From Dangerous Sport to Fun Activity – Reframing Mountain Biking

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I was recently asked to give a presentation on ‘Image and Mountain Biking’, as part of an event held by Ride Sheffield under the topic ‘Reframing Mountain Biking’. The event brought together a range of people from brands, media, trail associations and the MTB industry to consider what the mountain bike community might do to help attract a wider range of people, and to help improve trail access. Manon Carpenter played a big part in pulling the event together, and it certainly continued discussion of the issues raised in her film Trails on Trial, where she examined what it takes...

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Hannah came to Singletrack having decided there must be more to life than meetings. Having worked in policy and project management roles at the Scottish Parliament and in local government, Hannah had organisational skills that SIngletrack needed. She also likes bikes, and likes to write. Hannah likes all bikes, but especially unusual ones. If it’s a bit odd, or a bit niche, or made of metal, she’s probably going to get excited. If it gets her down some steep stuff, all the better. She’ll give most things a go once, she tries not to say no to anything on a bike, unless she really thinks it’s going to hurt. She’s pretty good with steri-strips. More than bikes, Hannah likes what bikes do. She thinks that they link people and places; that cycling creates a connection between us and our environment; bikes create communities; deliver freedom; bring joy; and improve fitness. They're environmentally friendly and create friendly environments. Hannah tries to write about all these things in the hope that others might discover the joy of bikes too.

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  • This topic has 263 replies, 70 voices, and was last updated 1 month ago by rob p.
Viewing 40 posts - 41 through 80 (of 263 total)
  • From Dangerous Sport to Fun Activity – Reframing Mountain Biking
  • oldfart
    Full Member

    How about calling it cake cycling? 🤔😁😁😁😁

    jodafett
    Full Member

    cake cycling?

    Genius 😂😂

    riklegge
    Full Member

    think some people are slightly missing part of the point about built trails. You can’t bimble on a bridleway if you live somewhere urban where there aren’t any. But it doesn’t take that much to create some trails in urban parks or wasteland, making riding a bike off road (whatever you want to call it) a more accessible and inclusive activity.

    I see some parallels with the boom of indoor climbing walls over the last few years. Climbing centres were initially the places to train, or visit during bad weather. As time went on, they became the places which introduced new people, and many (most?) wall users these days barely venture outdoors. The centres are warm, dry, you can buy a coffee, park easily, progress safely, have tuition if you want it, meet friends easily and so on.

    Trail centres in urban locations (eg Leeds bike park) are fantastic for bringing people in. I see loads of families, a reasonable proportion of women and non-white people. Yes, these numbers could and should be improved but having an accessible, safe and convenient location is important in developing this. While there is “urban singletrack” available in the area, the barrier to entry for this (knowing where and how to find it; feeling safe on it etc) means that it will never see as much use as the bike park.

    jameso
    Full Member

    Great article.

    I suggest that we need to reframe the image of mountain biking, shifting it from ‘dangerous sport’ to ‘fun activity’.

    I agree, the problem MTB has is that pushing the product forwards means pushing the technical level of the bikes and promoting the technical level of riding, building trails that meet the aspiration of the bikes and so on in that cycle that gets called progression, but whether it helps MTB truly progress I’m not convinced. We have Redbull Hardline and Enduro and bluetooth dropper posts, 9k e-bikes etc. Yeah right.. you can get a Decathlon SUP for £200, maybe people prefer the idea of that (apart from all the sewage in the sea). The marketing is all extreme, goggles and funny helmets etc when it needs rebalancing with the simple fun of traffic-free riding, exploration and the social aspect.
    We do have gravel, which is really @jodafet’s Wild Biking (like that) except the marketing for that isn’t helping MTB either, gravel bikes are fundamentally crap for off-road riding in the UK, particularly for novices.
    If we want MTB to be normalised, make it as simple, accessible and un-extreme as hillwalking and leave the bikepark stuff to the side, presented as a niche. I’m fine with being a hillwalker MTBer. The lure of big days out in the local hills is what pulled me into MTB back in the day. What bike for Wild Biking?

    scotroutes
    Full Member

    There’s a bit of a continuum in recreational off-road cycling. It’s not all Bridleway Bimblers. Think of some of the Lakes descents, Torridon, sections of the Cairngorms Loop. Of course advances in the bikes have helped folk tackle these faster and maybe thereby opened them up to a slightly larger audience, but that brings me on to anot<span style=”font-size: 0.8rem;”>her thing…</span>

    The usual chat about “trail sanitisation” is that it’s ruining the fun for the vocal minority whereas it should usually be looked upon as enabling fun for everyone else.

    tjagain
    Full Member

    Yes that annoys me as well especially when the trail thats being “sanitised” is an eroded mess. Of course trail repair needs to be done sensibly and sensitively but without trail “sanitisation” torridon would not be rideable at all.

