The Trail Pot – A Blueprint to change the fortunes of Mountain Biking in the UK

A national investment fund

Thousands of pounds available for advocacy

All for the tiniest of forgettable outlay by riders

You can make it work

Money talks. In any business. In any arena. In any situation anywhere, money talks. The trouble is, mountain bikers aren’t that good at raising it. Yes, there are sporadic highlights where the community rallies and raises a ton of cash – Cut Gate being a good example – but generally…consistently…we’re a bit rubbish.

Mountain biking has grown exponentially in the UK in the last 20 years, and even more so under lockdown conditions. With travel restricted, people have looked to their local area for leisure and recreation and they have discovered the joys of riding a bike off-road.

We have a lot of new friends on the trails.

But with it has come an increase in demand, conflict and impact. With more people competing for time on the same patch of dirt, it’s perhaps inevitable that there will be an increase in impacts on the trails. Two things emerge:

We all need more space.

We all need to consider and mitigate our impact.

These aren’t new arguments – but their relevance has never been more stark than it is now. The calls for more access for mountain bikes on our trail network is a regular one, and advocacy groups like ours have emerged making the legitimate argument that the community is willing to take care of where we ride – and proof of that will is long documented.

So what’s missing? Well, it feels like if we are to unify behind “a” purpose we need both that singular unifying purpose defining and then perhaps more importantly, the financial clout to make it happen.

Peak District MTB and Keeper of the Peak have championed mountain biking advocacy and responsibility to great effect. Our actions have become a catalyst for changing perceptions of mountain bikers in the area. Maybe we can change some perceptions of what we can collectively achieve here too. And beyond.

Filling the Pot

We propose a financing model for a national investment fund. A model where with a very small outlay from a lot of people, the fortunes of the access argument can be turned around and the collective might of the mountain biking community can be united to improve the current paltry access provision for riders in England.

Call it the trail pot, the investment fund or whatever, with enough engagement, the name is immaterial – it’s the results that will count.

The model is simple, scalable and perennial – it would be constantly financed and, with diligent management, could be used to change the face of the currently under-funded mountain bike advocacy world.

And by funding and professionalising advocacy, the community could step out from the fringes and rightfully place itself as a valued and important voice in the access world.

Of course, though a cynical and somewhat depressing fact, money talks.

Money pays for tools, materials and signposts on the paths. It pays for new gates, slabs and mattocks. It pays for wheelbarrows, spades and rakes.

But it also pays for posters, web domain subscriptions, leaflets and adverts in magazines. It pays for t-shirts for volunteers, flags that just sit there while they dig drains. It pays for printing of proposal documents to get grants for work, it pays for online subscriptions to software which makes us look like we’re pros.

Money talks.


And if there’s enough of it, it could truly professionalise advocacy. With enough we could employ someone to make the legal argument; someone to prepare the map modification, someone to do the rounds of landowners to change the perception.

So how would it work?

Simply put, through both/either a yearly subscription and a charitable top up approach, we could fund an investment fund – a Trail Pot – which could fund the kind of projects required to change the face of mountain bike access in England, and Wales and Northern Ireland.

There would be three types of project:

  • ‘Big’ project: significant, large, collectively supported access projects. Trails for Wales is a good example. Could be wholly or part funded.
  • Professional investment: Less obvious needs; maybe a national MTB access champion? A DMMO admin?
  • Pitched investment: the grassroots. What do our community need? This is the core of the fund: reinvestment in our advocacy community – the very people who are fighting for better access, one path at a time.

With a clear objective – increased access – selecting projects would be straightforward.

Raising funds

Of course, getting the cash in first is the most challenging aspect, but there are ways. Let’s be honest – people don’t like spending, so it has to be small amounts, from a lot of people, with some kind of reward; even if that award is assuaging the guilt of damaging the trails when we ride. Some options:

  • Round the pound: we’ve all added a tip to a restaurant contactless bill or a charity donation in a shop. Why not make that added extra go to the Trail Pot? Spend £29.58 in the shop, round the pound to add 42p to the Trail Pot. Imagine that extended to every bike shop in England….. and what about the online players…CRC….Wiggle?…as Tesco (with its multimillion pound carrier bag scheme) says, every little helps.
  • Direct debit: there are millions of mountain bikers in the UK. If they all Direct Debited just £1 a year, the pot would overflow.
  • Annual club subs: with the growth of advocacy groups around the country, could we call on them for an annual donation?
  • CSR donation: corporate social responsibility. The big bike companies make a pretty penny from the trails we look after. Could they put something back?
  • We believe this approach would satisfy the need to professionalise the world of advocacy and provide a regular funding stream to the local mountain biking community.

