This month as part of our ‘Advocacy in the spotlight’ series, we interviewed Mountain Bike advocate and representative of the NTFU (Nederlandse Toer Fiets Unie) Troy Corsen. NTFU is an IMBA Europe National Member who represents and advocates for the interests of local clubs and trail crews, as well as road cyclists, mountain bikers and gravel cyclists. Thanks to their members, which equate to more than 75,000 individuals, NTFU are working hard for better and safe routes and roads, as well as creating a positive image of the sport.
Firstly, could you please introduce yourself and your organisation?
Whether it concerns keeping mountain bike tracks open or a better image of the sport… The NTFU (Nederlandse Toer Fiets Unie) is the Dutch cycling association who stands up for the interests of local clubs and trail crews as well ad road cyclists, mountain bikers and gravel bikers. We can do this work thanks to more than 75.000 members. We make their voice heard to (local) governments, land and nature owners and other stakeholders. Almost all of the trail crews in the Netherlands are connected to the NTFU: at this moment we support 80 of them.
Could you tell us a bit about your organisation’s vision and ambition? And/or any relevant projects you’re working on?
We aim for safe and challenging mountain bike tracks throughout the Netherland and better access close to home. And that mountain biking is seen as a socially accepted way of exercising.
To achieve this, we are working together with members, partners, stakeholders and decision makers on one ‘national’ “Mountain bike Vision”. A vision on mountain biking in the Netherlands that is accepted and shared by the mountain bike community, land lords and organisations who are involved in nature preservation.
In November 2023 we will present this Mountain bike Vision. It says how we see the future of mountain biking in the Netherlands. What do we want to achieve in 2035 for mountain bikers in the Netherlands. How do we see the role of trail crews in this, how can we support them the best and what do we need to achieve this.
At NTFU, we want to support our member organisations in their struggles with local government and organisations. That’s why we are working on a new service we want to offer to local trail crews. And that is support for local advocacy. The Netherlands is a small country with limited space for nature, which we also have to share with a lot of people. Combine that with the fact that not everybody in the Netherlands is pro mountain biking and that makes that mountain bikers most of the times are 1-0 behind.
Think about small groups of people who fight for nature, local residents who experience nuisance and the media that pays a lot attention to negative stories where mountain bikers are involved. That makes that mountain biking and tracks are under pressure. It happened in the past that tracks had to be closed or that trail crews were forced to take a lawyer to prevent this. Which costs a lot of money, time and energy of those volunteers.
To turn this around, the NTFU is working on a special service for trail crews. Trail crews who are a member of the NTFU can ask for an expert who can help them with local advocacy. Not only when times are bad, but also in the good times – so they can invest in a long term good relations with the local government and land lord for example. In the end that will benefit the development and maintenance of their tracks and of course it is the mountain biker who profits from this.
What have been your major achievements or successes you’d like to highlight?
Trail crews can count on us with services that fulfil the special needs of the trail crews. Think about special insurances for volunteers and against liability, free model contracts they can use to collaborate in a good way with the land lord, a knowledge hub online and offline and the local advocacy service.
We also offer financial support with the NTFU Bosch eBike Systems Trailfund. Trail crews can apply for the Trailfund if they need financial support to build of maintain their track. In the past 1,5 years we’ve helped 10 trail crews. Projects that are funded, differs from a big pile of sand to repair the track to challenging rock gardens and walls.
NTFU does also a lot of research. At the beginning of 2023, we asked Track Landscapes to analyse Strava Metro data to investigate the behavior and preferences of active users of the (urban) landscape, including cyclists. Track Landscapes conducted their research in approximately forty areas in the provinces Gelderland, Overijssel and Limburg, in the period 2018-2022. The research showed that where new or renovated tracks have been constructed, the use of other forest trails decreases. That usually happens to a significant extent.
The NTFU has already discussed the research with land owners and other parties involved with mountain bike routes. It is good that everyone now has the same, hard set of data. Based on this, we want to inform mountain bikers and other recreational users such as hikers and riders about options to reduce crowds.
Major challenges you’ve faced in past or present?
We’ve already mentioned the strong advocacy against mountainbike tracks, mostly by groups who fight for nature and against everything and everybody that wants to enjoy nature, with lawsuits and all.
Because of more and more rules to reduce CO2 emissions, it’s more and more difficult to get a permit for mountainbike tracks. And the media is not on our side: with negative stories – like arguments between hikers and bikers of the impact from mountain biking on nature. Those negative stories have a big impact on peoples perspective about mountain biking and that public opinion also has its effects on decision makers.
Collaborations with other organisations that helped you along the way?
We work together with NOC*NSF – Dutch Sports Federation, which represents all kind of sports in the Netherlands. They help us with advocacy at national level, for example for more space for outdoor sports.
We are also on good terms with the two biggest land lords in the Netherlands: Staatsbosbeheer and Natuurmonumenten. And we have a close connection with other outdoor sports federations, for example the KNwB (hikers), KNHW (horse riders), Atletiekunie (runners) and KNSB (ice skaters) and Sportvisserij Nederland (fishers).
What’s needed in your country to fully unlock the potential of mountain biking?
The understanding that mountain biking is a solution for many things instead of problem. Understanding from nature preservers and nature lovers is needed to realize that mountainbike trails are a solutions for conflict situations and that with trails mountain bikers stay on the right track. It helps to keep them away from vulnerable nature. If people realize this and they accept mountain biking, many more doors will open for us. What’s needed is that the (local) government mountain biking and gravel biking includes in the policy of municipalities and provinces.
How can local groups or individuals support or get involved in the work of your organisation?
By joining the NTFU. The more bikers and trail crews join, the greater our voice for the whole mountain bike community in the Netherland. Or start with positive local advocacy.
In one year what do you hope to have accomplished?
Trail crews do what they love the most: building and maintaining their tracks instead of being busy with threats and lawsuits. We see and read a lot of positive news about mountain biking on television and in news papers. Almost every Mountain bike track uses our trail rating system. And we’ve finished our Mountain bike Vision