How to be a MTB Super Hero - Pedal Progression
 

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14 November 2021

How to be a MTB Super Hero

As a child I wasn’t all that interested in kicking a ball around a field like most boys my age. Instead I was obsessed with and idolised the skaters, bikers, riders and racers who rode fast and jumped high.

Matt Hoffman sets the bar high.

My imagination spiked when I discovered downhill mountain biking; a sport where athletes hurled themselves down steep, rocky and seemingly impossible tracks… on bicycles! I could hardly believe my eyes as a young lad as I watched riders tame steep and rugged terrain at speed – a far cry from the smooth and man-made shapes of a skatepark. The racers of the day played hard and rode harder. Mountain biking was rock n’ roll. Unlike the tough discipline of conventional sports, mountain bikers, BMXers and skaters were athletes who knew how to live.

Like Marvel comic characters, they appeared to be every day people with super human abilities. They pushed themselves to redefine what was regarded as humanly possible, defying the odds, risking life and limb for the thrills of speeding down mountain sides and sending it into the sky. They did things I could only dream of. To me, they were super heroes.

Sam Reynolds pulls a huge ‘Superman’ at Redbull Rampage, Utah.

 

But as the saying goes, “with great power comes great responsibility”…

Many of us aspire to shred like the hardcore freeriders of Rampage or pin it down a World Cup race track. I know I do. Having dreams and aspirations are such positive things; they keep us riding and striving for better, keeping the wheels of the bike industry spinning too.

Besides from being radical on a bike, there’s much more to being a MTB superhero in 2021; things that rarely get enough airtime in the Tube and Insta-spheres.

To be a hero riding bikes is to not only shred the gnar day in, day out but to be aware of the world around you and your place within it. While we dream of boosting big jumps we can still aspire for a positive change and a sustainable future for mountain biking.

Simply by understanding the wider context that we ride within, we can act as proud ambassadors for this epic way of life.

Because it’s so much more than a sport, it’s a privilege and a lifestyle that needs respecting, protecting and advocating.

Phil soaking in the autumn light in the Quantocks, Somerset.

The Big Picture

Our sport like many outdoor pursuits, is currently undergoing a vast boom. More people than ever have connected with the outdoors in the last couple of years by buying bikes and discovering the joy of mountain biking. This has to be a good thing. Consider the huge benefits that riding has on your wellbeing, multiply that as many times as there are riders on the planet and imagine the collective gains mountain biking must have on society and the environment as a whole.

With more people cycling the world we live in will be a better place. FACT.

In 2020 alone, our trail counters at Ashton Court quantified record numbers on the trails; almost a 50% increase of cycle traffic upon previous years! We are chuffed to see so many new faces out riding and we celebrate and embrace the activities growth wholeheartedly. However, such a surge is consequently adding strain to existing pains associated with the activity.

It’s easy to think that our actions while riding don’t have an impact but unfortunately there is a much larger narrative that we all play a part in.

Matt taking in some classic South Wales trails. Photo: @jonathanbowcott.

It should go without saying that everyone has a right to ride and enjoy the sport, no matter who you are or where you’re from – we encourage and celebrate diversity. Good messages and educating the growing scene of riders is vital for the longevity of MTB.

Over 40 years ago the activity was starting to gain popularity as a legitimate sport. By it’s nature, various problems and conflicts soon emerged which inspired the ‘Rules of the Trail’, outlined by the IMBA (International Mountain Bikers Association) in 1988 – Simple pledges to ride friendly, ride prepared, ride legally, respect the landscape, share the trail. Way back then, the guidelines suggested that our actions would have critical impacts on the landscape, animals and people. Sounds that ring truer than ever in today’s booming bike culture.

Your point is..?

With this in mind it’s time to big up some of the superheroes out there who are championing our sport and lifestyle, those tackling the issues that may one day jeopardise your right to ride.

Check them out, get educated to become a mountain bike superhero too! It’s easy.

Harry dropping into ‘GBU’ in the Forest of Dean. Photo: @philsmpsn

Trash Free Trails

Trash Free Trails are all about tackling the environmental issues of mountain biking through direct action and education. They ‘exist to protect our trails and the wild places they take us’, with a mission ‘to reduce single-use pollution (aka; litter!) on our trails and wild places by 75% by 2025 and (re)connect people with nature through purposeful adventure’.

