How to set up a trail association

By Antony DeHeveningham, Bristol Trails Group

There are dozens of mountain bike trail associations across the UK – you can see some of them on our partners page – but if there isn’t one near you, or if you have plans or issues in your local area, it could make sense to start your own. If you’ve identified a site for trail development, if your jumps are being threatened by the bulldozers, or if “no cycling” signs have started appearing on your favourite local routes, it could be time to club together and get organised. The following tips might help you get started.

Bristol Trails Group T-shirt
Don’t forget the cake if you’re organising meetings or dig days.

1. Get to know your landowner – Unless you’re turning your back garden into a pump track, chances are you don’t own the land you’re riding on. So it’s worth figuring out who you’re dealing with. It might be very straightforward – they might have left you a grumpy note with a phone number – or it might involve a bit of detective work, but it’s all owned or managed by someone.

There are a few handy tricks – for example, if the land is edged in purple on an Ordnance Survey map, it’s managed by the Forestry Commission (or Natural Resources Wales). You can also find out who owns any land in the UK by carrying out a Land Registry search.

Once you’ve ID’ed them, you don’t have to make yourself known straight away. You can take time to gather resources, do some research, and come up with a proposal. But sooner or later, you will need to introduce yourself, and you could save a lot of wasted effort by doing this sooner.

2. Building or badgering? – This might be self-evident, but the shape of your group will vary a lot depending on whether you’re trying to actively build trails, or simply influence things favourably for countryside users with knobbly tyres. Some groups do both, but it can save you a lot of time and hassle if you narrow your focus.

If you’re purely a building group, you’ll probably need stuff like tools and insurance. An advocacy-focused group will approach things a bit differently, finding forums to attend, consultations to respond to, or other user groups to team up with. Like football, it’s a game of two halves.

3. Reach out – There is power in numbers, and chances are there are a few like-minded supportive folk out there who can help you realise your dream. Talk to your fellow riders, outline your plans and get networking. Social media is a great place to make contacts but don’t forget the old school ways too – a quick chat on the trail might be more fruitful than spamming a load of Facebook groups.

It also helps to think outside the box. You won’t just need folk to go to meetings or wield spades. People with web and social media skills, photographers and designers are all useful contacts to have. Don’t just look inwards either. There are lots of helpful pro-cycling people in the halls of officialdom, so you might want to chat to the cycling team at your local council, your Rights of Way officer, youth groups, and even representatives of other countryside users. And don’t forget your local bike shops either – some of them might give you the brush-off, but many will welcome anything that benefits riders.

Tools don’t pay for themselves.

4. Make it official – You might not need to ever become a formally constituted group, but there are certain circumstances in which it could help. If you want to manage your own resources, seek out funding, or work independently of a landowner, you’ll probably need to become more than just a name. There are a range of options, with the simplest being a club or society. This just involves a few of you getting together, setting out your rules and aims in writing, and putting your signatures at the bottom. Using this you’ll then be able to open a group bank account, apply for funding, or start taking donations.

You can also go more formal, and there are a range of options including becoming a limited company or a charity. These come with more admin but open up additional possibilities.

5. Fighting funds – So your group has come together, you’ve made a plan, and you’ve talked it over with the powers that be. Maybe now you need tools, insurance and PPE. Or you want to publicise what you’re doing. Perhaps, like Peak District MTB, you could use good old-fashioned print to start a discussion about your local trail networks.

If you’re feeling flush you could buy this stuff yourself, but it should also be possible to raise the funds by putting the word out. Local riders, bike shops, and businesses could all help out. If you’ve set up a group (see step 4 above) you can open a bank account in its name, which should give donors confidence that their money isn’t going to end up in your beer fund. Online, PayPal lets you create a simple donation button which is free to use.

You can also apply for funding grants, and there are a number of UK bodies like Sport England and the delightfully-named Landfill Communities Fund which support mountain biking. These are better suited to long-term projects, and it can be a long painful process just filling out the application forms, but if you’ve got a big idea that needs major funding, they’re worth looking at.

Crowd funding is also a possibility, and Ride Sheffield have just opened the UK’s first crowd-funded MTB trail. The amount of work that goes into a successful crowd-funding campaign can be almost a full time job by itself, but again, if you need thousands rather than hundreds, it could fit the bill.

Finally don’t forget that assistance doesn’t need to be financial. If someone can loan you tools, donate materials, pay for your web hosting or print costs, or just contribute their time and expertise, that could be worth a lot even without money changing hands.

6. Keep on pushing – Sometimes things come together quickly, but often trail advocacy and development is a long, slow process. Be persistent, try to stay on good terms with everyone, and chances are you’ll be able to make a positive difference.