dangerous precedent, effectively approving of unsanctioned trails on Forestry Commission land or whether it sets the basis for future trail development.

Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland Mountain Bike Centre of Scotland Scottish Cycling H&I Adventures Wideopenmag

After joking that the two Germans’ waterproof socks might not longer be that useful after the aforementioned wading, we were treated to a long old climb that had the descenders wheezing out the back and the whippets out front up ripping our legs off. Aviemore never fails to reward a stiff climb with a bonus descent. Pete on the power trying to keep Sebastian of MTB News in sight.

Tolerate or destroy?

The Forestry Commission tolerate and monitor many unofficial trails used for local, regional, national and international races. There didn’t seem to be a clear answer from them as to how you go about changing their standpoint on whether or not to destroy or tolerate unofficial trails.

More recently, litigation cases have favoured the landowner, as a rider accepts the risks inherent in taking access in this way, but built structures like jumps or drops need management as there is a duty of care for the owner of the land.

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Flaer’s sales manager Nick Muddle enjoying an empty forest and some buff singletrack well into the middle of nowhere. A bike ride is a great place to talk shop, and Nick’s Canyon had all of Flaer’s newest drivetrain innovations to run through the mill. An easy way to cut the BS from a marketing pitch and put the product into the real world.

Merida OneSixtyMerida OneSixty

Changing opinion.

How do we go about finding a way that trails can exist while mitigating the risks for the landowner, so that they’re less reluctant to have trails built on their land?

Other than the formation of rider groups to champion the cause and raise money to purchase land and insurance, is there any other way to have less machine-built trails recognised as something to be proud of? We’re clearly touting them to the World by having international events on them … so, it’s definitely important to think about.

Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland Mountain Bike Centre of Scotland Scottish Cycling H&I Adventures Wideopenmag

Aviemore might be the one place where singletrack reigns supreme. Sheltered, needle-infested silence winds its way through ancient woodland in every direction. Here Pete tries to make the most of the aero tuck while The Bear uses momentum.

Female involvement in the sport.

A big issue and one that the conference made sure to discuss. Cycling has seen a massive explosion in female participation since the successes of London 2012, and mountain biking has reflected that trend. There is still a long way to go though, and we need to be aware that the momentum needs to be maintained.

We discussed how the Enduro World Series has paved the way for racing’s coverage of women racing at the top end of the sport, with equal coverage for the ladies. Arguably, the UCI World Cup has taken a backwards step in it’s reduction of the female field and Red Bull showing far less of the girls than they do of the guys.

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Day 2 was where everyone found their place in the pack and the pace wasn’t quite so hectic. On top of that, everyone scrambled for their phones when we met a herd of reindeer sniffing about the Ryvoan Bothy.

State of play.

On the flipside of Red Bull’s coverage of the World Cups, comes in the form of the Red Bull Fox Hunt. You can check out our coverage of this year’s event here. A fantastic grass-roots event pulling ladies in from all over the country, led by your newly crowned 2016 BT Action Sports Woman plus World and World Cup Champion, Rachel Atherton. But – still a segmented, ‘girls only’ event where coverage isn’t equal to men.

Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland Mountain Bike Centre of Scotland Scottish Cycling H&I Adventures Wideopenmag

MTB News’ Sebastian Beilmann, gazes through Ryvoan Bothy’s window wondering if the snow might stop coming down sideways. For anyone not used to ‘classic’ Scottish winter riding seemed apprehensive about the mountain to come seeing the white stuff falling parallel to the ground.

Bad press.

The press and media’s representation of women got some conversation time. Why, in a sport now teeming with undoubtedly talented ladies, does industry still feels the need to stick a doll in some riding kit for their promotional content? The group felt that despite the issue being by no means ‘solved’ the industry does seem to be learning. Objectification of women does seem to be far less prominent than it used to be. It’s not perfect but we have moved forward in that department despite some not getting the memo…

Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland Mountain Bike Centre of Scotland Scottish Cycling H&I Adventures Wideopenmag

‘Classic’ Scottish winter conditions.

Where do we go from here?

Clearly female mountain biking has a momentum now that was lacking previously but it needs some direction in order to gain a sense of consistency and community.

While there might be no clear answer to this question yet, we’re going to speak to some ladies at the forefront of womens’ cycling both here in the UK and further afield to see what they feel is the next step in maintaining this momentum. Keep an eye out for some proper chat on the future of womens’ mountain biking here on Wideopenmag.

Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland Mountain Bike Centre of Scotland Scottish Cycling H&I Adventures Wideopenmag

Josh Reid, (son of Carlton Reid, of BikeBiz fame) the man who’d spent most of the time up to now tearing our legs off at any given opportunity, very much outside the comfort zone. A road racer by day, this was very much a different experience.

Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland Mountain Bike Centre of Scotland Scottish Cycling H&I Adventures Wideopenmag

The ascent to Meall a’Buichaille saw similar horizontal snow, and with the pace of the wind rising and the temperature dropping, we all fired into an emergency shelter. If we weren’t friends before this, we certainly were afterwards.

Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland Mountain Bike Centre of Scotland Scottish Cycling H&I Adventures Wideopenmag

Note everyone bar The Bear looks slightly nervous about sitting under a big orange bag, 600m up a mountain in a blizzard. This is where we aborted mission, heading back to the fire in the bothy, the shelter of the woods, then hot chocolate.

Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland Mountain Bike Centre of Scotland Scottish Cycling H&I Adventures Wideopenmag

Once off the mountain and into the cafe, the fire brought everyone back up to temperature. This is where a group of strangers starts to share wide-eyed stories of the run off the mountain and what parts of their body they can’t feel. When Pete told Mr. Gary Fisher the ride was character-building, he reserved the response, “well, my character’s been built”. Perhaps a wise choice!

Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland Mountain Bike Centre of Scotland Scottish Cycling H&I Adventures Wideopenmag

Greg of Singletracks in the States, on a borrowed bike, on the Canadian Trail in Badaguish. Greg would describe the two days as offering ‘harrowing’ conditions, but the smile through the beard at the bottom of this trail would indicate not everything was that bad.

Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland Mountain Bike Centre of Scotland Scottish Cycling H&I Adventures Wideopenmag

When we arrived on Monday, Cairngorm looked to be shedding its winter coat after a fresh dump of snow. Try picking the mountain from the clouds in the distance. Pete and Josh talk shop on the way home from a ‘wintery’ ride. Two riders at the opposite ends of the cycling spectrum, out in the woods on bikes. Mega.

We want to know what you think we can all be doing to get more women involved in the sport? What are we doing well? What should we be doing? What are we not doing well?

Trailbuilding will, it seem, always be down to local communication between riders and landowners. Speak to your local landowners, you might get the answer you were looking for.

If you want to enjoy more of Highland Scotland by bike, give the guys at H&I Adventures a bell.


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