The first International Scottish Mountain Biking conference was held in Peebles in mid-November and attracted delegates from around the world. The proximity to world-class riding was a draw: the Glentress trail centre was a short ride uphill from the Peebles Hydro, the conference venue. The keynote speaker was Hans "No Way" Rey (pictured) and he went on a night ride and a wet day ride with delegates and local school children (who were excellent riders).
Delegates were told that mountain biking will be soon worth £155m a year to the Scottish economy (the Fort William World Cup DH event brings in £2.7m p.a. alone). £155m accounts for just 2 percent of the £11.6bn tourist industry but mountain bikers penetrated rural backwaters, bringing cash to towns and villages not always on the traditional tourist trail.
Paula McDonald, a senior director of Visit Scotland, said she was passionate about promoting her country and that it had the "best assets you could ask for in a tourist economy."
She also revealed that road cycling and cycle touring was growing at a faster rate than mountain biking. In 2011 there were 190,000 trips generated by mountain biking, but this had reduced to 109,000 in 2013. By comparison, road and touring cycling trips doubled from 254,000 in 2011 to 401,000 in 2013.
McDonald said she expects mountain biking trips to increase next year in part because of the "Danny Macaskill effect": his video shot on the Isle of Skye went viral earlier this year and promoted the grandeur of Scotland’s landscape – and mountain biking potential – to a worldwide audience of millions. Visit Scotland helped pay for the video, providing a grant for the film-makers to buy in a drone pilot for the all-important aerial shots.
The typical user of the 7Stanes trail centres was affluent and male, said McDonald. 71 percent of trail centre users were AB and C1, and 87 percent of mountain bikers were blokes.
Scotland’s liberal access laws – solidified in the Land Reform Act of 2003 – allow mountain bikers to ride almost anywhere they want (without motors) but signposted trail centres have become magnets, with wilderness riding becoming a relative rarity. The success of the trail centres bodes well for electric mountain bikes, said Clive Forth of consultancy business MTBskills.
"E-bikes have been huge in the mountains of Europe for years. Scottish trail centres are perfect for e-MTBs – they have robust trails for a start."
He has no issues with "motorisation" of mountain biking: "I liken [the advent of e-mountain biking] to the controversy over "uplift" when riders used to get taken up trails on pick-up trucks. Now, at some centres, they get to the top of the hill on [ski] lifts."
Forth believes Scotland could easily accomodate e-MTBing and is opposed to the type of blanket ban recently imposed in Moab, Utah. "Instead we can channel the demand with marketing, labelling certain trails being ideal for e-MTBs," said the industry veteran.
The Scottish Mountain Biking Conference added the internationl element this year but has had two previous annual outings. Delegates to the event came from Belgium, Switzerland, Spain and as far away as New Zealand.