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How Mountain Bike Events Can Contribute to Trail Advocacy

How Mountain Bike Events Can Contribute to Trail Advocacy

Session Organizer: Jenn Dice, Former IMBA Government Affairs Director

Steering Committee:

  • Elayna Caldwell, Interbike/Outdoor Demo
  • Chris Conroy, Mountain States Cup/Yeti Cycles
  • Jeff Frost, Sea Otter Classic/MBAA
  • Rand Hubbell, Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Department
  • Tara McCarthy, USA Cycling
  • Mike McCormack, Breck Epic
  • Austin McInerny, National Interscholastic Cycling Association
  • Dave Wiens, Original Growler/Ergon Bike Ergonomics
  • David Zimberoff
  • Jennifer Boldry, Leisure Trends Group

Part 1: Advice for Bringing Advocacy and Racing Closer Together

Think about how powerful the mountain bike community could be if we were better organized. What if event organizers and advocates worked more closely together?

Forty-eight people gathered during the IMBA World Summit in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to brainstorm better ways to work together and collaborate. They represented event and race organizers, bicycle industry sponsors, retailers, advocates and land managers.

If we had just one “desired outcome” or just one “ask” it would be to harness the legions of people that race or participate in mountain bike events into one powerful voice. If we can do that, we might get it all — more trails, more people mountain biking, more people participating and increased political clout.

The discussion in Santa Fe was spirited and productive. We arrived at the following 9 focus areas:

1. Use the Event “Story” to Improve Media Coverage
2. Capture Information with Participant Surveys
3. Increase Racers’ Involvement in Advocacy
4. Grow Participation Through Education and Instruction
5. Create Event Atmosphere and a Sense of Community
6. Reach Out to Gravity Riders
7. Grow Participation in Mountain Bike Events
8. Recommendations: Program Area Needs
9. The Next Steps

1. Use the Event “Story” to Improve Media Coverage

There is a national trend in cycling events to showcase an underlying advocacy story. Getting better at telling the event “story” can garner media attention, bolster attendance and give participants a reason to feel like they are part of a larger community.

Here are some steps to enhance this aspect of your event:

  • Media relations is a learned skill practiced by professionals. Most local marketing chambers have public and media relations pros on staff or retainer. Make time to meet with them to educate them about your event and its positive impact on the community. Typically these folks can and will tap their own journalistic resources to help promote the event and by extension, the community they represent.
  • Collect your online and print press clippings (set up Google alerts) and use them when recapping your event to land managers, town councils and prospective sponsors. Media exposure translates into revenue for communities – take the time to record yours.
  • Cultivate local reporters one on one. Take them to lunch, on a ride so they are engaged and motivated. It is all about relationships as old-school press releases aren’t effective.
  • Offer a strong theme for all media/advocacy relations. Ask yourself, “What does the event deliver back to the community?” Prepare yourself to answer that question with good data.
  • Make sure entire event team has this “event story.” Key for everyone on the event organization team understands the salient three points of what is being done for the local community. The message needs to be circulated to staff, volunteers, clubs and businesses — all involved in the local community and use those partners to extend your media reach.
  • Use different advocacy/story angles besides just a sporting event. Think of unique, creative angles. Perhaps a story of athlete’s nutrition for food and health related stories. Give them more to talk about than just a race.
  • Embed the media/bloggers in the race. Free entries, or have them walk the course and talk to volunteers, spectators, land managers, sponsors, etc.
  • Tell the story of economic impacts. All media kits should demonstrate the economic impacts and benefits of the event to local business.
  • Make a list of media partners. Think about what partners in the community will have strong media reach and use them.
  • Use interns/business students. It is often hard to find time to do public and media relations but using the business angle, consider using interns or business students.
  • How To Use Social Media: Identify a target and a theme, don’t just blast.
  • How to Use Print Media: Print media can be effective if it tells a local story and adds a level of personalization to your event.
  • How to Use Video: No one reads anymore so try to reserve resources to do short videos and short same day videos.

