29 June 2021

Top takeaway messages from the IMBA EUROPE Summit 2021

The 2021 IMBA Europe Annual (online) Summit was a great success with so many learned outcomes about the future of mountain biking from our guest speakers and panelists. We wanted to create a summit that really engaged the audience with IMBA Europe’s Strategy towards 2025, which was presented by our president Thomas Larsen Schmidt. It was a great opportunity to have industry leaders, policy makers, and experts from all facets of the mountain biking sector come together to answer the question ‘How do we improve people’s lives through mountain biking?’. 

This article highlights the top takeaways from each guest panelist. You can find out more information about the panelists via this link.

Panel one discussion - How do we become a more diverse and inclusive community?

Sport has a unique ability to bring people together from all walks of life. Why has the mountain bike community never been able to do the same and, why is our culture, image or composition such a big obstacle for marginalised groups to join our sport?

Aneela McKenna / Founder of Mor Diversity 

Mountain biking has come a long way since the 80’s where it was predominantly dominated by men. From my own experience, I would say in the last 5+ years women have been welcomed into this space, with a far greater representation. In the last year we have seen a real shift, an awakening, the start of the journey, saying yes, we have a problem, yes, we know that there are people less privileged to participate. And then asking ourselves the question, how can we make mountain biking more accessible to these groups? Within our culture there is a perception that it is a hard sport, through its representation in the media. We need to tackle this perception and open it up to all communities, and think about aspects like affordability, we don’t all have to have the best of the best. Access is key. Thinking about where do trails start from, how accessible are they to all users? Thinking about motivation as a limiting factor, how are people motivated to get into this sport? Are they seeing themselves represented in the media, on magazine covers, in advertisements? We are at a good place, and the fact we are even having this conversation today is superb. We have to work together to change the narrative.

What can we do? Use the trickle effect, setting standards, questioning how you are building diversity and inclusion into your work. We have to transform our thinking, and think about those voices we want to hear.

Brook Hopper / Global Marketing Manager of Liv Cycling

Looking holistically at what being inclusive means and what we have focused on is having the conversation about everything we do. I feel that as long as I have been in cycling, I have to be fighting for women, as the industry and the sport is not as welcoming. We also have to look at how we can welcome communities of colour in to the same space who might feel even less welcomed. “You can’t fight for women and not fight for black women, trans women, disabled women or any other intersections where anyone who identifies as a woman resides”.  Ayesha Mcgowan, road cyclist for Liv Racing. It is largely white men telling women what they should or should not be riding. We want to encourage more women everywhere to get on the trails, get on the road, and to see themselves as part of the community.

There needs to be support from the top. The bike industry is very old school and still operates in a very top-down approach. I have seen most success coming from the grassroots. Where I believe we struggle in the bike industry is in our pipeline, there are not a lot of people of colour or women in the industry, and we don’t market to them. A bike magazine … How many women are there? What we need to do is look at all levels. Where are you looking to hire people?

Stefan Lönngren / Project manager Cykelfrämjandet

The inspiration for this project came from the IMBA 2019 summit where I learnt from our colleagues in Scotland, how they were using mountain biking as a tool to help people suffering from mental health problems. Why is mountain biking a good choice for this focus group? Research has shown that mountain biking can be even better than other forms of exercise, with three main factors behind this thought; An elevated heart rate is always good for anyone, but to do this in nature is even better than say in a built environment. We have seen through the BOSS project the many benefits of outdoor sports, and research has shown how blood pressure drops when we immerse ourselves in nature. In general, going out into nature is just a great place to take people stressed out from living in cities. And then finally, mountain biking requires a lot of focus, sometimes what these children with ADHD and autism can struggle with. For example, if you compare mountain biking to someone playing soccer, if you lose your concentration playing soccer, all you are is a person standing on grass, not much can happen. If you lose your concentration riding mountain biking on a single track there can be consequences. This forces the brain to focus, which in turn causes positive effects which can last for days after the fact. And lastly, our research has shown how this after effect is helping medication work better.

Panel two discussion - What are the preconditions for sustainable growth in Mountain biking?

Growth in sales in mountain bikes, in particular emtb, reflects new ‘mountain bike users’ on trails. It is therefore in part the responsibility of the industry, along with land managers, to invest more into the infrastructure of preexisting trails, as well as development of new trails to allow for sustainable growth in the industry.

