Reframing Mountain Biking is aiming to improve the image and impact of the sport.


Mountain biking is often described as having an image problem. Unlike some areas of cycling, where people are a little too concerned about sock length, the mountain bike world can often be seen by the general public as reckless, or even a little bit closed off to outsiders. And if you’re someone who wants to start mountain biking, that image could be somewhat off-putting. Someone who wants to help reshape the image mountain bikers project in the UK is former DH World Cup racer Manon Carpenter. She has turned her attention to mountain bike advocacy and education since she retired from racing in 2017. And last weekend, in rainy Sheffield, the ‘Reframing Mountain Biking’ team hosted the second symposium for their group.

Reframing Mountain Biking

Manon addresses the Reframing Mountain Biking event.

The team originally began as Carpenter, Henry Norman, and Aneela McKenna, but has since grown as the vision and reach of Reframing Mountain Biking has increased. The event held over the weekend was the second, and Carpenter said it “doubled in size” compared to the first.

But what exactly is Reframing Mountain Biking, and how can we, as average riders help to transform the image of mountain biking in the UK? We spoke to Carpenter to find out just how.

Reframing Mountain Biking

Volunteers from Ride Sheffield and Bolehills helped with the organisation of the dig day (Credit: Anya Tolwinskaya @haze_wagon)

Come rain or shine

Sheffield isn’t prone to the warmest of climes on any given day, but it was a particularly wet weekend in February that played host to the Reframing Mountain Biking 2024 symposium. On the Friday, the main events of the day were speakers and workshops based around the three themes Reframing uses as means to create important discussions in different areas: Trail Associations, Diversity and Inclusion, and Image and Culture.

Reframing Mountain Biking

The three main themes were discussed at length throughout Friday (Credit: Richard Baybutt @baybutt)

To attract more riders we need to break the typical stereotype of a mountain biker

One of the main points that came out of the event was that participation among women is growing. “There’s been more progress in the women’s side of mountain biking, but there’s also a long way to go”, explained Carpenter. ‘We had research presented from Fiona Spotswood and others that shows there’s still a ginormous gender gap between participation and representation in the industry itself. But then there’s also a lot going on in that space, which is exciting.”

Getting more women and a wider range of people in general interested in giving mountain biking a go fits under diversity and inclusion, but also shapes mountain biking’s image. If we can’t break past the initial stereotype of mountain biking as a predominantly white male activity, then it’ll be harder to attract more people to the trails.

Manon Carpenter Sept293

Manon Carpenter has made the move from champion mountain biker, to championing mountain biking.

“We started focusing on how to get more women involved in trail associations, but broadly it is about being welcoming as a whole, to anyone who might not see themselves in the space. I think everyone recognises there is kind of a stereotypical image of a mountain biker. And so through Reframing, we are planning to put out some guidance and actions on taking the steps to be more welcoming, maybe less intimidating, or kind of like breaking down that stereotypical image, which isn’t always accurate. But it’s what a lot of people do have in their minds. So how do we break down that image and show that we’re all just people who like the outdoors?”

Reframing Mountain Biking

A tour took in some of the best riding in and around Sheffield (Credit: Anya Tolwinskaya @haze_wagon)

A changing climate requires a different approach to trail management

Climate change is something that Carpenter also brought up, and is something that has likely impacted our riding whether we realise it or not. From heavy rain, to prolonged dry weather, our climate impacts the way the trails require maintenance and management.

But what really stood out was the fact that fighting climate change, or managing the impact, isn’t just an individual fight. It does and will require a wider effort to make an impact – whether that be in terms of trail management, or as big as governmental policy.

“We didn’t really address environmental climate issues in the first Reframing, but this one we wanted to and it really shows how important it is to lots of people. And it would be nice to also talk about some more solutions there as well.”

Carpenter is already thinking about ways in which mountain bikers can reduce their environmental impact. “Can bike parks and trail centres make it easier to get there by public transport? Things like having a bike wash, definitely, and lockers. If you turn up with a big bag, you can’t then ride with your big bag. But if you could put your stuff in a locker, and then ride, it’s suddenly so much easier to get a train, ride a bit to get to the trails centre, and then ride.”

