Get to know our latest associated member -Riders United (Bulgaria)
This month we chatted with Aleksandar Hadzhiev from Riders United Bulgaria, a group of enthusiastic DH and Enduro racers who help build and maintain trails around the country.
Firstly, could you please introduce yourself and your organisation?
I am Aleksandar Hadzhiev and I am one of the members of Sport Club Riders United. Also I am one of the coaches, trail builder and sometimes a competitor, but just for fun. I am organizing the training camps of our team, as well as organize camps for raising the level and introduction to mountain biking for anyone who wants to. Also, if I have time I go to the races on the calendar, as a participant and more importantly as a coach to our competitors. My personal future goal is to be the coach of the team and go to all competitions in the country and abroad. Thanks to UCI there is a few MTB coaches In Bulgaria, but still we have a lot of riders and trails but only few coaches. I’m sure you know how important coaches are to creating a functional and adequate MTB society.
Riders United is a professional bike club founded in 2013. In the last few years we managed to have one of the biggest and prospering mountain bike clubs in Bulgaria with many riders in any ages, national champions and members in the whole country. Additional the professional racing part of the sport, we also have big experience and passion in the trail building and trails maintenance.
We have worked on many interesting projects in the years and one of the biggest steps we made for the Bulgarian mountain biking was in 2013 when we managed to legalize more than 200 km trails in Vitosha Nature Park. Vitosha is one of the most popular and daily visited mountains, because it’s located above Sofia city – the Bulgarian capital with around 2 million citizens. We also have built the first and unfortunately the last 4X track in Bulgaria, where was hold the European 4X championships in 2013 and the final round of 4X Pro tour in 2014.
Currently, our organization organizes most of the DH and Enduro races on the calendar of the Bulgarian Cycling Federation. Most of the tracks are created by the local clubs and it is their responsibility to maintenance. We clean and improve the tracks in the week before every race that we organize. I don’t know how it is in other countries, but here in Bulgaria, if a club wants to be responsible for a trail, it adopts it by submitting the relevant documents to the state institutions. Of course, we work with local mountain bike clubs, so in most cases they do their job and update the adopted trails at the start of each season. Our club does the same and we maintain the trails we have created and adopted. Riders United members are scattered all over the country and each has different tasks, but even if they are competitors, they grab the shovel at the first opportunity. For example, since 2018, me together with various teammates, have been positioned in the bike park of Pamporovo. https://www.veloparkpamporovo.com
Full of passion, in 2022 we built a completely new urban bike park in the city of Yambol, which is designed with the possibility of both – beginner, families and kids, as well as XCO and CX races. In creating of this facility, I used a lot of what I learned and saw at the coaches training camp in Anadia, Portugal 2022 year. This is the first such all-time facility in Bulgaria. Due to the great interest this year we will be improving the facility and two races have been added to the calendar (Cyclo-cross and XC Olympic). However, this means that I and few other people of our club personally will have to spend at least 20 days at the beginning of the season there as well :).
Could you tell us a bit about your organization’s vision and ambition? And/or any relevant projects you’re working on?
Our ambition and goal is to create a MTB community based on good manners, love for nature and other living beings. As strange as it sounds, to be part of our club it is not important to be a good competitor, but more important ис to be a good person. And believe me, this is how we select new members. I hope after which we set a good example to the others. Only by setting a good example will there be prosperity for future generations of MTB geeks. Our main goal is to improve all of our projects and starting one of probably most difficult job – to develop all the possibilities it offers the mountain above Sofia – Vitosha Mountain.
What have been your major achievements or successes you’d like to highlight?
Through the years our team made a lot for the Bulgarian mountain bike scene, we are the founders of two of the biggest bike parks in Bulgaria (Pamporovo bike park and Borovets Bike Park) and organizers of the biggest and traditional mountain bike events, also we take care of lots different type of trails in the whole country. One of the great filling was the opinion of one of most famous British rider and true legend Scott Beamount, who rated the 4X Track in Pamporovo, as one of the best tracks ever in the world. There are so many things, such as receiving the European Cycling Union jersey for the best event organizer in 2013, legalizing 202 km of trails in the home of Bulgarian cycling scene – Vitosha Mountain, being part of the first MTB race in a building (National Palace of Culture), making more than 10 different trail setups for urban downhill races in 4 cities or our traditional snow bike races (actually our race in 2011 in Borovets is probably the first race on snow in the world).
We will never forget the first big jumping of one of our teammates Izabela Yankova of the build from us final jump in Pamporovo. She jumped in the history – for the first time in Bulgarian cycling someone won the World championships, European championships and World cup in season 2021.
Major challenges you’ve faced in past or present?
If you’re asking about the club, I can’t say what the biggest challenge is. For myself I can say that my marriage was the biggest challenge but somehow I overcome it. I can assure you that Riders United is my first and last club ever.
Collaborations with other organisations that helped you along the way?
I can say that we work with most of the local mountain bike clubs in Bulgaria, which are doing a great job and there is communication between us. Of course it will be great if we can improve the whole process in order to realize the projects more easily. Over the years, we have worked successfully with MTB clubs such as Kriva Spitsa from the city of Plovdiv, Vivo from the city of Petrich, Hotalich from the city of Sevlievo, Kaylaka Riders from the city of Pleven, Svobodno Dimensione from the city of Zlatitsa, institutions such as the Municipalities of Smolyan, Sofia, Gabrovo, Pleven, Yambol, Veliko Tarnovo, Plovdiv, Sofia Foundation – European Capital of Sports, Vitosha Nature Park, MTB-BG – the largest MTB media in Bulgaria, many volunteers and friends. Those we have missed – let them forgive us!
What’s needed in your country to fully unlock the potential of mountain biking??
I think we should work towards educating all the people and clubs involved in the construction of trails. It is very important to work in cooperation with all state institutions, forestry farms, municipalities, etc. Clear rules and regulations should be established for everyone to follow. This will reduce conflicts and incidents in the future, which is our priority.
How can local groups or individuals support or get involved in the work of your organisation?
Many of the local riders volunteer to clean up the trails. Absolutely everyone is welcome regardless of age and experience. Then we organize rides with our transport or with chairlift if it’s a bike park. For the qualified shapers, we try to arrange more rewards, because they do the most important part of the work, as well as guiding and training others in duplicate. In general, however, for us, the construction of the trails is a pleasure and a rest in nature, in most cases with music and pleasant drinks. At the end of the day, everyone should be happy with what they’ve done, learned, have fun or whatever experience building the trails brings them.
In one year what do you hope to have accomplished?
For this year, our goals are clear. We need to improve two of the parks for which we are responsible (Pamporovo and Yambol), as well as develop several new routes in Vitosha, located near Sofia – the capital of Bulgaria. We strongly hope that in a few years a new bike park can be established there. It has the necessary facilities such as lifts, but it is a natural park and any interventions must be adequate and coordinated with all institutions.
From my perspective for more sustainable trail building education in Bulgaria, I imagine that in the future we will organize at least one annual meeting of all the clubs that take care of the trails (and maybe some representative from IMBA). To share experiences and synchronize our efforts. I think that here IMBA can help with its experience in organizing such meetings and synchronizing the structures at the international level. After all, we all strive for more accessible and sustainable MTB trails, we should share our experience in this direction.