Forest roads are for foresters. MTB trails are for mountain bikers.

Short summary of the 3rd Scottish Mountain Bike Conference organised by consortium Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland (DMBINS). The consortium was established in 2009 to connect all relevant parties of mountain biking. All topics at the conference would deserve a separate blog post and discussion, but I hope you will find some interesting things in the next 10 paragraphs.

About 150 delegates at 3-day conference (2 days of panels and workshops, one day of trail building) came together in Aviemore in Scotland from 22 to 24 November 2018. There were mostly domestic delegates, but many international speakers like Claudio Caluori, Chris Ball, Fanie Kok, Hugo Tagholm (probably more known name to the wave catchers).

It is a fact that mountain bikers love to ride great trails and if you are not interested in topics like infrastructure management, land management, sports management, nature conservancy, the conference would be really boring for you :) If you are interested in looking for solutions for the topics mentioned earlier, then the conference was a great opportunity to get new ideas, inspirations and good vibe which we usually lose quite fast when dealing with daily challenges.

We all have the same problems

Landowners, land managers, unauthorised trails, lawsuits, nature conservancy… Those are common MTB buzz words all over the world. But the difference is how local communities are solving the same issues. It is simple to put it into words, but there is no formula to execute it in the same way: It all starts with communication between relevant parties and it is built on a trust which comes on a long term.

The most respected person in the local community is a manager of Forestry Commission of Scotland. Not just because of his position, but mostly because of his personality. He said that he is fed up with mountain bikers since 1981 when all started. Of course he was joking. According to his words the best feeling is when they reach a trusty relationship between mountain bikers and other forest users and when they build new trails which are safe and usable for a wider range of MTB riders. The Scottish math is quite simple: less injuries and lawsuits, more money for the trails. Of course for those trails in the ownership of the state, because FCOS builds trails and maintain those which are on the state land.

Their latest and the biggest progress is A guide for land managers and riders: Unauthorised Mountain Bike Trails. On 50 pages you can find step-by-step guide from the scratch to build MTB trails in Scotland, but many of the topics can be adapted in other countries as well. The topics are:

- models for engagement and managing trails;

- liability, risk assessment and insurance;

planning and outline building guidelines for the construction of low-impact trails;

- case studies.

From my point of view the most important takeaway from the first day is the proactive will to cooperate between different institutions, organisations and mountain biking groups. I was quite surprised that the public institutions ask mountain biking groups to cooperate to legalise more trails and to develop new mountain biking products (Scotland has a great source of scientific researches at Edinburgh Napier University which is one of the partners of DMBINS).

Communication in general has an important and strategic role in organisations in Anglo-Saxon countries. It is a basis for reaching trust for better cooperation and faster development in trusty environment.

We all want single trails

Why to build mountain bike trails (not shared trails)? FCOS most common answer was: because forest roads are for forest machinery, mountain bike trails for mountain bikers, walking paths for hikers. In Scotland there are horse riders who are a big and strong group of users of the paths, so even more diverse groups of users. Single trails are not just for “young crazy riders”, but all mountain bikers want them (I can’t imagine a mountain biker who would rather choose forest road for the descent than single trail).

Why surfer are cleaning the coastline?

When Hugo Tagholm presented the project Surfers Against Sewage it looked like he is at the wrong conference :) but before his presentations there were a few presentations of good practice how mountain biking helps in communities to reach better quality of life (health benefits, higher social connection, multinational and gender integration) with MTB schools, pump tracks, city MTB trails etc.

With Hugo’s presentation organisers of MTB conference wanted to make an awareness that MTB needs a common social topic for social initiative or movement which will help mountain biking to be part of a community on a national or even better international level. At the end we found mental health as a rising and really interesting topic that needs more attention. It is a common issue no matter the age, gender or nationality. It could help mountain biking (as waste reduce helps surfers) to get more impact in general society - and it could solve a general social problem.

Trail building Disneyland

Third day of the conference the main goal was to help building a MTB trail near Laggan Wolftrax Trail Center. Although we wanted and expected more “shovel work”, we had a great opportunity to exchange experiences of trail building in different parts of the world (the soil in Laggan is really a dreamy one, I have never seen such a great grounding for trail building before). Although we were working just for 2 hours, we did quite a lot.

One of my favourite moments at the trail building workshop was when trail builders from FCOS who rarely ride bikes were giving advices and guidelines for trail building to the mountain bikers with many years of experiences and the latest accepted those advices with open hands and gratefulness.

I tried to be as short as possible, but really I could write a novel about 10 different topics at the conference :) If you are still reading those lines, thank you for your time and if you have any comment about it, I will be really happy if you share it in the comment section (or by e-mail