Rough Riderz gravity biking club was formed in 2006 to help disabled and able-bodied mountain bikers participate in the UK’s newest downhill mountain biking (MTB) scene, and promote it as an integrated sport nationwide.
Club members ride specially-designed four-wheeled mountain bikes, using gravity alone to propel themselves down purpose-built downhill MTB trails. By raising awareness, they hope to increase interest in the sport, creating a more vibrant and inclusive biking scene.
Originally designed for wheelchair users, ‘gravity’ bikes have no pedals and rely solely on the downhill gradient of trails to propel them along the off-road technical terrain associated with regular mountain bike riding.
Based in Preston, Rough Riderz club secretary Phil Hall has been travelling to Scotland to test as many trails as possible to find suitable venues for this innovative and accessible new sport. Locations at which they have ridden and tested on four wheels include Glentress and Innerleithen, Mabie Forest, Ae Forest, Laggan Wolftrax and Fort William.
“As a paraplegic downhill rider and huge extreme sports fan, I wanted to find a way for those with access needs to experience the thrill of downhill mountain biking. Riding on a gravity bike is such a great, fun sport, we quickly realised it should be available to all, and we have many able-bodied members now, too.
“We have always enjoyed visiting Scotland, which offers a network of the best downhill trails anywhere in the UK. We have had a really warm welcome and the chance to ride some of the best and most stunning venues in the country, with favourites including Ae, Laggan and Fort William.
“The club is currently involved in designing a practical and affordable new bike, intended to be easy to ride, service and repair. We are aiming for this to be ready to purchase by the end of the year.”
Malcolm Roughead, Chief Executive of VisitScotland, said:
“It is fantastic to hear that Scottish mountain bike trails and tracks are attracting both four wheel as well as the traditional two-wheel bikers. Mountain biking in Scotland is an incredibly popular sport, largely due to the great terrain and scenery. These amazing gravity bikes ensure this extreme sport is more accessible and inclusive, opening up the experience of riding some of the most exciting mountain bike trails in the world up to many more people in Scotland.
“Our country has a global reputation for cycling and in the UK alone it is estimated that there are 11 million people who own a mountain bike. From cycling tours around the incredible Highlands to mountain biking in the Scottish Borders and Dumfries & Galloway, there is a huge opportunity for Scottish tourism.
“This interest also boosts the visitor economy locally, as hotels, restaurants and accommodation providers are all amongst businesses who can capitalise on the back of the sport’s popularity, often outwith the traditional tourist season.”
Such visitors will often stay at more remote and rural locations, generating income for smaller villages and towns not always visited on the traditional tourist trail. This has been demonstrated in Moray, where businesses in Tomintoul and Glenlivet have benefited directly from the opening of the mountain biking trails at the Glenlivet Estate, including during the traditionally quieter winter months.
Accessible tourism is valued at £1.5bn to the Scottish economy and its contribution to domestic tourism in Scotland has increased by 20% since 2009, demonstrating the huge potential economic benefits to hundreds of businesses and services across the country in catering for this market. Currently, of the over 11 million disabled people in Britain, only around two million take a holiday because many find it just too difficult, so this is largely an untapped market.
Earlier this year, VisitScotland announced up to £29,000 in funding for two mountain biking events in the Scottish Borders this year. The TweedLove Enduro World Series event and the British Mountain Bike Marathon Championships secured investment from EventScotland, the events team at VisitScotland, through its National Programme.
Anyone wanting to try gravity biking for themselves can book a taster day session with the Rough Riderz club. These days are currently hosted at the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, or Whinlatter Forest in Cumbria, with plans to extend the experience to other parts of the UK in the future. All the relevant details needed to book a session can be found at www.roughriderz.co.uk
More information on cycling in Scotland can be found here:http://www.visitscotland.com/see-do/activities/cycling/ and on mountain biking in Scotland here: http://www.visitscotland.com/see-do/activities/mountain-biking/