It’s been just over a year now since I joined Peak District MTB. Since then, we’ve been through a global pandemic, suffered 3 lockdowns, and watched on (again) as another major tournament slipped through the fingers of our national football team. However, it’s certainly not all doom and gloom. Over the same time, people have spent more time outdoors and with their friends and families, the popularity of mountain biking has skyrocketed to unprecedented levels, and to top it all off, we witnessed a British mountain biker become Olympic champion for the first time in history. As one of the newer members of the Peak District MTB team, I thought it might be helpful to reflect on what we have been up to during that time, and what I have learnt (for better or worse) about mountain bike advocacy since I started.
I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a certain degree of trepidation on my part when agreeing to be part of Peak District MTB. Having never done anything remotely useful for the wider MTB community, I’ll admit, I wasn’t aux fais with what Peak District MTB did on a ‘day to day’ basis. Other than contributing to the Keeper of the Peak Twitter feed from time to time I also didn’t know much about mountain bike advocacy. In this sense, I suppose I felt like a bit of an imposter.
Like many modern mountain bikers, I am also someone who enjoys enduro/downhill riding, and I was worried that this would be at odds with the aims and intentions of other group members. I had never met other committee members and was concerned that Peak District MTB was going to be run by a hardcore group of ‘XC warriors’ whose interests lay predominantly with maintaining flat, featureless bridleways in places that I had no interest in riding.
However, after 13 months I am glad to say that I couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, I have been pleasantly surprised at how diverse, forward thinking, and inclusive the group are in terms of both their orientation towards mountain biking and the support that they offer for various causes. For example, of the 8 people who currently sit on the committee, we have a fat bike enthusiast, a bike shop owner , an ebike rider, an ex-downhill rider, a social media whiz and a number of experienced trail diggers. During my time with the group, these interests have converged to, among other things: establish a permissive bridleway at Elmin Pitts Farm, support a charity ebike ride, and helped to instigate the repairs on the Cut Gate bridleway; one of the most popular (and technical!) trails in the Dark Peak.
As someone who enjoys riding natural, steep and technical terrain (Wharncliffe is my local), it’s also great to be involved in projects/advocacy that recognise the changing face of mountain biking in the UK. Though our committee members can often disagree on the extent to which we should promote this new breed of ‘enduro’ riding (and these disagreements are important), all of us recognise that this style of riding is here to stay, and that practical, realistic, and responsible forms of advocacy are required in response. For instance, over the last few months, we have been liaising with Severn Trent Water, who own plantations surrounding the Ladybower Reservoir, about how to manage the increasing number of ‘off piste’ trails that have emerged around there during lockdown. Another of our members has also been instrumental in maintaining relations with the landowners at Macclesfield Forest, where unsanctioned trails have continued to spread.
What is most apparent in these conversations is that landowners are not always just flattening these trails indiscriminately anymore, but are increasingly willing to work with the mountain bike community to develop more ecologically conscious, and socially responsible, forms of trail building. This was most evident at the wild trails webinar that we presented at in July (http://peakdistrictmtb.org/what-happened-at-the-wild-trails-webinar/), which led to some very positive conversations between land managers, wildlife experts and mountain bike advocates from across the UK. This is a credit to all of those people who have worked to foster these relationships over time.
As someone who is still relatively new to this role, these conversations give me hope that mountain biking, and mountain bike advocacy, are moving in the right direction. In the last few decades, our sport has changed beyond all recognition, and it is important that advocacy groups recognise, and respond to, this. Ebikes, more capable and aggressive trail bikes, and widespread coverage on social media mean that it is more accessible and glamourous than ever before. But of course, this poses a range of new issues and problems relating to access, riding styles and erosion (Are e-bikes ruining mountain biking? (theconversation.com)
For me, the key here is developing a form of advocacy that is made to the measure of these cutting-edge trends, whilst remaining true to our core aims and objectives, and I look forward to working more with our members to realise these objectives as we begin to negotiate ‘the new normal’.
Read all about Jim on our ‘Meet the Team‘ page, including his favourite ride and best moment on a bike.