Aneela McKenna and Julia Hobson hip packs

Aneela McKenna is another key member of the Reframing team.

If how you get to and from riding destinations is something that you struggle with, you’re not alone. The trouble is, if you don’t live right near a trail, or in the countryside, the fact is that you will need to travel to get there.

“you can’t live a perfect life – that shouldn’t stop us from talking out about it”

“I think you weigh up your own feelings of, ‘what feels right to me at this time’. Everyone’s got a different line. I have definitely stopped driving long distances as often, but I will when I want to go and do something – you also have to live your life. Not being perfect in how we live our lives shouldn’t stop us from talking out about it. Because in the system that we live in, you can’t live a perfect life. It’s not possible. So we need much bigger changes, as well as individual action.”

Another area to look at is racing – something Carpenter has inside knowledge of. “From a team’s perspective, stuff breaks. So how can you deal with that in a good way? There’s so many things that I think we can do. And the more you can come together and talk about solutions together, I think that just makes everything happen so much quicker than it being done in silos.”

Reframing Mountain Biking

The weather wasn’t always on the side of the volunteers (Credit: Anya Tolwinskaya @haze_wagon)

Shedding the wrong image

Mountain biking is a rare outdoor pursuit. There are disciplines within the discipline, and countless ways you can ride your bike and be considered a “mountain biker.” For some, it’s about the sport – hitting runs and checking Strava segments, or even racing. But for others, it’s purely a lifestyle, and more about getting close to nature and enjoying time outdoors. And, according to Carpenter, getting that across to newer audiences is key to getting more people interested in riding.

Veronique Sandler while shooting Vision.

“The idea of what mountain biking can be is much wider than we often see. And that definitely came out in the talks and discussions – people are wanting to see a wider image of mountain biking being lived and being told. Adam Dayson from WorkWith Studios (who was behind Veronique Sandler’s ‘Vision’ movie), talked about how you have mountain biking as the sport, the lifestyle and its culture. So often the sport is focused on the elite, the gnarly, and the extreme. But for a lot of people, mountain biking is just a lifestyle where you go out and ride your bike.”

While we all enjoy watching Fabio Wibmer pull off crazy stunts, there’s also a lot to be said for more thought-provoking films. And perhaps not even thought-provoking, but closer to home. I don’t mean your average Joe stacking it riding off his garage roof, but every day riders doing great things that aren’t necessarily gnarly.

Reframing Mountain Biking

Not even the rain could stop the pizza van popularity (Credit: Anya Tolwinskaya @haze_wagon)

Reframing the future of mountain biking

So far the initiative has been a success. It’s doubled in size since the first event in 2022, and this year 45% of the attendees were women. “Everybody was inspired; seeing what can be done to welcome more people in to the sport. We’d like to grow again, and we’ve had a really great mix of audience from brands, media, non-profits (Trash Free Trails, Protect Our Winters, Colour Collective), and a whole bunch of others including researchers, and land managers. So a whole mixed audience, which is brilliant. Having everyone in one place and having conversations about the challenges and the solutions.

“We would really like to see more buy-in from brands and media. We had we had some really great people coming along, but we’d like to see even more. Anyone who wants to help progress the sport, this definitely is the space for it.”

Manon in her racing days for Madison Saracen.

As an average rider, what can I do?

This topic likely requires an entire article in itself, but Carpenter summarised it nicely for us:

  • Support trails and trail associations – whether you have time to go along and help directly, or financially (like Ride Sheffield, who is raising money through Crowdfunding to look after trails). Support them, because it all takes time and money.
  • Support rail advocacy groups – non-profits like Trash Free Trails, Protect Our Winters, or Colour Collective. It means the world to them getting support, and showing that people recognise and care about what they’re doing. So, support good things that are happening.
  • Educate yourself. I’m still on a learning journey of what barriers are to some people and how to interact with that. I’ve definitely missed opportunities where I’ve heard people talking about things in a problematic way or, or talking about another rider, perhaps in what could be a problematic way, but I’m slowly learning to approach that, and have the conversation.
  • Be aware and open-minded. Recognise that other people don’t see things the way you do, or experience things the way you do.