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Making mountain biking accessible to all!

Whether our mountain bike leaders or aspiring mountain bike leaders are part of the LGBTQ community, are disabled, belong to minority groups, are older or young, male, female, or non-binary we want anyone, from all walks of life to be able to access mountain biking if they want to. Find out about more about what we are doing to help this happen.

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You may be aware of the new Fundamentals of Mountain Bike Leadership Award (or FunMBL for short). We love it, it’s a grassroots mountain bike leadership qualification that focuses on leadership in the outdoors (and less on the technical side of things).

Its purpose is to help increase the number of people setting out on a mountain bike leadership pathway. You don’t need to be bunny-hopping a picnic table or navigating across the highlands of Scotland, your starting point is confidence on a bike, off-road, and a genuine excitement to lead and inspire others. We help with the rest.

The last year or so has been super exciting as we look to further develop this award. We (along with British Cycling) are working alongside a cracking organisation, based in Yorkshire, called Experience Community.

Experience Community, whose strap line is, ‘Access · Advice · Adventure’ are a not-for-profit Community Interest Company who support disabled people and the wider community in accessing the great outdoors.

Experience Community, through their MD Craig Grimes are helping us create a mountain bike leadership award, based around the FunMBL, for riders and aspiring leaders on adaptive bikes.

Exciting times for us and also for Experience Community!

Here we have a chat with Craig to get his take on mountain biking, Scotland and access for physically disabled people.

Craig Grimes

Tell us a bit about yourself Craig.

I'm like anyone else who was non-disabled. I was 20, studying at Uni and I became paraplegic which had massive impact on my life at the time and any vision I had for the future.

My life was changed completely. Becoming a wheelchair user and not being able to access the outdoors in ways I previously had, was so hard. But I was determined to carry on getting out there and spent a lot of time travelling around Europe. From Israel to Gambia, and spent seven years in Barcelona and some time in Nicaragua. When I came back to the UK, I wondered what to do next. So that's when I set up Experience Community, to ensure there was a way I could have experiences outdoors every week and all year round.

Tell us about Experience Community and the work you do?

We started in 2011 and bought our first Mountain Trikes in 2014 and hand cycles in 2017. We now have the largest fleet in the country.

We set it up to ensure that there were a variety of experiences on offer to disabled people, providing weekly activities rather than a once a year offer.

We started off with wheelchair walks along canals and river paths, moving to more off road adventures into the open countryside using a piece of equipment called a Mountain Trike.

The limitation of that piece of equipment at the time was the distance you could do in a day, it was only 5 or 6 miles so the natural progression to the rambling was to start inclusive off road adaptive cycling.

We now have a have a fleet of equipment for rambling and off road cycling so disabled people can come to Yorkshire and try it out. Find what suits them best. There are very few places around where you are able to test this kind of equipment to make sure it is right for your needs.

What is it about getting out on the bike that you love?

It's the sense of freedom first and foremost. It allows me to access longer, bigger routes using the bike. It allows access to big views and open countryside that most people take for granted. It also allows me to ride with friends and families, and it levels the playing field a little bit .

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Where have your adventures taken you?

We started by running cycling trips to Kielder forest, and that attracted a lot of folks from Scotland as there wasn't anything similar on offer in Scotland, this would be May 2017. Word spread and we started getting people from all over, from Bristol to Dublin. Displaying a real need for trips like this where people with adaptive bikes can come together and have a great experience. We have also run session in the Peak District and the Yorkshire Dales .

More recently we started working with Natural Recourses Wales and Plas y Brenin where we met with Christine Fox from DMBinS to look at how a FunMBL could be more inclusive not just for leading disabled riders but for disabled riders to be actually leading the rides as qualified leaders.

The next step in this process could be to look at offering bike packing as an experience. I recently rode in Catalonia from Alot to Gerona towing my wheelchair and my overnight bag on my hand bike. I stayed in Gerona overnight before continuing Sant Feliu De Guixols on the Costa Brava coast.