Martin Wyttenbach / Zurich University of Applied Sciences 

What we have seen in Switzerland is an overall increase in the pressure on natural areas and trail systems over the past 15 years, especially within the forests close to cities. This pressure has been exacerbated due to covid, which has led to higher frequencies of recreation in these areas. The result has been increased degradation and erosion of existing trails as well as new unplanned or illegal infrastructure.  These new ‘illegal trails’ are a direct result of not having existing needs based or user-friendly trails/infrastructure. Mountain biking is here to stay and we need to find solutions to these problems. We need to improve infrastructure and build needs-based infrastructure to address these different user groups. Applying and communicating clear rules are the most important measures we can take. All the stakeholders when it comes to planning. Therefore, we need more best placed examples/practices.

Matthew Pearce / Sports Marketing Manager Patagonia

The motivation for Patagonia to re-join/renew our interest in mountain biking, is that many of us here at Patagonia are keen mountain bikers. Mountain biking fits with our direction in outdoor sports and ethos as mountain biking is synonymous with human powered adventure in wild spaces. Through mountain biking people can connect with the outdoors and with that also comes the community element. Within these outdoor sports communities there is often a reverence for the spaces where you do your sports and the intention to protect these places. The goal for Patagonia is to be part of the conversation in mountain biking as the sport grows. When we begin to think about whose responsibility is it to ensure that the sport continues sustainably, it is the responsibility of us all. Brands have a responsibility in the products that they make. In their messaging to educate people about the impact. Beyond brands. The media has a responsibility to be discussing trail advocacy and as well as the responsibility to educate new people into the sport with best practice examples. The community has a responsibility in how they are using the outdoor spaces and how as a community we are connecting with the stakeholders to ensure we expand this sport safely.

Morton Kamp Schubert - Founder & CEO of Moutainbike United

What we saw in the data from March 2020, the start of the lockdowns across Europe, was an explosion in participation. The interesting point to make here is that this level of participation has been consistent since that first lock down. We are seeing a lot of new users but also a lot of old users, who appear to be riding more. I would say that the behaviour of users is different, and that the well-built blue trails have had the highest usage from the new users. The other interesting thing to point out is that new users are traveling more, exploring more trails and different areas. From the data we can see that these new users try a new trail every month. On average 2.1 times per week. Another point to note is that new users are more loyal users of the app as they need information about where the good trails are and what are legal trails. They don’t know much about mountain biking, so this could be a factor for needing to use the app so regularly.

Clement Doby / Head of Mountain Biking Decathlon

What we have experienced at Decathlon is an overall increase in cycling. And we believe that this is due to Covid 19, and the fact that cycling is a sport we can practice with safety due to the fact that it is an outdoor sport. We believe that there are three main reasons why we are seeing an increase in mountain bike sales.

  1. People have saved money from not traveling or eating out for example. So they are more inclined to spend more money on things, like a new mountain bike or piece of equipment to upgrade their old mountain bike.
  2. E-Bike boom. New mountain bikers or old mountain bikers (returning to the sport) opting to buy an E-MTB in order to go further and faster
  3. Demand for contact with nature

Environmental protection- Whose job is it in our community to educate new and old users about the importance of respecting and protecting the environment?

Clement (Decathlon) - From a brand perspective, we have to speak to the users, to communicate the rules (etiquette of a mountain biker), and communicate the potential impacts they as a user can have on the environment they are engaging with whilst mountain biking. It is also, I believe, our responsibility to make products that are more sustainable.
Martin- (University of Zurich) Dissemination of knowledge is important. Education is important. Authorities, organisations have a responsibility to get the knowledge out to the people.
Morton- (Mountainbike United) - Everyone has a role. Everyone should have a voice.
Matthew (Patagonia) - Yes everyone has responsibility. Brands have a responsibility in the products that they make. In their messaging to educate people about the impact. Beyond brands. Magazines, the media has a responsibility to be discussing trail advocacy and responsible introduction of new people into the sport. Ambassadors have a role. The community taking part in the sport, their role in using the outdoor spaces responsibly, connecting with the stakeholders to ensure we expand this sport safely, considering other people’s viewpoints.

Panel three discussion - Investing in mountain bike friendly places.

The foundations for a flourishing MTB tourist destination starts with a strong, active mountain bike community who share a love and understanding of the sport, and actively work together to build, manage and maintain their trail networks. 

