MTB Trail Building sector is ready for further professionalisation
Research undertaken by Edinburgh Napier university, as part of an Erasmus+ project, has identified the skill gaps that exist within the mountain bike trail building sector and the prioritisation of training requirements.

Date posted

11 September 2020

The project consortium involved in the DIRTT project (Developing Intereuropean Resources for Trail Building Training) delivered its first research results. Edinburgh Napier University (ENU) conducted an MTB trail sector survey, followed by a consumer survey. The trail sector survey was aimed at trail building companies, the forestry sector, tourism professionals and other stakeholders involved in the planning, design, construction, maintenance, and management of MTB trails. In total, 121 survey respondents from 16 different European countries provided data suitable for inclusion in this report.

The research highlights the skill gaps currently present in the sector and that there is a wide range of training needs across all stages of trail development and management, with construction and maintenance topics highlighted as the highest priority. The majority of stakeholders who took part in the survey agreed that there is a strong demand for training that is currently not available. Employers indicated that it is difficult to recruit skilled / competent employees and that Introducing certified training in the sector would be of significant benefit and increase the quality and sustainability of mountain bike trails.

Key themes for the training requirements of the industry included but were not limited to trail sustainability, safety, drainage, working with different soil types and documentation. The needs of volunteers were similar although their needs were mostly focussed on building good trails utilising hand tools rather than machinery.

Dr Tom Campbell, Edinburgh Napier University, said of the research: “Overall, there was broad consensus on the topics to be included for learning and that the overall trail product will be improved through increased training and development of the workforce. This bodes well for the development of courses and helps us understand the needs and aspirations of the industry – both on a professional and voluntary basis.”

To ensure future training programmes and trail guidelines are also tailored to the kind of experience mountain bikers seek nowadays, ENU conducted a second survey targeted at the end consumer, the rider. In total, 4324 survey respondents from 28 different European countries provided data suitable for inclusion in this report. The results of this survey help the consortium partners to understand trail user objectives and preferences. It also gives better insights in the kind of trail characteristics and features mountain bikers like to see on various types of trails. A distinction is also made between rider ability and which trail characteristics they felt would allow them to progress.

Trail riding was the most popular discipline, selected by 76% of respondents. Enduro was the next most popular choice, selected by 63% of respondents. This result also reflected in the type of trails respondents ride most frequently. Most mountain bikers ride either easier or more difficult singletrack trails with connection to nature, descents, optional lines, and surface quality being ranked consistently high among all trail types. The research also showed that the majority of the respondents (90%) would like to progress their riding ability but that a significant proportion of riders (37%) indicated having insufficient access to trails suitable to facilitate their skills progression. Many participants (65%) indicated riding purpose-built trails was important or very important to them”.

When asked about people’s motivation to ride a mountain bike, most mentioned reasons have not changed that much compared to earlier studies. Exercise, connection to nature, play, challenge, and escape (solitude) made it into the top 5. Mountain bikers feel connected to nature and would like to protect nature with many putting environmental concern above trail quality in most areas. However, this is not always reflected in the actions or expectations of respondents where some education may be required to align their intentions with their actions.

Thomas Larsen Schmidt, president of IMBA Europe and consultant at DGI, said of the rider survey: “The results clearly show how broad the spectrum of mountain bike trails and rider’s trail preference has become. We now have a better understanding what kind of trail characteristics different types of riders, based on their experience, need to progress their skills. We also learned a bit more about mountain biker’s nature connectedness and are excited about the next phase of the project where we will start implementing all key findings of both reports into this educational framework.”

Both reports will be used in the next stage of the project where the partners will develop an educational framework which will form the basis of all future DIRTT courses. The first course from the DIRTT project, one of the requirements of the current EU Erasmus + funding, is a level 5 EQF (European Qualification Framework), 900 hour course, consisting of several modules.

The key findings of the MTB trail sector and consumer (rider) survey have recently been shared with the national and European reference groups. These reference groups consist of external stakeholders actively involved in the MTB trail development sector. The reference groups submit input and provide feedback on the preliminary results of the project and will help to implement training programs at the national level at the final stage of the project.