    Yes that annoys me as well especially when the trail thats being “sanitised” is an eroded mess. Of course trail repair needs to be done sensibly and sensitively but without trail “sanitisation” torridon would not be rideable at all.

    My observation of riders who cry about ‘sanitisation’ do so because said trail is within their comfort zone, and trying anything new or spicy makes them quiver; absolute screamers the lot of them.

    There’s always something easier/harder out there for every rider, I guess some don’t like being humbled as it destroys their Pit Viper wearing extreme rad Chad personality.

    didnthurt
    Full Member

    Concentrate on gravel advocacy as this is seen (and rightly so) as a more open and accessible type of riding. Mountain biking can then ride on the waves of better acces garnered from gravel.

    I just don’t think that the general image of mountain biking can really be changed amongst most common folks.

    colournoise
    Full Member

    I just don’t think that the general image of mountain biking can really be changed amongst most common folks.

    I think it’s deffo doable, but only if we (whoever ‘we’ are…) want to. There’s a sizeable group within our little niche that will prefer the ‘outsider’ narrative and will continue to ride and act in a way that preserves it. This is a problem for us if we want to alter perceptions…

    If gravel is the thin end of the wedge, it needs to become more accessible itself… You really don’t need a Gravel Bike to ride gravel – that cheap hybrid in Halfords will do the job just fine. That’s the message to push – as long as your bike isn’t falling apart and isn’t a full-on road bike, get out on the dirt and enjoy Wild Cycling!

    scotroutes
    Full Member

    Someone should ask Trek UK if they wouldn’t mind divulging how many Marlins they sold last year and how many of the Fuel EX. Repeat that across Specialized, Giant etc and I suspect that’ll soon clear up what “mountain biking” means to the majority.

    cookeaa
    Full Member

    The trouble is the goals for “growing MTB” are as broad as all the sub-niches that make it up. “MTBing” means wildly different things to different people, which makes it generally quite hard to grow…

    Obviously there’s varying levels of gnar across all MTBerists, but the most common imagery of padded up Bro’s smashing their way about the woods and high fiving is kind of the most pervasive one now. The bolting on of motors hasn’t improved the wider image of the pastime.

    But is it such a bad thing? I can’t help thinking all sub-niches of bicycle riding inevitably reach a bit of a plateau eventually; in terms of participants, social acceptance and infrastructure. Between the churn of new-golfers, Pandemic purchases and impending economic doom even MTBing has to face the reality of “sustainable growth” at some point.

    Concentrate on gravel advocacy as this is seen (and rightly so) as a more open and accessible type of riding. Mountain biking can then ride on the waves of better acces garnered from gravel.

    I just don’t think that the general image of mountain biking can really be changed amongst most common folks.

    TBH ^^this^^ makes sense, Gravel is the newer niche, dentists and stockbrokers are aware of it, YT hipsters are chopping their fixies in for a Gravel bike and some dry bags. Most importantly the imagery fits the profile if you’re campaigning for access and long distance off-road routes, non-competitive, smiling people with a bit of mud on them, not really causing much of a fuss has a better chance. MTB can just ride it’s younger brother’s coat tails for a bit.

    crazy-legs
    Full Member

    My observation of riders who cry about ‘sanitisation’ do so because said trail is within their comfort zone, and trying anything new or spicy makes them quiver; absolute screamers the lot of them.

    Whereas my, and I suspect people more involved in Peak District MTB like @pook , views on and complaints about sanitisation are framed because it is SO badly done by the absolute cretins at Derbyshire CC who have a track (no pun intended) record of completely ruining trails for everyone inc walkers and horse riders.

    A year after they’ve dumped a load of rubble on it, the rubble is all washed to the bottom and there’s foot deep ruts down the entire thing.

    @crazy-legs that’s not sanitisation, that’s just dogshit maintenance and building.

    scotroutes
    Full Member

     imagery of padded up Bro’s smashing their way about the woods and high fiving is kind of the most pervasive one now.