Mathilde – What kind of collaborative partnerships have you identified within trail building in Denmark?

We have identified three different ways of co-production in trail building. We have examined how trail building is organised, managed and practiced in three danish municipalities, which have all given high priority to trail building. In all three models, both volunteer trail builders, municipalities and local departments of the Danish nature community are involved. The volunteers are the ones contributing to the development, the planning and construction of trails. It is also the volunteers that take the initiative to build new trails in these municipalities. There are some differences in the models which seem to affect trail building in each of the three identified municipalities.

The first model is mainly characterised by the municipality hiring an official trail builder full-time who contributes to the planning, development and construction of the trails. And he also takes care of the communication between the volunteers and public authorities. Hiring a professional trail builder can make the trail building more manageable for the volunteers, and it can make it easier to have more trails built in a short time frame. But on the other hand, the responsibility is taken away from the volunteers, which can make it more difficult to recruit strongly committed trail builders. Furthermore, building more trails requires more maintenance and if you as a municipality want the volunteers to contribute to the maintenance of the trails, you have to ensure balance between the ambitions of the municipalities and the capacity of the volunteers.

The second model is characterised by the fact the different voluntary groups are unified as one overall trail building association, which takes care of all the communication between the volunteers and public authorities. In a way this gives the volunteers a stronger voice in this collaborative partnership but at the same time it can increase the distance between the single trail builder on the track and the authorities. The voluntary trail builders are guaranteed more or less a certain amount of economic support each year. This makes it easier for the trail builders to work on more long-term plans. In contrast to those volunteers that must continuously apply for funding.

The third model is characterised by the voluntary trail groups working individually, not unified like model two. In this model, each voluntary trail group has a close connection to the authorities, but at the same time, each association has a huge task to manage all the processes involved in trail building.

On the basis of these findings, we cannot determine one model being better than the other, but hopefully through describing different ways of organising and practicing trail building, we can inspire everyone in this area to work on co-production in trail building. Hopefully it can shed light on the possibilities and dilemmas that can be relevant to have in mind when working on collaborative partnerships in trail building.

Lars Wrae Jensen- Project manager of the DIRTT Erasmus + Project

As part of the transition of a winter tourism destination (skiing) to a summer tourism destination (mountain biking) Hallingdal region has invested in mountain biking, and invested in education of trail builders, could you explain the rationale behind this investment and how it relates to the Dirtt project?

Traditionally the Hallingdal region is really big on winter sports, it is the biggest tourism region in all of Norway. We have had an interesting task to bridge the gap for businesses struggling between those winter and summer months, to make an all-year operation where people can be employed all year round. We identified that because the mountain bike community in Norway is relatively small, the target group wasn’t the current mountain bike market in Norway, but rather the people who hadn’t started riding yet. Looking at the trails that we had, we quickly realised that the trails were too hard for these ‘new users’ to actually get involved in the sport and enter the market. So, this is what started our focus on developing a new infrastructure of primarily green and blue difficulty trails. This of course ties into the Dirtt project, because who will build these trails? We didn’t have any trail building community here and certainly not of the level we needed which was to build quality, sustainable trails. Our development of trail infrastructure has been going hand in hand with building the local trail building community. We are currently investing 20 million euros, and are about half way since the start in 2015. The current project phase will end in 3-4 years. Through this project we have also helped the trail building community to grow significantly, with two of the biggest trail building companies located in the Hallingdal region, employing a total of 30 full-time trail builders.

Diana Garcia Trujillo Master in Sustainable Tourism Destinations and Regional Planning

Since the pandemic there have been two approaches within the tourism industry, to adapt or re-invent. We have seen in terms of innovation in tourism products, in the safety and security of destinations, these have been very important factors in the survival of the tourism industry. Innovation is always a competitive advantage for businesses, for operators and for destinations. We can definitely see how this helps to create more attractiveness to tourist destinations. The benefit from innovation to the community is that the locals are better able to deal with the pressures that come with tourism. IN terms of moving from mass tourism and less responsible practices towards a more sustainable tourism model, this was needed way before the pandemic started, we know that our resources are finite and the community has to be happy with tourism development. Since the pandemic started, we have seen the people have begun to understand more the importance of connecting with local culture and the heritage of the place they are visiting, having a more responsible view of the resources, and also exploring the destinations more. The roadmap to the survival of tourism is sustainability.