My dream would be for other physically disabled riders to be able to have their own similar adventures!

We know you like Scotland, what are your joys and frustrations when riding up here?

Midgies obviously! But also where Scotland has superb access rights, the Right to Roam for riders on adaptive bikes is inhibited by lack of information and infrastructure barriers. A frames and bollards etc on cycle routes. Deer gates.

I've stayed at Crathie Opportunity Holidays near Balmoral and in theory you can cycle over the tops to Lochnagar from and get over to Loch Muick, but we have not tried it because of the possibility of locked deer gates.

It is not possible to use the freedom that the Scottish Outdoor access code allows in the same way as other people. In Aviemore, for example, there are a whole section of trails that could be opened up for disabled riders but there is a section of steps to access to them.

Until situations and issues like these are rectified, we do not have the same access rights as non-disabled walkers or cyclists.

Where is your favourite place to ride?

Tricky question this! Not a specific place but it's a type of riding. Cross country circular routes that have fantastic views are my favourite type of rides. Just being able to get out there and enjoy being in the open countryside. Technical XC and a bit of single track too. Destination and achievement, and feeling like I have actually done something!

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You are a super busy person, what drives you?

There are so many disabled people out there and they don't have access to the opportunities I have. I want to be able to open up cycling to more people. There are huge inequalities between disabled people across the country - it really is a postcode lottery. Equality of access to all disabled people is one main of the things that drives me.

Have you been able to witness the way mountain biking and off road cycling can change peoples lives?

Absolutely! There has been one particular guy called David. The first time he came to us, he struggled to transfer from his wheelchair to the bike and managed, quite slowly round a mile long route.

He kept practicing, got stronger and better at wheelchair transfers. We took him on a road sportive which inspired him to buy his own road bike!

He now goes off himself puts his wheelchair in the back. gets his bike out and goes off on 40-50 mile rides, unsupported! He would never have taken those steps if he hadn't been introduced to off road adaptive hand cycling.

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Can you tell us about your bike?

Firstly, I recognise I'm in a super privileged place. With my work, I'm fortunate to have access to lots of different types of bikes. I have a road bike that I cycled coast to coast along the Hadrian's wall route, a clip on hand cycle for my wheel chair, a semi recumbent bike that I have been using for gravel and XC riding. For single track, I have a more upright bike to see over the pedals.

More recently I bought a Bowhead RX. It has a Bosch CX performance motor for electric assist and its a rear wheel drive for better attraction, so whole bike leans when you lean into corners. It's pretty special.


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What needs to be done in Scotland (and the UK) to make mountain biking more accessible to more people?

More equality of access to information , infrastructure and to the bikes themselves. There needs to be inclusive MTB hubs, close to urban centres so that people can try and figure out what style of bike will work best for them.

Needs to be a better understanding of what support disabled riders need. Options for long distance cycling. How to get a wheelchair from A-B, information on accessible accommodation, pubs, restaurants and toilets along routes, to give that same access to adventure, non-disabled walkers or riders can have.

There needs to be more investment in Scotland, because of opportunities due to the right to roam. Without improvement in access there is no right to roam for disabled people. Scottish Government need to look at this and really consider disabled peoples access needs.

What next for Craig and Experience Community?

We currently run weekly cycling sessions in Yorkshire and residential trips around the country. We are coming more and more to Scotland now, to the Cairngorms, and will be at Dukes Weekender event in Aberfoyle in September. We, will be bringing a selection of bikes to rent out to people.

This month we are also attending a Spinal Injuries Scotland event in Dumfries, to show people the bikes that are available.

We would love to be able to set up an Experience Community hub in Scotland to be able to share our passion and expertise for inclusive mountain biking.

I am also keen to test and establish long distance bike packing routes for disabled people so that they can have that experience of a bike holiday. We'd really love to do that.

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If you can, please consider donating to the Scottish MTB Heath Fund and help us run more Trail Therapy sessions across the country.


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If you can, please consider donating to the Scottish MTB Heath Fund and help us run more Trail Therapy sessions across the country.