    It is a win:win

    The challenge will be in establishing it. The MTB advocacy community is a voluntary one so populating a panel may be a challenge. In addition, determining how the trail pot is reinvested may cause some argument; but this is a reason for having clearly defined principles around the reinvestment and a well thought out panel of representation.

    And how that money is managed and gathered too are a point for debate – realistically establishing some form of charity would be the only way.

    Perhaps most significantly, we’d need buy-in from a network of supporters; bike shops, coaches, frame builders, MTB guides. They are the ones who are going to take this message out locally; they are the ones who are going to help get the pot going by asking businesses to support it. But importantly, they are the ones who will chip in a few pennies or pounds to make it work.

    We’d need buy-in to make this work. We need a number of ambassadors to go and sell it. And up front we’d need investment to advertise and fund it – infrastructure WILL pay for itself, just not immediately.

    Small acorns

    It won’t immediately happen. It’ll take time to build a network of supporting businesses and for donations to start coming in. We haven’t worked the numbers yet, but in year one we believe totals will be small – but reinvested, that money could immediately start doing good work for advocacy groups – those little necessary things we all need like promo materials, web subscriptions, insurance, tools. And of course some to push the idea further.

    As the pot grows, some reinvestment could broaden the reach and in year two we could realistically see project investment happening; match funding, direct investment, supplies.

    By year three, who knows how big a national pot there could be? With other groups having seen the great examples of support elsewhere and those supported groups reaping the benefits of initial investment – maybe we could aim high and start on some big projects which could fundamentally change the face of MTB access in the country.

    Are you in?

    Think about it.

    This is an opportunity for the MTB advocacy community to professionalise and drive access for the benefit of all. This is an opportunity to put some power to our arm and really drive forward who the MTB community are.

    More than that though, it’s an opportunity to make possible hundreds of mountain biking projects up and down the country…and all for a few pennies spent.

    We just need to get it going. Are you willing to have a go? Get in touch and we’ll work it out together. Bike shop Maybe? Cafe? Coach? Maybe you could pilot it with us?

    I can invest in a purpose like that. I’m sure thousands of others could too.

    Think it’s a good idea? So do these lovely folk

    “Finding a way to consistently fund advocacy is tough, but tiny amounts on a massive scale is a no brainer. I’ll be trialling this at Bike Garage and encourage others to do so too. It could be huge for the MTB community.”
    James Irwin, Bike Garage, Peak District

    “Adding the option to allow riders to add a £1 payment to their booking that goes 100% to advocacy to create an enhanced and maintained trail network would be priceless.”
    Ben – WeRide MTB Guiding and Coaching

    “It’s a great idea – very big and bold. Would require a lot of work, but I think there are definitely people out there to take it on.”
    Gordon McMinn, Ride Kirklees

    “It’s seems so simple in principle and I’d be happy to contribute in some way, either direct debit or other. Companies often talk of how they support advocacy. What better way to show it than this? Schools could support on trail work…there’s real potential; some down the line, some now. But all exciting stuff.”
    Adam Simmonite, Trail Advantage MTB Coaching

    “I like the pound a year idea. Surely this is something that people can get behind?”
    Jason Ashworth, Singletraction

    “It’s workable. About the only thing I pay cash for these days is a haircut and everything else is a swipe of the phone. I don’t even carry a wallet most of the time! This money would get stuff done and would increase the visibility of the efficacy of advocacy work.”
    Steve, rider & former coach, Derbyshire

    “What a fab idea. It’s MTB crowdfunding. We can get behind that big time.”
    Chris Heseltine-James, Alliance MTB

    “I’m getting very positive vibes and I think it’s definitely worth exploring further. I like the idea of professionalising the advocacy movement. I believe this would generate further respect and give extra umph.”
    Adam Parker, Singletrack Scene MTB community

    “Big idea. Wonderful thinking. Personally I’d happily pay a yearly subscription to a focused fund.”
    Nick Howarth, Rother Valley Riders

    “Round the pound would definitely work ‘cos it’s not a massive outlay is it? Then people are happy to pay when they can see where it’s going”
    Anon., trail builder, Peak District

    “If it can roll out nationwide, it’s a winner”
    Anon., trail builder, coach, Yorkshire

    15 December 2022