2. Capture Information with Participant Surveys

Every MTB event yields local revenue in a variety of forms. Concrete estimates of economic impact are the key to opening doors in terms of tax revenues, participation, visitor numbers, local spending, jobs created, brand impressions, consumer reach and so on. It is imperative that race/event promoters capture data and report back on the economic impact they have achieved. Show land managers, elected officials and race sponsors the money!

Tips for effective surveys:

  • Offer incentives: Response rates increase when participants are offered incentives and they don’t have to be grandiose (small prize for every 20th respondent, lottery for grand prize, discounted entry fees for the next event, instead of race SWAG — use product as a token of appreciation for providing data)
  • Appeal to participants to “do the right thing” — racers will be responsive to appeals to provide data that will help events survive and thrive. Use messaging like: “Did you enjoy the race? Want to do it again next year? Help us make sure you can!” Similarly, messaging that encourages participants to provide feedback to improve the event in the future will resonate.
  • Survey additional constituencies such as non-participants and community members.
  • Some kind of data is better than nothing: You don’t have to do a complex full-scale survey to get directional reads on event revenue. Interviewing local businesses, collecting hotel fill rates post-hoc, using secondary data (e.g., sales figures from local bike shops businesses, tax revenues, etc.) all provide data that can be leveraged to gain event support. Use the number of registrants and attendees (spectators and support staff) then assign them multipliers for line items such as entry fees, lodging, groceries, dining, etc.
  • Make sure post-event review surveys are done right after the event as people lose interest and accuracy each day you delay.
  • Make changes and communicate with participants: Participants want to be heard and demonstrating changes that you make based on their feedback goes a long way.
  • Same-day surveys will have higher response rates and more accurate data: By the time participants pick-up their event packets, they have a good sense of how much they will spend and on what — collect their data while the wait in line to register or when they pick up their registration packets. If this poses logistic issues, save the SWAG for after the race and exchange it for data from participants during the after-party.
  • Identify partners that can take on part/all of the cost of the survey: Many Convention and Visitor Bureaus are also in the business of event economic impact surveys and will sometimes conduct them for the organizer. Some of their data can be great complimentary data to fill out your direct surveys at the event. They are in the business of bringing people to town so think about what other creative partnerships can help you.
  • Spread the word: Once you have collected/analyzed the data, make sure all community stakeholders hear about the results so they can be leveraged with land managers and local elected officials. Set up meetings after the event to “tell the story.” Leverage local media and social media as well.
  • Survey basics: Ask about number in party, number of overnights, lodging options, meals/groceries purchased, food, demographics, method/distance of travel, gas, gear, services (bike shops, massage), will you come back, did you come early? The survey doesn’t have to be complicated, make it simple and get it done.
  • Separate survey for land managers: Reach out and ask them specific questions on how the event was from their angle and how to improve? Not only provides useful information but gives those impacted by the event a voice.
  • Retailer survey: How much are people spending on bike gear and are there peaks before, during and after the event? Survey IBD’s and chains. These data can make a powerful argument for race sponsorship.
  • Support advocacy: Include questions such as: “Do you know that proceeds from this race will be going to the local community bike park? Do you want to be notified about opportunities to help? Join IMBA at checkout or make a contribution to IMBA at checkout?”

3. Increase Racers’ Involvement in Advocacy

If local advocacy initiatives were to harness the power of race/event attendees, mountain bikers would have much greater political clout and more and better trail access. Universally, attendees at our Santa Fe gathering talked about the power of uniting and combining key initiatives and that the power of people attending events that could help fuel campaigns for new trails, better access or conservation.

Tips to increase racers’ participation in advocacy:

