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18 years on and more than 11,000 have been inspired to lead others in Mountain Biking

Jim Riach, Scottish Cycling, Corporate Services manager recalls the journey that Mountain Bike Leadership has been on in the last 18 years and the impact that it has had.

Back in 1996 Mountain Biking was now fairly well accepted and becoming part of mainstream cycle-sport with the inaugural cross-country mountain bike race in the Olympic Games in Atlanta and an established Scottish mountain bike scene. With the popularity came some of the first reports of incidents from the outdoor sector delivering this new activity. Local authorities through the Scottish Advisory Pane in Outdoor Education (SAPOE) identified a leadership qualification and associated structures would help mitigate against such incidents and support the growth of the activity.

On behalf of SAPOE, Drew Michie approached Scottish Cycling, and myself, in particular to explore the options of the governing body developing an appropriate award. As a keen mountain-biker with some experienced in outdoor education and a key involvement with coach education  I jumped at the opportunity and the first draft of a course and suggested content was created. This was then shared with 12 or so outdoor education leads over a couple of weekend sessions at Dounans Camp in Aberfoyle. From this a development group was established and the combined experience from the sport and outdoor education shaped the content into a Trail Cycle Leader course, with Drew carrying out the first delivery back in September 1997 at Gartmorn Dam, Clackmannanshire, along with myself as an observer.

Drew has been a real stalwart of the scheme, bringing experience from other governing bodies with similar awards, as a government advisor in outdoor activities and as a key member of staff within a local authority. Drew went on to be chairman of the Scottish Mountain Bike Leader Awards (SMBLA) for a number of years and the scheme went from strength to strength with over 11,000 candidates registering on the scheme over the 18 year period.

In around 2010 Scottish and British Cycling agreed to work together to create a new unified Mountain Bike Leadership Scheme to operate across British, Welsh and Scottish Cycling. This would allow for refresh of course materials and competencies and has resulted in a 3 level mountain bike leadership which has updated what had been done in the SMBLA and addressed some gaps in the provision.

Several of the SMBLA tutors have migrated over to the new scheme ensuring, continuity and maintaining expertise in the system. Feedback from the new award has been positive, and only today we had an email from a candidate of a recent course at Glentress. “I felt compelled to submit feedback on the outstanding course (L2 MTB Leadership) I have attended this weekend with Andy Weir, Ridelines. I was very nervous about attending this course as I was unsure what to expect and what was expected of me. Andy Weir was professional, calm, quietly assertive, supporting, encouraging, motivational and quite inspirational! I can't stress enough how his leadership skills have inspired me. The course content was appropriate, challenging informative and relevant. 

I'd like to thank Scottish Cycling for being part of this award, for ensuring inspirational providers like Ridelines are out there to deliver these courses”

So we are looking forward to the next 11,000 candidates who will join these programmes and share their love of cycling with the next generation of mountain bikers. It is estimated that our existing Trail Cycle Leaders deliver over 500,000 participant sessions each year in Scotland.

Have a look at the pictures above (by clicking the arrow) for a then and now experience.


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