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What is sustainable trails?

New research paper published looking at the environmental attitudes of mountain bikers across Europe.

Trail sunspots credit Trev Worsey

New peer reviewed research has been released which helps improve the understanding of how mountain bikers interact with the natural environment, explore their attitudes towards sustainability, and the variety of trails that riders enjoy.

The research was led by Dr Tom Campbell, of Edinburgh Napier University, a lead Scottish academic within DIRTT (Developing Inter-European Resources for Trailbuilder Training) Project.

The DIRTT Project aims to develop a professional training regime for trail planning, design, construction, maintenance and management. The countries involved are Switzerland, Portugal, Scotland, Netherlands, Denmark and Norway.

Dr Tom Campbell, Edinburgh Napier University

‘There was a brilliant opportunity here to integrate an academic study within the DIRTT project and I'm delighted that we have been able to capitalise on this by capturing valuable information from a large sample of mountain bikers. The paper presents a number of novel findings which are of immediate relevance to the DIRTT project but also of value to a broad range of stakeholders across the mountain bike sector and to the research community.’

Natural riding Credit Trev worsey

The popularity of the sport and emerging current trends are suggesting that trail and enduro riding on hand-built and ‘off-piste’ are the most popular amongst more experienced riders whilst people new to the sport prefer the consistency of trails which are built by machines and will, typically, have a more reliable surface.

The use of unauthorised trials, controlled by land access rights, differs substantially across Europe. Although most mountain bikers make use of wet trails and illegal trails, the incidence of conflict is relatively low. The study also found that mountain bikers are prepared to contribute towards trail maintenance through the provision of labour or financially.

The study will have practical implications for designing trail networks in the future.

Graeme McLean, Head of Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland

‘The peer reviewed research confirms the trends we have seen in mountain biking development over the last 10 years. We need to be able to incorporate hand built, steep, and technical trails into our trail centres. By planning these trails into our official networks we can hope to reduce the amount of unauthorised trail building and give experienced riders the trails they want to ride. It is also clear that the MTB community want to be engaged and help build, then maintain, these trails or if they are unable to give time they would happily contribute financially to the types of trails they want to ride.

We also need more green, blue, and red trails at trail centres to cope with the number of new people who want to access our sport. It is this variety of trail that will keep Scottish mountain biking fresh and help us develop a world class trail network.’

Over 90% of mountain bikers reported that sustainability of trails is important to them, and this relates not just to the trail itself but to wider environmental and economic sustainability.

Dr Tom Campbell, Edinburgh Napier University

Key findings of the study showed that one of the main motivations for mountain biking is the connection to nature and that mountain bikers do have a strong appreciation of nature and a sense of environmental responsibility.

Dr Campbell

‘Over 90% of mountain bikers reported that sustainability of trails is important to them, and this relates not just to the trail itself but to wider environmental and economic sustainability. In fact the study showed that around three quarters of mountain bikers are willing to pay for trail maintenance.

It was also found that trail availability influences rider behaviour. A high proportion of mountain bikers are riding certain types of trails because that's what they have access to rather than as a preference. Riders are more likely to use unauthorised trails where there is a lack of suitable authorised trails.’

The study concluded that European mountain bikers care about the sustainability of the natural environment, and their attitudes and self-reported behaviours suggest a willingness to reduce their impact and actively protect nature. In particular, mountain bikers feel a responsibility for developing and maintaining the trail network.

Link to research paper :

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