    Is it?

    ads678
    Full Member

    You really don’t need a Gravel Bike to ride gravel – that cheap hybrid in Halfords will do the job just fine. That’s the message to push

    This is true, but also…

    You really don’t need a 5k full suss Bike to ride most MTB trails– that cheap hardtail in Halfords will do the job just fine. That’s the message to push

    This is also true, and should be pushed. Every time I go to Leeds urban bike park (I hate calling it that, it’s just miggy woods…) I see kids on cheap Carrera’s having a great time.

    This is also true, and should be pushed. Every time I go to Leeds urban bike park (I hate calling it that, it’s just miggy woods…) I see kids on cheap Carrera’s having a great time.

    My standout memory from there was watching a local lad from the estate giving it beans on a proper rust bucket BMX whilst wearing wellies. 🤘

    Every city needs its own version of LUBP. Jez the head honcho does great work with local kids and is trying to do more.

    bigrich
    Full Member

    Ride bikes, roll eyes.

     

     

    cookeaa
    Full Member

    Is it?

    Outside of this little internet corner of sensible moderation, yep.

    It’s almost entirely what made Pinkbike a success, the image of MTBing it promotes is mostly gnar focussed. And the algorithm will probably nudge newbies more towards PB than STW I reckon.

    But like several of us have said ‘Gravel’ is a useful promotional tool if you’re advocating of off-road bicycle access. Once the argument is won the bikes people actually use don’t have to exactly match those shown in whatever bumph you used in the pitch…

    nickc
    Full Member

    If the idea is to get mountain biking into the media as a positive message, then which image will the picture editor use, will it be  a) the bloke in the full face doing a suicide over a 35ft gap, or b) the middle aged bearded bloke riding what looks suspiciously like a road bike on a by-way?

    twonks
    Full Member

    Haven’t got any time this morning so will drop this and run until later, as it is a fascinating topic.

    How about another approach – ‘The many elements of cycling’
    Start with a tree structure with the word ‘Cycling’ at the top and pan down from there.

    Road, off road maybe the two main ones and I bet it will sprawl into something huge.
    Can pick out bits as needed and expand, including a few ‘This is dangerous’ type boxes but, on the whole the idea is to present cycling as one entity.

    weeksy
    Full Member

    If the idea is to get mountain biking into the media as a positive message, then which image will the picture editor use, will it be a) the bloke in the full face doing a suicide over a 35ft gap, or b) the middle aged bearded bloke riding what looks suspiciously like a road bike on a by-way?

    BUt only one of those is MTBing…. the other, is, well, gravel biking 😀

    ‘we’ are the outgoing generation of MTBers anyway, we barely exist… I don’t see why ‘we’ need things to change anyhow ? It’s not like they’re going to knock up a village at the bottom of a set of trails. The UK just isn’t designed like that, doesn’t work like that. Taking a MTB out even on gravel rides for 2-3 hours of long slogs up hill with some reward of a downhill later.. You know what, i’m just not seeing your average 50 year old doing it. We’re the exception. The others, they’re taking a stroll which ends up less than a mile away at the furthest point from the car and telling themselves they’re proper nutters going out into the wild 😀 😀

    Maybe we’ll convert a couple here, a couple there.. we’ve all done it, taken a mate out who’s now a MTBer…. but for every 1 we convert, there’s 1000 we never could.

    tjagain
    Full Member

    Outside of this little internet corner of sensible moderation, yep.

    I am beginning to think this is a geographical thing because like Scotroutes I see the main part of mountainbiking is not the armored up gnarly types at all but far more folk wandering around the woods and hills. Or is it related to what an individual does?

    weeksy
    Full Member

    I am beginning to think this is a geographical thing because like Scotroutes

    100% correct… but you guys live where that sort of stuff is more normal, more accepted and lets face it, you’re not 20 🙂

    But location of course plays a massive part yes.

    nickc
    Full Member

    I am beginning to think this is a geographical thing

    Yep, where you live (and what terrain you’re used to) makes a massive difference to what/how you ride.

    Scienceofficer
    Free Member

    What is the purpose of rebranding mtb? Why is it necessary to ‘grow our sport’?

