Mental health matters – The story behind Total MTB

Ryan Oldfield founded grassroots organisation TotalMTB after his own mental health struggles – Alex Ballinger discovers how it’s making a difference

The reasons a person might decide to get on the bike are endless. From a humble commute, health and fitness, or even just the thrill of the ride, the passion for cycling can come from any angle – but sometimes the inspiration comes from somewhere deeper.

Ryan Oldfield, a 31-year-old graphic and web designer from Doncaster, knows exactly how important the bike can be, as he was sparked into action back in 2017 when he founded TotalMTB, a grassroots organisation with mental health at its heart.

“The inspiration behind it was that I wanted to encourage other people to get out on their bikes to help physical but mostly mental health, as I suffer from severe anxiety,” Ryan, a singletrack and downhill rider himself, told BikeBiz.

Strength to strength
Since its inception, TotalMTB has grown from a social media community into a non-profit organisation that has helped raise thousands for charity, increased awareness about environmental issues in the mountain biking world, and helped individual riders with their mental and physical health.

“I suffered openly with anxiety until I was in my mid-20s and I finally discovered what I had,” Ryan said, explaining the inspiration behind TotalMTB. “I want to help raise awareness for mental health so if others are suffering they can find out sooner rather than later if it is anxiety and they can seek help and support.

“Sharing mine and the stories of others through TotalMTB has been extremely effective as people have commented and messaged saying they also suffer, some saying they feel the same way but didn’t know others felt that way too. It now seems a space where people can confidently open up about their mental health and it helps others or others help them, it’s fantastic to see everyone there for each other.”

The idea for TotalMTB stemmed from the existing social media communities Ryan found in off-road riding, which often gave a rose-tinted view of the world, with content from eye-opening locations and a focus on professional riders.

“After getting back into mountain biking I saw there was a big community of mountain bikers online through GMBN, Seth Bike Hacks, BKXC to name a few, I came across mountain bike Instagram accounts that looked to inspire people but without having to talk or be on camera, which with my anxiety I couldn’t do. These accounts would share other peoples’ adventures and posts but the people and places they were sharing were always the same.”

Instagram vs reality
Ryan added: “They were always sharing the famous riders and glamorous riding locations which is great, but I personally thought to really connect and inspire people it needs to be the audiences and followers’ posts and stories, so no matter who the rider was, their gender, age, colour, race, religion, location, brands, I would share them either on the feed or story. After the following and community grew, I was able to find and establish what TotalMTB really was about and also create projects and campaigns to help it develop.”

TotalMTB now has 54,000 followers on Instagram and has supporters from across the cycling industry and beyond, from Etnies shoes, to Cube bikes and even Elliot Brown watches. Thanks to support from the huge range of brands, TotalMTB is able to offer its community discounts on a huge number of brands, urging riders to share their purchases on social media to help keep the momentum.

“Brands get involved with us for two reasons,” Ryan said, “The main reason is they love what we do and what we’re about, so love to be linked with us. The second reason is the added and ever-increasing exposure they get with us, as our community is quite loyal so it’s important who we partner with.

“This year has been a massive year for us as we’ve been featured on so many media websites, in newspapers and magazines so it’s helped get the word out about us and that we’re here to stay. And of course we’re finalists for two awards which is incredible!

“The brands have helped TotalMTB in a big way as they’ve been able to push TotalMTB to their audiences, we’ve gained some invaluable connections, people see we’re linked to big brands which gives off a good impression.”

While fun lies at the heart of all things mountain biking, Ryan is acutely aware of the impacts the community can have, as TotalMTB continues to raise money for charities, having already helped contribute £12,000 to good causes, as well as funding the planting of 7,367 trees.

Initiatives TotalMTB has set up include the sale of jerseys, with £3 from every sale going to a chosen cause – this year mental health awareness and the planet in 2022. The organisation is currently running four campaigns, all designed to tackle the most serious issues both inside and outside the mountain biking community: #MentalHealthMatters to raise awareness of mental health issues, #LetsAllRide encouraging more people to get out on their bikes, #ProtectOurPlanet for environmental causes, and ‘You Are You and You Are Awesome’, which hopes to stamp out discrimination in the mountain biking world.

The future is full of promise for Ryan and TotalMTB, as the organisation hopes to hit £15,000 in total charity fundraising before the end of the year, in part helped by the annual Big Christmas Charity Raffle, with £9,700 worth of mountain biking gear up for grabs, while proceeds will be split 50/50 between mental health charity No Panic and tree-planting initiative Ecologi. Ryan hopes the community can plant another 13,000 trees before the end of 2022.

While the Covid pandemic unsurprisingly shut down TotalMTB’s real world events, Ryan hopes to bring back the #TotalSocialRides next year to reunite the community.

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