  • Make it Cool: Enticing the “Red Bull” or gravity crowd to care and give back makes advocacy cool and mainstream. Guilt never works and if you aren’t careful, advocacy can be nerdy or wonky — make it cool and part of a larger, more dynamic movement. Aspire to be like Surfrider and the surfing community.
  • Make it Easy: Look for “60-second advocacy” options. The simpler and easier the better.
  • Make it Visible: Where to attendees go where they can see your messaging or are motivated to act?
  • Tell the Story: Point to new trails or trail areas that were a direct success story or reason to get involved.
  • Pre- and Post-Event Advocacy is Key: Organizers need to be aware that the day of a race is not always the best time to get racers to commit to advocacy. Sprinkling in the message in pre- and post-event communications and referencing it on the day of is enough.
  • Repetition Works: Repeating advocacy messages in small, 60-second chunks is important in the process of building a shared consciousness of issues.
  • Walk the Talk: Advocacy needs to be worn on the sleeve of a race promoter. People want to know the organizer cares that they are contributing and they are part of something bigger than just one day.
  • Different Strokes: People are motivated different ways and it is important to tailor a message regarding internal vs. externally motivated people. Some want PayDirt programs for race points and “credit,” others garner satisfaction from giving back. Some want to join, others just want to write a check, others will sign a petition, make a phone call or engage via some other channel.
  • Get Rid of Angry Advocates: Angry advocates are downers and deter people from participating.
  • Dead Body Syndrome: Advocacy messages resonate when there is a harm or “dead body” or telling the story of the threat. Look to organizations like the NRA and the Sierra Club for models you can borrow.

4. Grow Participation Through Education and Instruction

Simple tips could help increase event participation, demystify mountain biking and get more people into the sport.

Tips to increase participation with these techniques:

  • Reduce Race Intimidation: Race is a four-letter word to some so make it less scary through clinics, shorter beginner options, pre-rides and staggered starts based on skill or gender. Create short videos of the event terrain so people can see level of difficulty.
  • Include education as part of your event: People are hungry for gear and skill tips and training.
  • “Cool Kids” Post-Event Education: Successful events outside of the industry require athletes to stick around and do a question and answer after the race. Make your top-finishers stay back to answer beginner questions.
  • Retention Surveys: Survey your participants to learn about if they had a horrible experience, how to keep them, how to help them learn?
  • Activate IMBA Chapters and USA Cycling Clubs: Look for groups or retailers in your area that might already be doing beginner and educational mountain bike training and collaborate.
  • Make Kids Racecourses Good: So many times the kids race is an afterthought and on a course that would not entice them to come back. Put some effort into a great first-time kids experience.
  • Kids Teaching Kids: Boy Scouts teach riding clinics and help cut down on the perception of “I’ll never be as good as my adult instructor.”
  • Mentor Program: Get volunteers to mentor a newbie for a race and reduce the intimidation factors.
  • Make Courses Friendly to New Comers: Make sure there are beginner lines and short course options so that you progress new racers slowly and keep them (rather than scaring them away when their first course is too difficult and intimidating).
  • Truth in Labeling: Clearly communicate race difficulty before participants sign up so you don’t scare people away who are in over their head.
  • Engage Retailers: Have pre-rides, mentor programs and clinics through local retailers leading up to the event.

5. Create Event Atmosphere and a Sense of Community

Participants agreed that creating a sense of community and the atmosphere surrounding the race is almost more important that the race itself. Fostering great camaraderie and community can be the difference between growing event participation and stifling the sport.

Tips to create a positive community atmosphere:

  • Offer Multiple Activities: Diversify your activity offering to appeal to more people and the friends and family of your primary audience. Beer gardens, music, kids events, social and competitive rides.
  • Festival Atmosphere: Make sure that your event has a festive, fun atmosphere that is non-intimidating. Examine every aspect of your event and look for things that might send the wrong signal and re-engineer. Everything about the start/finish area should suggest a party atmosphere and ideally integrate with a downtown, public area. Think about ways to keep people at your venue longer — childcare, food, bike maintenance, cold/hot weather and try to plan for it.
  • Steal From Another Playbook: Rock-n-Roll marathons with bands, Danskin triathlons with women’s empowerment themes, drive-in movie theater/race for racers and families, beer tents, bacon, cherry pies at the end of the race, think of little things and novelties to make an impression.
  • Community Sponsored Aid Stations: A great way to involve the community is to ask certain sectors (advocacy groups, chambers, churches) to sponsor aid stations and also raise money for their causes. One idea is to have participants vote on the best aid station and money goes back to that group.
  • Invite VIPS Elected Officials, Chambers, Staff: Make sure to reach out to relevant elected officials and their staff and invite them to come and see, first hand, the impact the venue has on the community. With hundreds of constituents gathered at one location, this could have a very lasting impression. Staff is just a good as elected officials so really reach out to staff.
  • Report Back to VIPs: Schedule a time to go back to chambers, local elected official offices and report back on the success of the venue. In Idaho, National Bike Summit participants schedule a time to present to the city council on their trip to the National Bike Summit just to report back on the impact it had.
  • Treat a Land Manager Like Your Biggest Sponsor: Make sure you aren’t simply filling out the permitting process, and waiting to hear back. Treat your land manager/permitee like your largest corporate sponsor and regularly visit them, take them out for coffee and make sure you have a two-way relationship and open lines of communication with them.