Education is key and through their Trash Mob Academy they are working directly with schools, organisations and charities. Young people are encouraged to connect with nature via mountain bike sessions and discussion. The academy aims to help young people gain confidence and an appreciation for the environment. We are working with Trash Free Trails to host six Trash Mob Academy sessions at Ashton Court. An initiative that we’re super excited about.

This year they hosted their first State of the Trails Summit, a conference that invited numerous figures from the industry (including Pedal Progression directors Matt & Ollie) to problem solve the issues surrounding the future of mountain biking. Topics included conservation, trail building, diversity and inclusion.

Team TFT on one of their many trail cleans. Photo: @trashfreetrails.

Trash Free Trails have recently secured a partnership with Red Bull which is HUGE! You may have seen their feature on the Redbull Hardline programming earlier in the summer with Laurie Greenland, filmed in our very own Leigh Woods. The Pedal Progression coaching jumps even made it into the feature! This segment was a big leap forward for environmentalism in mountain biking, bringing the cause to the world stage.

Mountain biking needs more groups like TFT and athletes like Laurie to back them, this is vital to spread awareness and create positive change. Redbull cans and Lucozade bottles are some of the most commonly found items of litter on our trails; big brands should be held accountable and take responsibility for their impact. TFT are working hard to push this forward, so expect to see a lot more of them in the future.

Their message is simple: Love and respect the outdoors and please take your litter home!

Check out their Instagram @trashfreetrails

 

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Ride Sheffield

Ride Sheffield are an exemplary group of superheroes in the world of mountain biking. The organisation, formed of passionate riders, was formed to act as the voice and heart of the MTB community in Sheffield. Since 2009 they’ve yielded an impressive CV of achievements that has enabled the riding community to thrive. Through a deep understanding of the sports’ boundaries and a respect for the natural environment, they address issues of land access, conflicts of interest and conservation. Their commitment to managing touchy subjects and taking action where needed has created more opportunities for mountain bikers.

Team work makes the dream work. Photo: @ridesheffield.

By collaborating with organisations, wildlife trusts and local authorities they’ve protected old trails and established new ones such as Lady Cannings Plantation. They secured the purchase of Grenoside Woods to create the notorious Steve Peat Steel City DH race, grafted on and fundraised for numerous track and trail projects and established campaigns of positivity, such as the ‘Peak Bike Code’ and ‘Be Nice Say Hi’. The resumé goes on…

Check out their website for more inspiration and good news stories. What a great bunch!

In recent history, Pedal Progression helped form Ride Bristol, a charity for Bristol mountain biking that pays homage to our Northern elders. The volunteer led group of locals have now taken over the maintenance and preservation of our trails and are continuing the great work that Matt, Sam and Ollie began. In partnership we continue to be a voice and hub for the Bristol community. Since the Covid lockdowns, Ride Bristol have emerged from their homes with shovels, barrows and small armies of volunteers. Sections of Nova have been upgraded with new berms and fresh dust and big things are on the horizon for Supernova, our red graded trail, which is about to get a much needed upgrade with generous funding from Stif MTB!

Groups such as Ride Sheffield and Ride Bristol are in many ways the unsung heroes of the mountain bike world, working behind the scenes and building trails for us all to ride.

Trail groups rely on volunteers to barrow and spade tonnes of dirt and stone – hours of physical graft. Next time you’re riding a trail, spare a thought for the trail builders and the work that’s gone into it. Even better, why not pay back to your local spot and volunteer with your trail group on dig days. It’s a great way to meet other riders and become more actively involved in your riding scene.

Sam and Matt on the tools on Nova Trail.

Sam Bowell – Ride Happy Trails

Sam Bowell is an integral member of the B1ke organisation who are responsible for popular bike parks across the South such as Windhill, Tidworth, Rogate and S4P. He’s the official B1ke B.U.M (B1ke Business Unit Manager) and Lead Skills Instructor. You’ll likely find him on the bike or tools at Rogate Bike Park and is highly skilled at both vocations. Having been there from the very beginning he’s seen enormous changes unfold in the MTB world, from underground roots to widespread popularity that we see today. This journey has given him great awareness of the growing problems. Land access and liability  were matters that needed to be addressed in order to keep Rogate going. Sam and his team succeeded in turning Rogate into the official bike park we know today, making the model for the rest of B1ke’s locations and giving riders a legal spot to shred.

Sam’s mission is to help sustain the sport by promoting good values that will help to encourage responsible and common sense behaviours in the growing riding population. The issues at stake are somewhat complex. Sam believes that together we can take simple steps to make a difference; smiling, saying hi to other trail users and taking rubbish home.