    Shred
    Full Member

    I’m not sure if anyone follows Paul the Punter on YouTube, but he just posted a video explaining why he quit mountain biking completely, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwSHV7xuQd4&ab_channel=PaulThePunter

    A huge amount of the marketing and videos around MTB is so focused on the bigger, harder, faster, more dangerous, as that is what drives clicks.
    I do not identify with most of what Paul talks about in his video, as I do not ride in that way, nor do I put myself in situations where the peer pressure (“encouragement”) gets to that point, but it is what is very visible in the media, especially US based.
    From my riding. there is a huge amount of people who just do XC style, and that counts in the US too, who do not go to these extremes, but that does not drive the clicks and therefore advert money.

    BadlyWiredDog
    Full Member

    What is the purpose of rebranding mtb? Why is it necessary to ‘grow our sport’?

    Yep, I was about to ask that. I know that those engaged in discourse with the authorities or trying to sell as much bike stuff as possible want mountain biking to be a cuddly, inoffensive thing that everyone loves, but sometimes things just are what they are.

    ads678
    Full Member

    I think people are sort of right about the gravel thing but I think the ‘industry’ mags or whatever… could start to show what people actually do rather than what the marketers want people to see. People aren’t bike packing that much, yes I know its getting bigger but it’s still pretty niche, people arent stopping to high five and brew up a coffee with the tinyist coffe maker than can be bought for £350 and finish the ride with a beer that they’ve been carying for 30 miles but somehow doesn’t cover them when they open it. Gravel is just off road riding where a 5k gnarpoon is not needed. Drop bars, flat bars, rigid or susspension it doesn’t matter, just go somewhere nice and ride your bike! ATB was definitley better than MTB. The french have it right with VTT.

    Also, if there is non technical bridleways over actual mountains, is that gravel riding or mountain biking?

    I think a lot of what peopl are saying is mountain biking today is actually DH mountain biking but you have to get to the top of the run first and sometimes that involves riding there….

    singlespeedstu
    Full Member

    I see there’s still a few on here with their you do it different to me so you do it wrong attitude to riding bikes in the woods.

    I really don’t think it’s framed as a dangerous activity here in the Tweed Valley.
    You only have to go to GT in the week and see groups of young kids out riding as part of their school activities as proof of this.
    It’s just pissing about on bikes however you want to frame it.
    Ride up a mountain/ride a bikepark/ride along a tow path/ ride to the pub.
    Just enjoy what you like and don’t worry about someone doing it differently to you.

    Blackflag
    Free Member

    What is the purpose of rebranding mtb? Why is it necessary to ‘grow our sport’?

    This. 100%

    And as mountain biking seems choc a block full of wannabe alpha males with big bikes and T5s covered in stickers i doubt the many want it to be seen as anything other than “max rad to the power of gnar” How can you show off to the ladies by the works coffee machine if you’ve only been “riding your bike in the countryside”.

    steamtb
    Full Member

    Wow, some very divergent experiences!

    Still a way to go in general but, personally, we’ve seen a huge amount of very positive stuff with mountain biking recently 🙂 this weekend at FOD and Cannock (not places we normally go), it was really nice to see the changes and how diverse our little activity is starting to look, lots of families from lots of backgrounds with so many different bikes. We also see lots more families and retirees out and about on the local trails.

    Heading out for a ride locally, it’s often as much about socialising as it is riding. It can be big drops, jumps, bridle way bimbling and chatting with horse riders / hikers all in the same ride. It definitely seems more friendly to us out and about, and once we’ve got to know them, it’s amazing how much we have in common with horse riders and other users of the great outdoors, it’s a brill opportunity to chat to people and we get people’s life stories a lot more than we ever used to.

    Bikes are just pretty cool, whatever they are. I have an enduro bike that also gets used to go to the shops and today it will be used to collect prescriptions from the Drs for some of the older local residents who have mobility issues.

    There was a bit of friction between some users during lockdown but it all seems a lot more positive to us than it used to be. 🙂

    Scienceofficer
    Free Member

    riding your bike in the countryside

    I like this. Its all things to all people without the connotation of bicycle storm troopers that seems increasingly to be what mainstream mtb is.

    tjagain
    Full Member

    increasingly to be what mainstream mtb is.

    In the specialist media and in some areas perhaps

    One thing I have noticed is on TV adverts how often you see mountainbikes used now to signify something cool – and its almost always XC bimbling they use. Watch out for it.