6. Reach Out to Gravity Riders

The largest missing segment and one that offers the tremendous promise is engaging gravity riders in trail building and advocacy. If advocacy and events are tailored to the unique needs and desires of gravity riders, it will fall flat.

Tips for engaging gravity riders:

  • Seek Gravity Riders Opinions: It is important to actively seek out gravity riders early to get their opinion and input.
  • Embrace the “Dig” Culture: Gravity riders like to build and have a culture that embraces it. If they feel listened to and included, this is an incredible opportunity and field to tap.
  • Pro Design: Help merge coolness factor with professionally built technical trail.
  • Peer-to-Peer: Must be social and it it won’t work for the old guys to tell them what to do, it has to be peer driven.
  • Work Both Sides of the Aisle: Have XC riders dig on DH trails and then more likely to have DH build on XC trails. Incorporate “Flow” trail elements as they appeal to both user groups.
  • Build with Both in Mind: Build courses that meet in the middle — x-c courses with gravity features and vice versa.

7. Grow Participation in Mountain Bike Events

How to get more people to participate in events, increase retention and grow mountain biking? The two way street – how to send event participants to advocacy and advocates to participate in events?

Tips to grow event participation:

  • Design A “Place” Your Client Fits In: Think about all the different kinds of cyclists and the “place” they are at with their skill, interest, and involvement that could help grow the sport. Designing niches that appeal to different segments that can help grow the sport is key. Kids events, racers, endurance, endure, Fondos, non-competitive events, multi-sport, different lengths, many categories for skill, help provide an experience that appeals to more people and helps set them up to come back.
  • Informed Feedback is Key: Will they come back again and will they bring friends? Surveys and mining social media to see what the liked/disliked about the event is critical.
  • Professional Training: Making sure people have a good first experience, have tailored clinics, are similar in scope to the Professional Ski/Snowboard Instruction Association program.
  • Kids Growth: NICA has a great model to follow as does the Boy Scouts with Scouts teaching Scouts. Kids progression programs, gravity snow kids make the leap to cycling well. Make sure Kids courses are a great, first time experience and not just cobbled together as an afterthought.
  • Fondos and Enduros Were Noted as Growth Areas: Creating events that appeal to more people and cross sections is important and it seemed like there was strong growth potential in Fondos and with the Enduro category.
  • Mainstream Media/Rockstar Talent: There are a lot of celebrities that ride and musicians and it was noted that to grow the sport we should augment their involvement in mainstream media. Also, local communities like the idea of bringing in the big name racers (Red Bull racers) and think of non-race related events – for example, donut-eating contest with Tom Danielson and Patrick Dempsey.
  • Branding Events to the Community: Making sure the local community understands your race brand is key and anything you can do to play it up in the local media is important. One organizer has his volunteers in superhero costumes as course marshals. Another is known for his white squirrels and has staff dress up as white squirrels and walk around town advertising his event.
  • Atmosphere: The atmosphere around the event is extremely important and the festival type party at the end is as important as the race itself. One race promoter puts on the event at a local drive-in theater so after the race, families can stay for a film.
  • Perceived Value of Race Registration Costs: Many people complain about the cost of events and it is important that organizers communicate the value of their events so people feel like there is a good return on their price.
  • Look Outside of Usual Suspects: Often event organizers go back to the people who have participated year in and year out, rather than looking in the community of current cyclists that could be persuaded to attend. Possible participants could be local retail group rides, youth groups, regional IMBA clubs and chapters, roadies, etc.

