10 October 2019

Advocacy in the spotlight: Trail advocate of the year

The trail advocate award of the year honours trail advocacties that did exceptional work to advance MTB opportunities in ther local community. First female winner is Nynne Bech from  Denmark. We spoke with Nynne to learn more about the work she did in her local community to improve riding opportunites in the forests outside of Copenhagen.

When and how did you get involved in mountain biking?

In the summertime three years ago I decided that I needed a new bike. I thought about buying a fast road bike, but I couldn’t really decide on what to get. That same summer I went to Bornholm - a beautiful rocky island in Denmark (actually the only rocky place in Denmark). One of the days I wanted to rent a bike and explore the island, and the guy at the rental shop asked if I wanted a granny bike or a MTB. I asked what he would recommend and he answered: “MTB”. Luckily I followed his recommendation.

I clearly remember the bike I got. It was a Trek hardtail, metallic grey, 26” wheels and probably 120 mm travel. I also remember being super confused about the cockpit, how it all worked and how different it was from what I was used to. And I must have looked quite sceptic, cause when I left the shop he added: “If you don’t like it come back and get the granny bike”. That day on Bornholm turned out magic. As soon as I got familiar with the bike everything fell into place. I had a feeling of flying through the landscape, smiling and singing out load. It was like riding a big robust truck where you can bump into stuff without hurting the equipment or yourself. It felt awesome! When I returned the bike I was so excited and I told the guy that I would buy a MTB as soon as got back to Copenhagen. And so I did.

After I got my first MTB it all went very fast. I signed up for technique courses, weekend trips in Denmark and holidays abroad and I was really lucky with all the great people I met along the way. Even though I was a complete rookie I experienced so much help and support and I soon realised that the MTB community is such an inclusive environment with room for everyone. It is friends for life and learning how to play again. It holds amazing adventures, self-development and so much more!

There are not that many female MTB advocates and trail builders around. What was the reason you got involved in this kind of work and with what kind of projects did you started with?

In my local forest (Rude forest north of Copenhagen) there is an awesome downhill/dirt jump track called “Bjerget” (Bjerget means the mountain, which is kind of funny with Denmark being very flat). The features at Bjerget are super advanced and so are the guys riding there! For a long time I didn’t have the courage to try it out and it took a lot of self-persuasion before I did finally try it out (I still have A LOT to learn).

Apart from riding I participated in maintenance work and one day we discussed how we could make the track more approachable for beginners. We decided that we wanted a training area with smaller features to practice in order to gain confidence and skills before moving to the more advanced lines. Somehow I was handed over the responsibility of developing this new area.

Knowing that my experience with trail building was very limited I felt extremely humble towards the project. For more than a decade a lot of great people have worked hard to develop the track and in that sense I felt that there was a lot to live up to. However, professionally I’m a trained project manager and I decided that the only thing I could do was to approach the project as I would with any other project: Make an initial plan, team up with people who know how it’s done, discuss the plan, adjust the plan and get going. And the level of support has been overwhelming! So far we have build two different lines, a third one is coming up and slowly I’m starting to get my own experience on how it’s done.

Could you describe a bit of the work you’ve done as it comes to talking to land managers and politicians about planning trails, permissions etc?

“Bjerget” is a downhill/dirt jump track and therefore exempted from the rules that usually apply to trail building in Denmark. This makes Bjerget a very unique place in the forest but also as a place that needs to be protected and explained a lot. As with other aspects in life we tend to be sceptic towards things we don’t understand or know about and seeing a guy jump 10 meters on his bike in the forest can for some people be one of them. So apart from building a training area and introducing other forest user groups to the track, we (Trail Builders Copenhagen) try to establish a strong relationship with the local division of the Danish Nature Agency.

For me, my own strategy has been simple: foster communication and mutual understanding. On several occasions we have invited our contacts from the Nature Agency to the track, showed them around, explained what it is all about and not least why this place is so important to many people. Equally important they have had the chance to explain the rules and regulation under which they operate. In my perception this creates a vital mutual understanding and the best point of departure for acceptance, collaboration and development opportunities for the area.

Denmark has fairly good access rules for mountain bikers. Why is it still so important to be involved in advocacy work?

“Good access” is so much more than obtaining the right to dig and ride through formal advocacy work. If we want to underpin a peaceful space where all user groups enjoy the forest and respect how others do the same, we need to work on how we see each other and how we communicate. In other words informal advocacy work is just as important as the formal type. Basically we all need to remember to hop of our bike, talk to our fellow forest lovers, learn why they love the forest - and the other way around. This type of “work” is ongoing important as it creates the basis of how we are perceived by the rest of the world (forest) and enhances our chances for further developing our trails.

Are women better mountain bike advocates than men

Haha, no not in my perception. People might be different but I think men and women are equally good MTB advocates

What are you really proud of, in terms of projects you’ve worked on and things you've achieved?

Hmmm…compared to a lot of people out there I am still very new in the trail building world and I still have a lot to achieve and learn. You should ask me again in a few years ;-)

Do you have any advice to get more girls and women involved in advocacy work and to join local trail crews?

Generally speaking men dominate the MTB community not least when it comes to trail building. And to my experience all you MTB-men out there are awesome! You are inclusive, supportive and helpful and you love when women get involved in riding and digging. The hesitations that we (women) experience in terms of getting involved are (to my experience) rooted within ourselves. We need to somehow cross these barriers of self-limitation and trust that the community has plenty of space for us. And it’s actually easy to get involved! The next time you come across trail building activities on your ride, hop of your bike and ask how you can contribute in the future. I guarantee that your willingness to help is well perceived.

If we would like to meet you for a local ride, on which trail would we most likely encounter you?

Rude forest north of Copenhagen is my favourite local trail. Apart from Bjerget the forest has a really nice XC trail with a lot of fun features. Basically there is something for everyone up there.

Special thanks goes out to Endura for providing a MT500 perfomance jacket to both Trail Advocate of the year winners!

Tom Cole, representing the Aberdeenshire Trail Association, became Trail Advocate of the year (men's) and received his engraved plaque and jacket from Will Clarke (DMBinS)