08 May 2015

IMBA Europe Summit report

What makes an annual mountain bike summit successful? It’s the mixture of inspiring speakers, open discussions, a melting pot of mountain bike enthusiast full of ideas, a beautiful location, nice rides and a bit of fun & socializing on a Saturday evening. And of course, our local host Mountain Bikers Foundation and all volunteers that put countless hours and passion into this event.

About 65 people from 18 different countries travelled to France to attend IMBA Europe’s 2015 Summit in Ramatuelle on the French Riviera. This year’s summit was combined with the 2nd MTB guide & instructor meeting. Lionel Macaluso, MBF’s president and Harold Veldkamp, IMBA Europe’s president opened the summit on Friday evening in presence of the deputy mayor of Ramatuelle.

Day 1

On Saturday, the stage was given to Alex Maclennan, Recreation & Public Affairs manager of Forestry Commission UK. Alex explained how EU funds, private investments and volunteer work by local mountain bike groups were interwoven and made new trail development possible in Northumberland NP. 

The economic and job potential of mountain biking was explained by Moniteur Cycliste Français director Julien Rebuffet. MCF has trained a huge number of professional mountain bike guides and instructors. The latest and most remarkable trend was that some MCF guides had more business in winter than summer, taking full advantage of the fat bike trend that currently is going on. Offering guided trips on fat bikes in a winter wonderland.

Sometimes, mountain bike advocates are having a hard time when talking to land managers and nature conservationist about the impact of mountain biking. Primoz Gams, student Ecology and Biodiversity presented the preliminary results of his study on the impact of mountain biking on the vegetation along trails. Final results of his study are expected at the end of this summer.

The growing numbers of sold  e-mountain bikes in Europe were part of the presentation and discussion with Jonathan Sweet of Bosch e-Bike Systems. Whatever your opinion about e-mountain bikes, they’ve become a reality and it seems more and more mountain bikers have accepted this trend. However, ongoing discussions about the proper use of e-mountain bikes, safety issues and trail impact are useful and needed to make sure this trend won’t affect trail access in the long run. Good news was that Bosch and other industry partners work on a code of business conduct to prevent illegal tampering of e-bike systems. This means the e-bike industry is strictly against manipulation of the system to increase speed / power.

In the tradition of any IMBA event, riding was part of the program. A clear blue sky, a sun drenched landscape and a network of local trails were the ingredients for a couple of hours riding. If that wasn’t enough to put a smile on people’s face, the fat bike beach relay on Saturday evening certainly did.

Day 2

The 2nd day of the summit program had a more thematic approach. Three theme blocks covered the topics ‘trail development’, ‘volunteer management’ and ‘breaking the age and gender barrier’.

Claude Balsiger, director of Allegra Tourismus kicked off with a presentation about how to (and how not to) build public and private partnerships in the MTB tourism sector. Followed by Tomas Kvsanicka of Singltrek r.s.o. about the importance and planning of local, suburban trail systems which are accessible for the masses, including beginners and youth.

Where social conflicts between trail users are often mentioned as a threat for mountain bike trail access, ATBV showed their example of an all inclusive trails community. Tito Magelhaes explained how they’ve brought mountain bikers, hikers and trail runners all together in one association by organizing community events and teaming up for trail work. 

Trail maintenance, race course inspection and cleaning up rubbish are part of the French Green Brigades program. Franck Machabert is one of the driving forces behind this program that has gradually expanded over the years, visiting more events and educate both riders and organizers how to make their event more sustainable in terms of less rubbish and minimize trail damage.

Although the composition of the mountain bike community is slightly changing, mountain biking is still dominated by men. Reaching out to the future generation and breaking the gender barrier makes a lot of sense to us. If we want to have more kids on bikes, let’s start teaching and coaching them at schools. Beppe Salerno introduced mountain bike lessons at an elementary school, both as part of the curriculum and as extracurricular activity and gave a very important advice: do not adapt adult programs for kids. It’s a total different world, different needs, different physiology, make it fun!

So what about women? Success never stays unnoticed so we were glad to have Annie Söderberg on board to share her story about sherides.se, a Swedish cycling community for women that emerged almost as fast as Annie rides her own bike. The mountain bike scene in Sweden could be described as rather competitive, not very open to women. Sherides.se changed that perspective by creating an online community and offering a wide variety of events and training activities. It’s about riding with each other instead of riding against each other. Women can choose whatever discipline they’re interested in. From XC to downhill or road cycling. It’s about the fun and passion for riding, about pride and a well thought-out  good communication strategy.

One of IMBA Europe’s goals is to disseminate best practices from across Europe. All presentations will be available on our website, check our resource section .