Tapping into the booming mountain bicycle tourism market
This is the first of three blogs in which we talk to Dr Anthony Burton who has a PhD in Planning, Human Health and Climate Change and runs the consultancy Anthony Burton & Associates, based in Australia’s capital city, Canberra. His practice is focused around looking at how we can improve the health and wellbeing of the community by providing assets which they can use to make them fitter and healthier. A key part of this work involves mountain biking. This aligns strongly with our vision and mission at CYcleLifeHQ. Although the details discussed below specifically refer to Australia, they are equally applicable in the USA and elsewhere.
“I’ve had a passion for cycling for 30 years now, particularly for mountain biking, trails and getting out and into nature,” explained Anthony. “As a youngster I was very keen on doing lots of camping and hiking. Then in my second year of university I discovered the joys of riding mountain bikes and from there I never looked back.
“I also have a passion for planning mountain bike facilities. This covers such a wide gamut of users from the Red Bull Rampage riders to the group that I describe as ‘rolling bushwalkers’ (hikers).
“When you look at the covers of MTB magazines, you see people jumping off massive jumps but the reality is that’s not what the vast majority of mountain bike riders do. They get out there and ride green (easy) and blue (intermediate) level trails. They keep their wheels on the ground. They have a good time and they smile! If you study why people are riding, the vast majority are doing so for health and fitness reasons, and to experience and enjoy the environment.
“Therefore, lots of the trails that I create and/or plan for are really focused on providing for that 80% majority of riders who want to improve their health and fitness, have a good time in doing it and enjoy being out and in the bush and experience the environment. They want to challenge themselves, but they don’t want to die!”
We asked Anthony to take us through the steps in creating a new mountain biking destination from scratch.
His response indicated that there’s a lot of work that has to be done before the first metre of trail is built; however, don’t let that put you off. The rewards are worth it, as many worldwide successful mountain biking destinations can testify.
“First, we do community consultation and facilitation,” Anthony began. “One of the key things is to make sure you’re talking to all of the right people. For example, when I go and speak to the local mountain bike club, I’m not speaking to that 80% majority of cycle tourist riders. I’m speaking to the 20%. I’m speaking to the hardcore racers, to the hardcore downhillers, the ones who are keen to ride maybe three or four times every week. So, in terms of our consultation it’s really important that we also get out and talk to a broader community.
“We do the broader feasibility planning because everybody’s heard of Moab or Derby and they all want to dirt surf the Derby way. They think, ‘Oh, if we build some mountain bike tracks like that, it’s going to drive tourism and it’ll be epic and awesome!
“But we need to consider:
What’s your market?
How big is your market?
Who is the market that you’re trying to target?
How far do visitors have to travel?
How much is it going to cost?
Do you actually have the facilities, accommodation and so forth, to allow for a massive expansion?
“We then undertake broader economic analysis, so we look at the benefits that will come to a town or a region that’s investing in cycling. We engage with the traditional owners of the land because lots of the things that are happening are on Crown land or state-owned land, rather than private land, and all of these areas are subject to the Native Title Act. We want to work with the local indigenous communities to ensure that they’re involved and engaged in the process. It’s much easier to bring people along and have them engaged early rather than find out that there are issues later on.
“We then have conceptual planning, which is where we actually start to draw some trail lines on maps. We consider who the client is trying to engage. It may be a downhiller, it may be a rolling bushwalker, it may be all-mountain or cross country.
“We look at the MTB park or trail management model. Is it going to be government run? Is it going to be privately run? Is it going to be professionally maintained? Are we going to have a volunteer maintenance regime or are we going to have a hybrid model?
“We look at grants and funding opportunities. How can the local community benefit economically from what we’re doing? We work with the local councils or the local government to work on those funding opportunities. There’s a number of Australian government and state government grant opportunities.
“Despite the fact that putting a trail on the ground may be in the vicinity of $35,000 a kilometre, there’s a lot of other things that go on other than just the trail on the ground. You need good trail infrastructure, absolutely! You won’t get people there if you don’t have good trails. But equally if you don’t have the supporting infrastructure in behind that like signage, access and other tourist-based facilities, then you don’t have a complete product to offer.
“Then we do ‘ground truthing’. After we’ve drawn trail lines on maps, we like to get out onsite, get our hands and feet dirty and actually walk the landscape. That often changes our desktop alignment quite significantly because the desktop alignment will give us an idea of what’s possible based on broad topography, but it’s that micro alignment that refines the trail.
“When you get down onto the ground we see the features that really change the way in which we plan and build. For example, there may be a series of rocky outcrops that you can’t see on a desktop, but once you get there, you go, ‘This is a really interesting feature that we’ve got to incorporate!’
“Our design philosophy for all users, but particularly that rolling bushwalker concept, is about taking people on a journey.
You’ve got to provide reasons for them to keep on going on that route and to come back. That could be a particular rock feature, an area of really interesting flora, it could be a view or it could just be a really nice section of undulating terrain that’s just a lovely space to ride through.
“Once the plan is finalised, then you go through a whole series of approvals starting with local government, and which might also include State and Commonwealth approvals, depending on the land tenure and environmental significance of the area.”