 

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Don’t get me wrong, Sam knows what’s good; riding bikes is ultimately all about fun times with mates and he loves to ride as much as anyone! He’s committed as hell to the cause. As much as we’d all like to shred til we’re dead, there still needs to be balance and plenty of respect for the environment, as well as for land owners, trail users and those making conservation efforts. We can all do our bit by educating ourselves and changing behaviours. It’s about being a good and well rounded human.

For more an in depth discussion with Sam on the subject of responsible riding, have a listen to this cracking episode of the HKT Podcast! Check out his personal Insta @rocksteadysambo and @ridehappytrails.

 

Aneela McKenna – Diversity Champion

Aneela Mckenna. Photo: Finlay Anderson for @mbrmagazine.

Aneela is the number one ambassador and campaigner for diversity and inclusion in mountain biking. She’s well and truly earned hero status in our books! Having worked for the Scottish parliament for 20 years, other public sector organisations and spent many years in the biking industry, she possesses a unique perspective and skills that the mountain bike world is blessed to have.

Aneela is a Scots Asian woman of Pakistani heritage who, as a cycling advocate and entrepreneur has established a huge array of community projects aimed at increasing participation in the sport. As a partner of cycle touring company Go-Where Scotland and founder of Mòr Diversity and Ride Mòr, Aneela’s on a mission to improve lives by connecting people with the outdoors and each other on bikes. She’s been successful in bringing this sport and way of life to ethnic, minority groups and those with less opportunity to access cycling and the outdoors. Her aim is to ensure that people from all walks of life can enjoy the benefits of mountain biking and feel welcomed by the riding community.

In her own words “mountain biking is more than a sport – everyone deserves to experience it.”

 

 

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Diversity and inclusion is something that is rarely discussed within the cycling world, it’s a subject that big brands and influencers can shy away from. It’s not necessarily that people don’t care about diversity but perhaps they don’t quite know how to talk about it. Nevertheless, mountain biking is a sport that needs diversifying. The respondents of a mountain biking survey completed by Cycling UK were 92% white British and 87% were male.

These statistics show MTB is biased towards the white male, a stereotype that Aneela is striving to bust. The benefits of mountain biking are huge (physical exercise, mental wellbeing, nature connection, community, social et al…) and you don’t need to be from a certain ethnicity, sex or class to enjoy them. MTB has massive social value so creating opportunity and diversity in the sport will have wide reaching positive impacts on society as a whole.

Matt & Ollie met Aneela at the Trash Free Trails Summit earlier in the year and were inspired to find ways to tackle the issue. Since then we’ve started running ‘Just For Girls’ Skills Academy sessions and seen a greater uptake of young women coming for coaching and getting into biking. We’re now also working with TRIBE Adventures to run women’s only guided rides and coaching sessions, aimed at empowering women of all ages and abilities. Earlier in the year we organised a photoshoot with Openwide Agency that aimed at promoting diversity in the outdoors. We encouraged women, children and people of black and ethnic communities to come and ride bikes with us for a day and get shots for our website and social media while we were at it. Everyone rode with big grins and were super positive about the cause.

Photo: @davepricephoto / @openwideagency. Location: Ashton Court Nova Trail

We believe one of the reasons minority groups don’t have easy access to the trails is due to under representation in the media – it’s uncommon to see in the media, people from black and minority ethnic groups on bikes, therefore these people may subconsciously think it’s not for them. Since getting our photos out there we’ve seen greater numbers of women and people of ethnic minorities coming to hire bikes for the first time – but this is just one drop in the ocean.

At Pedal Progression we are aware of the issues and know it’s not as simple as “buy a bike and ride it”. Admittedly, we are a company of majority white men but we are committed to find new ways to overcome the barriers that prevent people from accessing the trails. It’s at the core of our values and the ethos of our Bath Bike Park project, where we will be creating community events and initiatives that encourage diverse participation and opportunities for all.

Aneela has earned her super hero status through years of dedication to the cause. The MTB world is lucky to have her! 

 

Ripples Make Waves

Big love to the heroes out there supporting good causes, creating awareness and championing all that’s good in life on bikes! We can all do our bit, small ripples make waves and your contribution is easier than you think…

Just remember to be nice and say hi. Take your rubbish home. Look after the environment and each other. Ride with a conscience. Celebrate life, biking, friends, community, nature and all else that’s good in the world. We’re all lucky to live this radical life out in the woods and up in the mountains.

Be a Super Hero and send it like Superman!

Phil Simpson

Written by:

Phil Simpson