The mountain bike recovery starts at home – sharing a message from IMBA Europe #trailsclosetohome

Video

In many countries cycling is showing signs of going from bust to boom in several short weeks as populations seemingly burst out of confinement and head for the streets.

That’s very easy to see in the urban environment because the numbers are easy to spot and many cities are responding with new cycling infrastructure captured from streets made quiet by lockdowns.

However in the countryside and especially the mountain bike sector that’s much harder to see and to imagine. Some people may be riding for health and to maintain social distancing, but the mountain bike sector has always had a much stronger affiliation with certain landscapes or trail centres than other forms of cycling. so the MTB economy depends a lot more on people travelling to hot spots, and that isn’t going to happen quite so soon as urban reopening.

That’s where the #trailsclosetohome movement comes in. There is a growing understanding in the MTB movement that riding cannot be all about travelling to ride. It’s not terribly sustainable for one thing, but perhaps more importantly its a big deterrent for people without cars, or cars with great big bike racks, such as young people and people from poorer sections of society.

So much better if there is an alternative on the doorstep. Maybe not designed like a trail centre, maybe not as adventurous as the mountains, but right there when someone thinks “that looks fun, where can I go round here?” That’s how I started mountain biking nearly 30 years ago – as an extension to cycle touring that allowed me to ride to places nearby that I couldn’t ride by road bike, and today that hasn’t changed.

And now we do need #trailsclosetohome every day, not just for the new entrants but even for ourselves. If we are to build a mountain biking recovery we need people to do what the urban riders have done – keep up the habit and introduce new people while movements are restricted, then we have a much bigger potential rider base than before the lockdown.

That’s why the board members of IMBA Europe (of which I am one) decided to to put together a little video of our own thoughts about opening up riding where we live. All credit to Thomas, Edoardo and Ray, they are the sort of riders who actually go out and maintain trails where they live as a way of sharing. My contribution is rather to praise the route makers and guides who have already created and published the routes I ride because their contribution is what enables people like me to actually find the local places to ride.

But I must admit I can think of a few of the tracks round here where there are a few branches that could do with a trim, so I am also inspired to do more!

Enjoy your riding.

Cycling close to home – voyages of discovery and rediscovery

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This gallery contains 3 photos.

There is no doubt that some of my friends and family who might be considered “serious cyclists” are getting pretty frustrated by their local rules which impose cycling close to home. The loss of a right to roam is taking … Continue reading

“Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike on New Year’s Day”

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This gallery contains 5 photos.

Many people must have said it, but due to his celebrity JFK is attributed with the cycling quote “Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike”. After a few weeks off the bike due to illness the symbolism … Continue reading

2010-2019 – some ride!

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This gallery contains 9 photos.

Lots of other people are doing it, so I have been tempted by the Christmas holidays to to try and find at least one photo per year from the last decade that made me smile, or brought back a memory. … Continue reading

What is the point of a cycle touring route if no one knows it is there?

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This gallery contains 13 photos.

Is the cycling equivalent of the Buddhist philosophical conundrum “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” This is the question I have been asking myself for a while, a mental discussion triggered by the relatively recent discovery that I … Continue reading

It’s a very good week to become Belgian.

An anonymous looking letter from the commune was waiting for me when I got home last night.

It’s been four months, and bang on schedule my Belgian nationality application has been approved.

I am pleased that the process is complete, but I get a warm glow about the timing. Sometime in the next week the Conservative Party in the UK is expected announce that Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson will become its leader and therefore Prime Minister.

Back in the 1980s with the assurance I youth I spoke out loud and said “If Maggie Thatcher gets elected again I’m going to emigrate.” Life takes over, it never happened until the wonderful chance was given to us by European Cyclists’ Federation to come and try life in Belgium.

Taking Belgian nationality wasn’t automatic when we arrived, as an EU citizen I had a secure job and stability in Belgium. With Brexit and knowing that Boris is intent on the political equivalent of the Charge of the Light Brigade I would be completely stupid not to make sure my life can continue. To get the nationality approved on the week he becomes Prime Minister is invisible to him, but it has a symbolic value for me.

Belgium is no utopia (where is?), there are a different set of challenges and issues that can easily cause hair pulling and teeth grinding. But I feel that am very lucky that I have the chance to stand apart from the sadness I feel about what is happening to the UK, to its place in the world, the hardening of attitudes that feel so alien to ideas of “home”.

That is summed up by the appointment of Boris, and by the contrasting experience of nationality applications between the UK and Belgium. Theresa May’s legacy of intolerance as Home Secretary leaves an immigration system creating a trail of families torn apart, much needed professionals sent home and an expectation that the NHS cannot be staffed and food will rot in the fields.

People who have contributed to society, raised families and paid far over the average level of tax are being told that Britain is not for them. And even if you pass the climate of intolerance the process of citizenship is slow, stressful and expensive. We know, because my wife went through it after 28 years of living in the UK.

For Belgian nationality there are four tests. Social integration, economic integration, community integration and linguistic integration.  However if you have been continuously registered and employed in the country for 5 years there is an automatic assumption that you are a stable participant in the life of the country.

And when it comes to the application I get no sense that I have signed up for feudal servitude to a medieval institution. I signed to say I accept the constitution (written) and a commitment to human rights, both of which I can happily do.

Frites, beer, chocolate, cycling classics, potholes in the road, shops closed on Mondays, tranquillity laws, multilingualism, etc etc …….., I have signed up to all of it and I have been accepted.

Thank you Belgium.