Wise Words is our interview series talking to some of mountain biking’s most switched on people.
We’ll ask our short list of questions to a heap of influential, inspiring and outspoken people that we feel are driving the direction of mountain biking today. Some will make you think, some will make you laugh, some will be plain dumb, some will inspire you to better yourself and your riding. We hope!
Wise Words this week comes to you from Mr. Graeme McLean.
Graeme McLean is project manager for Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland, a massive remit that extends to essentially everything to do with mountain biking north of the Border. Essentially Graeme spearheads the official voice for mountain biking in Scotland. No mean feat.
Photos by Finlay Anderson.
How would your closest riding buddies describe you to someone who has never met you?
I would say that they would say that is Graeme is positive, likes good times with good people, is driven to make a difference, and if he wants something to get done, it will get done, might not be immediately but it will happen.
What thing or things have you bought in the last year that had the biggest effect on your life as a mountain biker / cyclist / person that works in the bike industry?
Hmmm, I have not bought a huge amount over the last couple of years, but I would say it is our family campervan which has made it possible for me to go away on riding and surfing trips with my family on a more regular basis, it has been great.
What unusual habits do you have as a bike rider?
I have quite a distinctive look on the bike, not sure it is that good a look but it is distinctive. I also try to pop jumps whenever I can but I’m not that good at, again, contributing to a not too flattering look on the bike. But I am smiling and that is what bike riding is all about.
What piece of advice do you think every mountain bike rider should hear? And what piece should they ignore?
I think Rule No 1 is a good rule for mountain biking (& for life in general). I also think we should be really friendly when out on the hills. We don’t always get it back in my experience but if we are in the right and being the good guys then it helps so much. We need to bring the reasonable people with us and a smile and wave costs nada.
Ignore? Anyone who gives you advice that you need a really, really expensive bike to have a good time. It does help ride harder and more technical trails etc but you can have a great time on hardtail railing a blue run. Just get out there on whatever you can afford and don’t let anyone look down on you they are the ones breaking rule no1!
If you could go back and re-ride one day from your life so far, where/what/when/who would it be? Would you change anything?
Hmmm, good question. Been loads of super memorable days out on the hills. Riding about the countryside with pals growing up on the west coast, getting back into bikes in the early 2000s with a visit to Glentress on a very shonky hardtail (& loving it), escaping the city as a student and riding around Loch Lomond & Trossachs with pas, first trip to Torridon, riding with my local kids club that I volunteer with…
However I am going to go with the first time my son Angus rode the blue at Glentress and loved it when he was about 4. It was just fantastic to see the enjoyment he got from riding bikes and I know that they are likely to really play a big part in his life – great feeling to pass that joy on.
What have you wasted the most time on in your life as a rider or bike industry career that you wished you’d given up years ago?
Getting offended/upset by what people say on social media/forums. It can feel quite personal at times but folk are entitled to their own opinion and I have got better at not letting me affect me and can have a laugh with most comments. The converse is also true, when people say nice things about what we are doing we shouldn’t let it build us up too much and just gt on with the job (which I think I do).
How do you motivate yourself when you’re struggling or lacking inspiration?
I actually don’t find this too hard. I have quite a clear idea of how our team at DMBinS can help Scottish mountain biking and I can see a future where we have a really amazing trial network with the right people, managing the right trails in the right areas – and loads of people getting so much from those experiences.
This is motivating, it isn’t always easy, but it is quite exciting what is happening in Scottish mountain biking and I am glad to be a part of it.
What single and specific thing about riding bicycles do you gain the most happiness from?
From a person perspective, it is when the ‘flow’ kicks in. Like when you aren’t even thinking or doing just everything is happening exactly the way you want it and at the end you are in such a fantastic headspace you just feel great.
I also get a lot of happiness from seeing others enjoy mountain biking. Whether that is with my family, visiting a project/trail I know I have helped make happen and see everyone loving it, or volunteering in biking, all of those are great feelings of satisfaction. If anyone is considering volunteering in biking I would highly recommend it, it is brilliant to spread the enjoyment of riding bikes.
What single thing would you like to erase from cycling history from the last year?
There is the obvious Covid which has been a hard time for everyone (I think). I also think the storms, starting with Storm Arwen, this winter have been really challenging. To see so many trails being affected and trying to navigate our way out of that, which we are still doing, has been and continues to be a great challenge.
That said, I do hope/believe that we can get out of it and there is an improved understanding of how important our trails are to local communities and we can work with landowners/managers to plan tree planting and our future forests around trails rather than the other way round. It makes so much sense that the tree crop gets 40 years of locals and visitors getting value from them. Not just the economic value of the timber, include improvements in planting native species and increasing biodiversity into the mix and that would be so exciting.
What single thing would you like to make happen in the cycling world in the next year?
Nah, no way I can just give 1 thing, there is so much happening in Scottish mountain biking.
From the UCI Cycling World Champs, so many new trails and pump tracks getting built (circa 80 projects we are working on at the moment), the MTB innovation centre and bike park, the continued rise and development of trails associations, our Trail Therapy programme (uses MTB to accelerate and sustain peoples recovery from mental ill-health), seeing more women and children getting into riding bikes off-road, the ‘Free Bikes for Kids’ programme that Scottish Cycling are piloting (kids who cant afford to ride trails or pump tracks can get a bike provided by Scottish Government at 8 pilot sites), and increasing accessibility for disabled riders.
Just so proud to play my part, and help the DMBinS team, to help the scene grow, mature, and develop in so many ways, no way, it can just be 1 thing.
Who else should we ask these questions to?
Prof Geraint Florida James at Edinburgh Napier University, Dik Hamilton (trail builder), Aneela/Andy McKenna, Tommy Wilkinson, and each member of the DMBinS team (they all have an interesting story).
You can catch all our previous Wise Words interviews with the likes of Sven Martin, Manon Carpenter, Ric McLaughlin and plenty more here.