8. Recommendations: Program Area Needs

Along with the bulleted advice offered in this document, the Race Promoters Session also identified a 15-point list of long-term needs for bringing the bike advocacy and bike racing realms closer together.

  1. Capture the Economic Impact of Mountain Bike Events: IMBA, Leisure Trends Group, and USA Cycling could partner to aggregate the data from samples of small/medium/large events to project the total economic impact mountain bike events bring to the U.S. (regional break-downs are contingent on sample size by region).  This project was identified as one of the top needs/programs from participants.
  2. Templates: IMBA and Leisure Trends Group could collect race/event promoter survey formats to create one, best practice template for pre, during, and post event surveys. This template could be modified for use for events of all sizes/scopes. This was also one of the top desires from the days leaders and a “must do” recommendation from the committee.
  3. Best Practices: There were several key barriers posed in terms of collecting economic impact data. Participants indicated that it would be beneficial to collect best practices and distribute them among event promoters.
  4. Equation of Distributed Revenue: The equation of distributed revenue needs to be documented and disseminated so that event organizers can have a basic formula to use.
  5. Data Collection/Sharing: Sharing or co-promoting events and advocacy campaigns is critical to increasing political clout.  Programs to encourage or incentivize this are greatly needed. Options to sign up, contribute and join are needed for both sides and templates of best practices need to be shared.
  6. “Cool Kids” for Advocacy Incentives: Sponsors and organizers could help with the image of advocacy and giving back by requiring advocacy messaging, involvement and membership with pro sponsorship contracts. Media and messaging with the gravity community could go a long way to get more involved. A simple “cool kid” showing up at the expo event for advocacy brings attention and clout.
  7. Trained Certified Coaches, Standards and Organization: Nationwide coaches training and certification program is greatly needed to standardize and certify coaches similar to Professional Ski/Snowboard Instructors Association (PSIA).
  8. Professional Vocations for Gravity Riders: Help the gravity side see the benefits of becoming a professional trail designer/builder.  Develop scholarships for continuing education.
  9. National Events Database/Calendar: IMBA or another entity could organize a service of all the events across the country or even internationally.  One central repository of dates and information is greatly needed.
  10. National Media Lists: IMBA or USA cycling could organize all the national media and help spread the word about events or help race organizers do the same.  It could be a fee-based subscription service or come with your IMBA race promoter membership.
  11. Feeder Events: Many events sell out in minutes and there are hundreds of customers left on the table that wanted to race what they perceived as a signature event.  How can we set up more feeder events to get these people racing and make it not seem like a consolation prize? How can we bolster more races to sell out in minutes like some of the big ones do? Have day-before events, separate kids races, first-timer preference or day and market them as also life changing like the big ones.
  12. Better Technology/Database and Registration Services: Online registration systems are entirely taxed and many race promoters would like to ask questions about IMBA, allow for donations and membership but some need better systems to be able to offer advocacy at the time of registration.
  13. Underwriting Events: How can we make races more low cost so that isn’t a barrier to entry? Community 10K racers are often free and we need more low-cost entry-level events, with demo bikes, to get people interested and involved.
  14. Instruction and Education is Needed: The sport is hard to start and more and better education and instruction is critical.  There was considerable conversation about how poor the status quo is and how we need a better system that is standardized for mountain bike training and education.
  15. Industry Rep Involvement: Consider how to encourage regional product reps help to grow participation, events and advocacy.


9. The Next Steps

The steering committee is looking for opportunities to incorporate this report and ideas for moving the dialogue forward — we hope you will join the conversation.

If you use some of these ideas, work closely with advocacy or want to be part of the next meeting please let IMBA know and look for a possible race promoters session at the National Bike Summit, Interbike, Sea Otter and IMBA and USA cycling events around the country. 

Additional Resources:

  • International Mountain Bicycling Association:
  • USA Cycling:
  • National Interscholastic Cycling Association:

The IMBA World Summit received generous title sponsorship from the Federal Highway Administration & the Bikes Belong Coalition.