Key takeaways from the IMBA Europe Summit 2024 – Mödling

13 June 2024

Key takeaways from the IMBA Europe Summit 2024 – Mödling

The overarching theme of the 2024 IMBA Europe Summit was ‘mountain biking in peri-urban areas’, and tried to capture the ongoing challenges and opportunities for mountain biking in areas no more than 10 kilometres away from the borders of towns. 

Our host, the Wienerwald close to Austria’s capital served as the perfect location for the overarching theme of the summit, but on top of this, we witnessed many other best practices and discussions about recent developments in the sector. Whether it was about inclusion and diversity, the role of e-bikes, the mental health benefits of mountain biking or different views regarding the development of trail infrastructure, there was no shortage of lively discussions and new insights.

We were thrilled to see such a diverse group of enthusiasts, trail-builders, professionals, and advocates come together to share knowledge, experiences, and passion for mountain biking. Your contributions, whether through active participation in moderated discussions, technical site visits or simply by bringing your unique perspective to the table during the coffee breaks, were invaluable to us and to the community.

We would like to present our main key takeaways from the summit. They are by no means limited to being a recap of the sessions but try to reflect the experience of the entire IMBA Board and staff in bite-size pieces. 

1: Honest discussion and communication can lead to synergies for recreation and nature conservation 

Despite the best efforts of mountain biking advocacy groups, many potential allies still foster a stigma opposed to mountain bikers. Unfortunately, many nature conservation groups still see mountain bikers as reckless, irresponsible users of our shared spaces. It is truly striking that after more than 10 IMBA Summits it is still hard to cooperate with national parks and other protected areas because of preconceived notions of mountain bikers. Because of this division and the sometimes rowdy image of mountain biking, our community is still struggling to find a common starting point from which to work together on any issues in our limited shared space.

“Historically, when you’re looking at land conservation scientists, they probably thought that mountain bikers were quite oblivious” – can be heard in Cairngorms National Park’s Capercaillie project video. But this perception can be changed. The national park changed its approach from a top-down to a bottom-up process, which also changed its overall view on the inclusion of the local community for the better. The inclusion of local mountain bikers in solving disturbance problems for the endangered capercaillie bird solved more problems than anticipated and made a better result for the protection of the bird in the long run. Open, cooperative discussions and information exchange also raised the mountain biking community’s awareness of the issue, and where it was possible, the rerouting of the trails was found to be a mutually acceptable solution.

2: Data is king

Data was shown as by far the most effective tool for a trail association. Rider number data can help any association to objectively underline their points when in discussion with local authorities, forest services, and private landowners. Data-based information, either from physical counters or crowd-sourced data can also help to gauge the effects of mountain biking in green spaces, which could prevent conflicts between user groups and authorities. It can also help to resolve access problems, both on a local and on a national/federal level, especially if the question of access is contested by multiple parties.

Data is also crucial for the cycling industry. The development of peri-urban trails and access roads and the spread of multi-modal users mean that there is a question of whether the cycling industry actually offers “correct” products for the user’s needs. Do the current bikes allow a seamless transition between the access roads and riding the trails itself? The industry is uncertain and needs more input to refine its offerings.

IMBA Europe Summit 20243: There’s no silver bullet for Intereuropean mountain biking policies

Every form of cycling is getting continuously more popular, and national governing bodies can’t ignore this trend. The same is true for mountain biking. Scotland had a mountain biking strategy for 14 years now, Austria is preparing its own version, but the national legislative differences mean that there’s no universally applicable framework for an easy win. Planners on a national level need boots on the ground. Local associations and grassroot initiatives grasp the experience of the local rider much better than established governing bodies. It also helps the conversation between the relevant local authorities to avoid conflicts. A perfect example to illustrate the situation of mountain bikers would be the case of school cycling in Denmark and France. Even though the recognition of the usefulness of such programs has happened on a governmental level, in practice much smaller associations carry out the work on local and regional levels.

4: Women’s participation numbers reflect the desire for better MTB representation

Before the summit, IMBA Europe set the ambitious goal to increase the number and proportion of women in attendance. Although we still have some work to do to achieve an equal gender balance, the proportion of women attending the summit almost doubled in one year, and for 2 of the 3 days was above 30%. For the first time in the history of the IMBA Europe Summits, women were invited to attend a women’s only workshop. Despite our best efforts to create inclusive spaces in mountain biking, women still struggle to feel legitimate, respected, equivalent, and accepted in the community. This session was dedicated to sharing ideas and discussing the formation of a women’s MTB network in Europe. We hope that after the success of the first formative meeting led by IMBA Europe board member Manon Carpenter, the momentum will address the desire for better representation and will lead to a more established safe space to exchange experiences, ideas and opinions on the future of women in mountain biking. To learn more, please read our detailed article on the topic here.

5: Mental health is not just a buzzword in mountain biking

The positive effects of physical exercise and nature on mental health have been well-known for years now, and mountain biking as a sport is well-established in this space too. Still, being vaguely aware of some positive effects from online articles is incomparable to hearing a very personal story of someone who has used mountain biking to overcome a tragedy. The shared understanding of the importance of mental health was a key takeaway for many participants at the summit. One thing that consistently came up as a main differentiating point of mountain biking compared to some other forms of outer sports was technical skill development and mastery. No one is born with the ability to do a bunny hop or a hip jump right away, and regular cyclists won’t know the feeling of mastering these tricks. The most important task now is to spread this feel-good environment to all of Europe for our collective well-being and enact policies that provide opportunities for people to utilise mountain biking in the existing healthcare system: mountain biking as a prescription would be the ultimate goal.

IMBA Europe Summit 20246: Huge interest in trail-building competencies

It’s not easy to draw the attention of nature-loving trail-builders enough to convince them to voluntarily sit in a conference room. But put the latest trail-building innovations, the topic of trail-building competencies and the chance to influence a European trail-building certification framework, and you’ll have success on your hands. With the addition of the DIRTT Project Dissemination event, of which you can read more here, the IMBA Europe Summit in 2024 proved to be popular for trail builders.

The huge interest in innovative products and techniques, the International Trail Rating System (ITRS), and the demonstration of DIRTT tutors underlined the eagerness of the representatives of the trail-building community to showcase the professionalization of the sector. The way towards a more organized, universal trail-building competency framework and certification system is still not set in stone, and there are several ideas for future practical implementation. But one certain thing is that there’s a hunger in the sector to learn, and this hunger will help future trail builders master the best practices from the first generation of certified trail builders in Europe.