Good Trail Maintenance and e-MTB’s to keep you ahead
Good Trail Maintenance and Catering for e-MTB’s Will Keep You Ahead of the Pack
This is the third 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.
Although the details discussed below specifically refer to Australia, they are equally applicable in the USA and elsewhere.
In recent years there has been an unprecedented level of investment in mountain bike (MTB) parks. Ski resorts were the first to invest heavily into MTB trails, looking to keep their expensive facilities earning money between ski seasons. Now local communities, often quite remote, are seeing new parks being built, some with government investment and others privately funded.
With so many new parks being built, and still more being announced, is there a danger of reaching saturation point, or if you like, ‘peak MTB’?
“It’s possible,” Anthony conceded. “If we look at the early 2000s and the 24 hour mountain bike racing boom as an example. We had one local event, the Mont/Scott 24 Hour that could generate 4,500 participants and another 5000 visitors. Other people and locations thought, ‘That’s a good idea. Let’s set up our own 24 hour event!’ It got to the point where you could choose from about 15 different 24 hour events across the east coast of Australia.
“Today, there’s hardly a 24 hour race still going. We reached peak saturation. Everyone said, ‘We’ve been there and done that. We don’t want to do that anymore.’
“So can we reach peak MTB parks? Can every city have a Stromlo Forest Park? (Canberra’s biggest MTB Park and former Worlds venue). I think there is potential to have too many. But the answer is in the diversity of what you provide and how you provide it.
“If you were to go out with a cookie cutter and make 100 Stromlo Forest Parks virtually all the same, people would very quickly get bored with that. "But if you can make a series of trails that are interesting, different and connect with the other tourism based aspects of your region, then you can use your MTB park as a hook to get people to visit and stay for longer.
“There are two options, a MTB park can be the main reason to visit a location or a secondary reason. Both can allow a rider or family to stay longer.
“For example, they come and ride Stromlo on Saturday morning and then go to Questacon (interactive science museum) with their family on Saturday afternoon or to the zoo to meet a cheetah. It’s about linking those other tourist opportunities.
“A single mountain biker might spend $150 to $170 per day, but if I bring my family I might spend $400 a day.
“That will also encourage return visitations. Great food is really important, beer, wine and other opportunities.”
Budget for Maintenance
Unfortunately MTB trails are not ‘set and forget’. They need regular maintenance. How much will this cost?
“You should budget about 5% of the build cost or $2 to $4 per metre per annum for trail maintenance,” said Anthony. “In other words $2,000 to $4,000 per kilometre ($3,200 to $6,400 per mile), per annum. For a local government that might sound like a lot. For a 30 kilometre (20 mile) network you’re looking at $80,000 per annum. But you’ve got to look at the knock-on effects of that expenditure for the local community. You’re generally giving skilled work to locals, often young people.
“For every $100,000 you spend on maintenance, particularly if you’re using a local company, that will have a multiplier of about 1.8, say $180,000.
“In this age of Instagram and social media, one of your biggest marketing tools is word of mouth. So you always want your trails to be in tip top condition. They have to be safe and in a condition that is appropriate for the level of the rider you’re looking for and meets their needs and expectations.
“Even if you build the trail to the highest possible standards, you’ll still need to change and upgrade things. Natural surface trails, by their very nature, do suffer from wear and tear.
“Maintenance costs will be lower for a compact trail network than a long point to point trail, because of quicker access to all parts of the trail, especially if it’s easier to get machinery in there.
“NSW Parks and Wildlife pride themselves on only spending $1.25 per metre on trail maintenance, but in the meantime word of mouth means that ridership will fall off and you’ll get that self-fulfilling prophecy: ‘We used to have 100,000 people, now we only have 20,000. People are not interested any more so let’s cut the maintenance down further.’”
“Don’t be afraid to spend money on maintenance, in the end it will repay you and your network in spades (literally!)”
Finally, there’s new technology here right now that has huge potential to grow the MTB tourism market.
“E-mountain bikes are going to change the way in which people ride and visit,” Anthony predicted. “They’re going to open opportunities up to a whole swag of new riders.
“There are issues around e-mountain bikes for sure; but providing for them means that those people for whom riding a 25 kilometre (16 mile) trail is outside of the realms of possibility, can now do it.
“For example, when we went to Crackenback Resort we rode the Thredbo Valley Trail. My wife rode on an e-MTB and she loved every minute of it. For someone who was worried about the length and terrain of the trail, providing a full suspension e-MTB meant that she was able to enjoy that rolling bushwalker nature of that trail. It really opened it up to her and I believe it will open it up to a much broader market as well.
“Not everyone can afford to buy an e-MTB but that’s where hire can really step in. If you look at Europe, e-MTBs are changing the nature of the parks.
“It’s certainly changing how I’m designing MTB parks. I’m not necessarily designing for anything steeper, but perhaps we can now have a 16 kilometre climb to the top of a mountain with a 7% gradient coming down. In the past that climb would have been too long for an average rider. But now they can get to the top more easily. They can spend four hours on that trail and have a great time.”
Mountain bike tourism is one of those invisible industries. Because it takes place out of sight in park, forest and wilderness areas, the average member of the public might not be aware of it, but it’s already huge.
Thanks to heavy ongoing investment in new trails, ever improving trail designs, bike technology and now e-MTB’s, there’s no doubt that the mountain bike tourism market still has fantastic potential for further growth.