The time's come to legalise our trails and confirm mountain biking's legacy for the future, says the UK’s first ever trails manager
Mountain biking has grown up, it’s everywhere across the UK, and we need proper sanctioned trails to confirm the sports future legacy. That’s the view from Dave Evans, the man tasked with bringing mountain bikers and landowners together to try and get our trails firmly established.
If that sounds like an impossible job then Dave Evans stands the best chance of anyone in making it happen. Formerly of mtb advocacy company Bike Corris, Dave worked tirelessly in the Dyfi Valley to bring landowners and riders together to cement the trails. Now he’s bringing those substantial skills to a national level, as the UK’s first ever Trails Manager, a three-year role sponsored by SRAM.
What makes Dave so confident he can bring about change? “I talk,” he tells mbr. “I’m not a Magic Fairy Godmother, descending with a wand and a pre-agreed form to get everything signed off on all trails around the UK. But I listen to both sides, I’m methodical and I have patience.”
He’s not kidding, thirty years working in the outdoor business, first as a renewable energy development officer negotiating access with landowners, then later a mountain bike trail advocate, have made him stoical. He’s also a dab hand with paperwork, a tireless reformer and an all round nice guy.
They left their bikes at the bottom of Kinder Scout and walked up, we’re taking the bikes with us
It’s not just his efforts that signal change though, the world is different from pre-COVID days, according to Dave. “Covid has almost been mountain biking’s Kinder Scout mass trespass,” he says. The famous protest in 1932 highlighted the lack of access people had to the countryside, and helped contribute to the formation of our National Parks.
“The only difference is they cycled to get to Kinder Scout but they left their bikes at the bottom and then walked up, what we’re doing is taking the bikes with us,” he says. “People now get the need for fresh air for physical wellbeing for mental well being. That is now understood much more widely than it was 90 years ago.”
Riders have been digging and riding their way onto areas they technically have no right to access in record numbers following Covid, on National Trust and Forestry land to name just two landowners. In some places that has resulted in negotiations and eventual permitted access, such as the Dyfi Valley or the Tweed Valley. But there are still plenty of areas in the UK where mountain biking is not tolerated and shut out. It’s Dave’s job to try and bring the two sides together.
“What we’ve got to do now, because the trails are everywhere, the riders are everywhere, is to get those management processes in place to ensure that the legacy of the Covid boom trails survive,” Dave says.
Cometh the hour…
Dave Evans has been in his job for three weeks when we speak. He’s quick to praise SRAM and its support for the position, the first of its kind in the UK, something we both find incredible given the popularity of the sport. Dave’s first job is to consult with mountain bikers to gather the big picture.
“The project is to cast the net across the whole of the UK, look at what people are riding, where they’re riding, and get into those communities to tell the story,” he says. “I want to hear who uses the trails in your area, how often do they use them and what that does for your community.”
This is part one of the plan for the UK trails project, which will eventually form something called the “Right trail, right place, right people, right time” report. The idea is all of us can get in touch via online workshops running in January 2024, and tell Dave all about it. There’s also a physical roadtrip which is now underway, touring the country and taking the pulse of mountain biking in person. The next one takes place in Peaslake, Surrey, on November 29 7-9pm before heading to six more locations over the next two months. “Get involved and tell us your stories,” Dave says. “We want the big picture, tell us on a macro level.”
What happens after that is anyone’s guess, and Dave certainly wasn’t going to be drawn and speculate on the future. Within three years though, we’re hoping to see some of the trends, or patterns that show why advocacy seems to be working in some places, and not others. Dave’s second stop on the UK roadtrip is our home turf, Peaslake in Surrey, an area with great riding and intense pressure from multiple user groups all wanting to use the same small range of hills. If anywhere calls for advocacy, it’s here.
Dave is optimistic though. Once self-titled as the most boring man in mountain biking, he says this is the start of the road to success. “I’m hopeful the process is going to start yielding outcomes soon. We’re sitting on this delicate knife edge between criminal damage and the greater good of the well being of the participant, but by getting landowners and riders together we can find the pathways that work for them both.”