In addition to being one of the UK’s most celebrated mountain bike trail centres, Glentress is also home to a pioneering project that aims to elevate the sport to whole new levels in Scotland. We caught up with Graeme McLean, the driving force behind Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland, to learn more.
Tell us about the Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland (DMBinS) project … what are its aims?
DMBinS is a partnership project established to oversee the delivery of the world’s first national strategy for mountain biking. While that sounds a bit dry, the project plays an important role in bringing people together, providing advice and spreading good practice. That in turn results in more trails being built, bigger events coming to Scotland, better opportunities for Scottish children and young people to realise their dreams of sporting success on the world stage, and simply getting more people into riding bikes in a safe and amazingly fun environment.
Why is it headquartered at Glentress here in the Tweed Valley?
We are based in the Tweed Valley because it is, arguably, Scotland’s biggest mountain bike community. We are part of a successful partnership, with Edinburgh Napier University and Scottish Enterprise, which has helped businesses to innovate and grow for a number of years. When the project grew to a scale where we were able to source funding through the Scottish Funding Council and the opportunity came up to be based at Glentress, we jumped at it!
And what about your own background in cycling?
As you can see from one of my first bikes – a yellow Raleigh Strika which I loved – playing on bikes formed a large part of my upbringing. My parents also used to run a summer holiday business near Oban renting bikes, so I think cycling is in my blood. Being honest though, I didn’t really ride too much from 18 to 25 as I was travelling the world as a snowboard instructor. When I returned in 2002, I’d heard that the new trail centres were amazing – one trip to Glentress and that was me hooked all over again.
We know the Tweed Valley is a centre of mountain biking in Scotland, but what’s the national picture like … a real growth sport country-wide?
Yes, very much so. DMBinS has worked hard to grow mountain biking in many other parts of Scotland. We’ve worked with communities, local authorities, national agencies and businesses, and have developed £2.5m of new trails close to communities across Scotland. Such projects are helping create more mountain bikers – all future visitors to the Tweed Valley!
What are some of the key challenges as you look to continue growing the sport?
Funding is a real challenge, especially at the moment. We have to work very hard to ensure that any investment in the sport has as many tangible benefits as possible. With fewer resources there will also be a greater ask for the mountain bike community to help grow the sport. That’s something that the Tweed Valley really excels at, with four children’s cycling clubs in the area and a massive voluntary effort that goes into making events such as TweedLove so successful.
What are some of the projects you are most proud of to date?
I think we have done really well in terms of bringing people together and encouraging partnership. In fact, I can’t think of any projects we have run which haven’t involved several groups getting together to make things happen. It’s really the only way such a small staff team can achieve bigger things.
Although we can’t call any of the projects exclusively our own, I have been particularly proud of forming the world’s first innovation and centre of excellence at Glentress – the Mountain Bike Centre of Scotland – together with Edinburgh Napier University and Scottish Enterprise, plus Go Girls, a programme to increase and sustain participation by female riders, run together with Scottish Cycling, Endura and a whole host of inspirational women.
What do you love most about what you do?
I love the places that the bike takes me, especially across Scotland. But most of all I love the people whom I have met through this role. There are so many inspirational, positive and passionate people involved in mountain biking. I’m just grateful to have an opportunity to be part of shaping this fantastic sport.
Finally, you must get out on the trails pretty often … do you have a favourite place to ride locally?
Loads of favourites, but what gives me the most pleasure is getting out with my family and watching my six-year-old son grin from ear to ear as he rattles down Electric Blue at Glentress. Great moments!
For much more on the Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland project, visit www.dmbins.com
Photography: DMBinS; Graeme McLean