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Why mountain bikers love forests

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Young mountain-bike riders’ relationship with the natural environment and its effects on their well-being and lifestyles are explored in a new Research Note published by the Forestry Commission.

The Commission is the leading provider of mountain biking facilities in Britain, and enjoys an international reputation for the quality and quantity of its provision. The author of the Research Note used Bedgebury Forest in Kent, which has a purpose-built mountain-biking facility provided by the Commission, as her case example.

The research employed in-depth research techniques to capture young people’s experiences of mountain biking and to investigate the relationships that they develop with woodland.

It observes that the activity is dominated by young men, with only a small number of young women participating, and explores some of the reasons for this.

The research shows that certain countryside spaces, especially woodlands, are important for young people because they afford a space away from the gaze of adults and from the conflicts associated with other (urban) leisure spaces.

Importantly, Bedgebury Forest offered a range of ‘ready made’ mountain biking spaces for beginners and more experienced riders that participants can use without fear of reprimand. This was in sharp contrast to their experiences of other, privately owned spaces.

Among the conclusions were that:

  • mountain biking in forests provides a space for young people to relax, experience freedom and exert some control over space;
  • mountain bikers fall into a number of different categories with different relationships with the forests, and forest managers need to understand this. As an example, many riders attach importance to having the freedom to design and build their own ‘jumps’ and other features, which has significant legal, health and safety implications, and possibly also environmental implications, for forest managers. The study concludes, however, that there are opportunities for encouraging young people’s involvement in the design and maintenance of mountain biking routes at Forestry Commission sites;
  • mountain biking represents an important tool for engaging young people in outdoor recreation in forest spaces;
  • encouraging young women to participate might require different strategies from those that have engaged young men; and
  • mountain biking in woodland can make an important contribution to the Government’s health agenda. “Nevertheless, in encouraging young people to visit forest spaces to take part in healthy physical activity, forest managers must account for the fact that this activity cannot necessarily be spatially confined, and youth mountain bikers have a tendency to migrate to other areas to build jumps or create new routes because they may offer different opportunities for riding.”

The Research Note is entitled “Lifestyle, identity and young people’s experiences of mountain biking”. It was written by Katherine King, who completed the research for a PhD, which was funded by Forest Research and the University of Brighton.

It is available to download from the on-line publications catalogue at

Media contact: Charlton Clark, 0131 314 6500