08 March 2021

Catching up with Catherine Shearer, IMBA Europe's new board member

End of 2020, IMBA Europe welcomed Catherine Shearer as board member. Catherine is the first woman on IMBA EU’s board and is the co-founder of H+I Adventures, a company based in Inverness, Scotland, specialized in crafting life-affirming mountain bike and e-mountain bike tours around the world. Being on the board for a few months now, it is time to catch up with Catherine and talk about her first impression of the organisation, (more) women in cycling, how covid impacts the adventure travel industry, nature conservation, trails and her other real passion.

Last December, you were appointed as IMBA Europe's first female board member. What's your impression of the organisation and its goals after a few months being part of the organisation?

It has been a real pleasure, as well as a learning curve for me, to be part of the IMBA Europe board these past few months. I’ve been struck by the focus on and commitment to trail advocacy and bringing more people across Europe into the sport of mountain biking that all members of the board bring to the table. There’s a strong working relationship amongst the board members and each member brings his/her own expertise and passion to each meeting, to address the challenges at hand and share in the successes that we have had, individually and collectively, in achieving IMBA Europe’s mission. It’s always a tough job being a pan-European organisation, but there is a real drive and will to effect positive change in the MTB landscape right across Europe and that’s very encouraging.

We see more and more women entering the sport but not as much (yet) in board and management positions. As co-founder of H+I Adventures, do you have some advice to other women (and men) how to break the glass ceiling for once and for all?

When working in a male-dominated environment women can sometimes feel compelled to take on some of the characteristics of their male counterparts in order to be heard and, whilst that might work initially, I don’t think it's a strategy for long-term success; for the individual, the organisation, or the industry. It’s important for everyone in an organisation or team - whether they be male or female - to work to their strengths and be true to themselves. Male-dominated industries, such as the cycling world, need to realise that everyone brings value to the table and it’s the balance of different qualities that brings success. In my experience of working in the mountain bike industry for more than 14 years, having a female influence brings an increase in efficiency to proceedings that can otherwise be lacking. Is that suitably diplomatic?! There are more women being elevated to managerial and board positions across the cycling industry now and it is already having a positive effect, which should be recognised and celebrated. This, in turn, will create a snowball effect and encourage more women to pursue a career in mountain biking/ cycling. 

Covid had a huge impact on the adventure travel industry and therefore also on yourself as a professional working in the sector. How do you see the near future? Will we return to  our old habits or has our travel behavoiur changed forever?

I think in 2021 people will be dreaming of far-flung destinations, but staying closer to home for their travel and adventure fixes. Beyond that, I think there will be a surge in travel over the coming years, but we will be more aware of the impact of our travel habits on nature, communities and the environment. Travel is absolutely a force for good, but it inevitably comes at a cost in terms of carbon emissions, and we’re working on our own plans for managing and mitigating for our carbon footprint

Promoting trail stewardship and preservation of our natural environment  is part of IMBA's core values. What could a travel company do to preserve the environment for future generations? 

It’s important for travel companies to be an integral part of the regions in which they are operating, which is why we always use local guides in all of our destinations. In so doing we have a vested interest in protecting the areas in which we travel, and people on the ground to monitor our impact on the environment then take remedial action as required. In Scotland, for example, we have made trail maintenance an official part of the job description of our lead guide Chris. This means that, after guiding riders across the Highlands during the summer, he is then tasked with reviewing trail condition, making a plan for remedial work, and then co-ordinating with other bodies, such as Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland, to carry out the work required to repair any damage or erosion that has occurred as result of our activities. 

Do you have any other passions besides the love for mountain biking and your appetite for adventure? 

Aside from mountain biking and travel, my other real passion is food (and wine). I love cooking and enjoying good food with friends and family, which I’m sorely missing right now. I also love trying the varied cuisines in different countries around the world. Food is one of life’s real pleasures, bringing people together across cultures.