Scottish Cycling, Welsh Cycling and British Cycling have all joined forces to create a UK-wide Mountain Bike Leadership Award (MBLA).
We recently caught up with Jules Fincham, from Pitlochry in Perthshire, owner of Cycle Wild Scotland and an experienced tutor of Mountain Bike Leadership Awards. Jules shares his thoughts on the scheme and mountain biking in the UK.
Hi Jules, what has your background in outdoor education been like?
I’m from Essex so we didn’t have much opportunity to get into the mountains much when I was younger but my buddy and I went on a couple of climbing courses in our teens.
We then discovered skiing on a holiday to Italy. From then on I was hooked and I was drawn towards mountains – first the Alps where I worked in bars, then as a ski instructor; after that to the Scottish Highlands where I managed to get on an apprenticeship scheme at Glenmore Lodge, sportscotland’s national outdoor training center.
That gave me the opportunity to try all the outdoor activities on offer – climbing, paddling, ski mountaineering – and then to qualify as an instructor in most of the disciplines.
First off, I was just as interested in the teaching side as I was in the fun and adventure of each discipline. I absolutely love teaching people to enjoy the outdoors through adventure and sport.
How long have you been a mountain bike tutor?
When the Mountain Bike Leader Award (MBLA) scheme started 15 years ago, I was a full time instructor at Glenmore Lodge, training and assessing people to lead as climbers, mountaineers, paddlers and the likes.
As I had been doing a lot of road cycling and the odd bit of off-road I was chosen to be one of a small group of very experienced outdoor coaches to be in at the beginning. Over several months we qualified as tutors and then the ‘new awards’ at the time, could be rolled out.
How does the new UK wide scheme differ to MBLA?
There are some important differences between the new UK-wide MTB Leader Award and MBLA. One of these is that the awards fit within the existing suite of British Cycling awards, which makes progression and professional development a lot simpler.
As a tutor, a key difference for me is that when a candidate has completed the UK MBL Level 2 training course they will be insured (because of their British Cycling membership and current first aid) to act as an assistant group leader to those holding the Level 2 or 3. This will allow the trainees to gather valuable experience before assessment.
Although the Level 2 is very similar to the current trail cycle leader award, the training for Level 3 is more thorough than the MBL. Entailing three rather than two days training there is more time to thoroughly develop all elements of the syllabus.
There is a strong emphasis on 'reading the rider' and leading strategies to fit the individuals being led within any group.
The new UK MBLA level 3 assessment is being run over two days (compared with one day for the MBL). What is particularly useful for the candidates and the tutor/assessor alike is that the second day of the assessment is with a real group of students, rather than their fellow candidates.
This opens up challenges and opportunities that make the assessment process more meaningful and robust for everyone.
Why have you decided to transition to delivering the UK-wide Mountain Bike Leadership Award from MBLA?
It was a bit of a no-brainer for me. I am tutor and I am also a businessman. Quite simply, the new awards represent the future for mountain bike qualifications in the UK. My company, Cycle Wild Scotland, the largest independent provider of MTB awards in Scotland, has built a strong reputation over the last ten years for the great leadership courses that we run.
The UKMTB leader scheme will help us continue to grow our business delivering the best MTB leader courses possible.
What do you think the benefits are of having a UK wide Mountain Bike Leadership Award?
In our industry, which is enormous now and growing every day, I think a national award helps to maintain standards of and for tutors and candidates and that in turn is invaluable for everyone concerned, including employers and consumers looking for MTB leaders.
Nationally and internationally, British and Scottish Cycling are recognised, prestigious brands, which imbue confidence in the product (i.e. the awards). That confidence is entirely justified as the UK awards have been developed from the excellent MBLA system using the very latest approaches to coaching and leading.
What advice would you give candidates looking to start a Mountain Bike Leader qualification?
British, Scottish and Welsh Cycling are all advising new candidates to register with the UK MTB leader award. I agree that this is definitely the way to go. On registration be sure to read the course manual as it is designed to help you prepare for training, as well as assessment. The manual is great, stacked full of the latest thinking on MTB leadership and is full of inspirational and motivational pictures.
What are your favourite things about mountain biking?
This list, like my desert island lists, will change from one moment to the next but today’s answers would be: thrills, sociability, and the great outdoors!
What are your three top tips on how to get started?
1. Don’t wait for your ideal bike, just use any bike you can and get out on it as often as possible.
2. When buying a new bike or other equipment, try to use your local bike shop; the advice and after-sales service you’ll get is worth its weight in gold. Plus, most bike shops have regular ride-outs where you’ll make friends and discover the best trails in your own area.
3. Get a bike school lesson from a qualified bike instructor as soon as you can – it’ll transform your riding.
Where is your favorite place in Scotland to mountain bike?
Well I could cheat by saying that my favorite trail is the one I am on that day. The amazing landscapes in Scotland mean there is an infinite number of trails to enjoy. But if I had to choose, I’d go for the north west of Scotland - the riding Torridon area is world-class.