    Also I have seen in Scotland holiday cottages and the like advertising their facilities for mountainbikers. Secure parking, washing facilities and route guides

    Scienceofficer
    Free Member

    In the specialist media and in some areas perhaps

    Its worse here for sure, but if you read any puff piece on niche sports in any of the mainstream media outlets, its full of words like ‘protein bars, energy drink, white knuckle, thrill seeking, exhausting, drained, adrenalin, etc…’

    It’s certainly not exclusively that and its easy to find more mild descriptions targeted at say, the centre Parcs crowd, but the preponderance of imagery and writing is on the gnar side.

    Personally, I find the relentless imagery of amazingly talented riders doing incredible things on bikes no where near the ground completely uninspiring.

    These people are the gods of our sports, but I have neither the time, appetite for risk/pain, free equipment or inclination to ever get near what they do. They’re so far removed from the reality of the riding I enjoy that it ceases to be relevant.

    But then, I don’t think I’m target demographic anymore.

    mmannerr
    Full Member

    I’m not sure if anyone follows Paul the Punter on YouTube, but he just posted a video explaining why he quit mountain biking completely, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwSHV7xuQd4&ab_channel=PaulThePunter

    A huge amount of the marketing and videos around MTB is so focused on the bigger, harder, faster, more dangerous, as that is what drives clicks.
    I do not identify with most of what Paul talks about in his video, as I do not ride in that way, nor do I put myself in situations where the peer pressure (“encouragement”) gets to that point, but it is what is very visible in the media, especially US based.
    From my riding. there is a huge amount of people who just do XC style, and that counts in the US too, who do not go to these extremes, but that does not drive the clicks and therefore advert money.

    I saw the video and did not identify with what he talked about but then I again I have never been in Whistler, Moab etc and haven’t felt what the scene there is. Of course his situation was amplified due making living from Youtube videos.
    Later I realized that if I would substitute the word ‘riding’ in video with ‘climbing’ it would then match very well with reasons why I have quit climbing. There is just too much risk involved in outdoor climbing (no big mountains but not much sport climbing areas either, usually somewhat remote crags on natural protection) for me now.

    ShanAndy
    Full Member

    On the subject of re-branding.

    I’ve got some fairly niche hobbies (I play folk music and roleplaying games) and am perfectly happy doing something that’s poorly understood. So why does off-road cycling need a re-brand?

    Here’s why it will help. Off-road cycling usually happens in shared spaces such as rights-of-way and forest parks. It only happens conflict-free because of the consent of other users* and landowners. In the same way as walkers, equestrians and dog-walkers rely on our consent to go about their activities in peace. Like it or not, many other users & landowners feel threatened by people cycling off-road. Other users having a better understanding of what we do (and why) means they are much more likely to consent and support our activity.

    Why does growing the hobby help? Because the more people who do it, the more normal it is, the more people will consent to cycling happening as part of the normal trail mix.

    For the record, I like “wild cycling” I think it’s a nice catch-all for quite a variety of activities.

    *they can’t stop people cycling, it’s a right of way, but they can make it really unpleasant to the point of making it unappealing.

    Anne
    Full Member

    @stwhannah anyway you could get your articles into the main stream press? The average London based journalist will have been skiing but probably not touched a bike since they were a kid.

    I agree with you that urban local ‘trails’ help access and diversity in cycling. Just come off a 3 day ‘dig’ with Ride Bristol updating a very popular trail in a park next to the city.The feedback we got from passing riders and the volunteers really made it worth all the effort. Also had backing from one of those large bike companies (Santa Cruz via Stiff Mountain Bikes sponsored the work), so they are putting something back and promoting riding.

    dyna-ti
    Full Member

    Why the hell mountain biking is labelled an extreme sport, God only knows.

    Megavalanche looks pretty damn extreme.

    I think I’d prefer the term ‘Adventurous cycling’ if we’ll all getting out sixpence worth in.

    scotroutes
    Full Member

    I really don’t think it’s framed as a dangerous activity here in the Tweed Valley.

    Things might have changed but the #1 cause of long-term absence in the Lothians and Border Fire Service certainly used to be biking injuries sustained at Glentress 🤪

    RustySpanner
    Full Member

    More people would get into ‘Wild Biking’ (brilliant, btw) if the media reviewed and promoted cheaper bikes.
    Not just once a year, but all the time.
    MBUK used to do it when I was looking for my first proper MTB, after years of bodging road bikes and old tourers.

    Nowadays, if someone curious Googles Mountain Biking, they’ll come across a place like this, which has made a conscious decision not to represent those without large amounts of cash.

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