Scottish Mountain Bike Mental Health Program Set to Expand in 2021

Photo: DMBinS

In 2019 we shared the story of a Scottish research and ride team that had started a pilot program taking folks on trail rides as part of their mental health treatment. In 2021 they plan to expand the trail therapy project with additional locations. The managed risk that we all experience while mountain biking provides countless opportunities to work with participants on life challenges and any barriers to improving their mental health. Check out the original article for a full rundown of the program’s goals and execution.

The first full season of trail therapy wrapped up even better than expected, with riders reporting a range of positive benefits from their time on the bike. Napier University Associate Professor Tony Westbury, who has been involved in the program since its inception, hopes to have the analysis published sometime this year. With those findings in hand, alongside the demonstrated efficacy of the program, the team plans to share its methods and means with other groups that are eager to start similar programs. Given the heightened mental health concerns that rose alongside the global pandemic, they will be plenty busy moving forward.

Since the first season of activity, the team at Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland (DMBinS) was keen to investigate how to work with more groups across Scotland and potential sources of funding to enable their activity. This scope and fundraising takes time and effort and, through internal funding within Scottish Cycling, Cristine Fox, whose main role is a Mountain Bike Leadership Development Co-ordinator, was able to devote one day per week. Alongside DMBinS Co-coordinator Graeme McLean, the two are leading the trail therapy initiative forward. Their work included applying for grants and other funding, coordinating with other care providers, and now preparing volunteers to work with participants in the forest. Of course, that’s all in addition to many other exciting MTB initiatives they are both working on.

This past year has been really challenging and we know that the number of cases of people experiencing periods of mental ill-health have dramatically increased. We also know the body of evidence which is overwhelming in the importance of getting people into the outdoors. It is great to have sourced funding that will help people at various stages of mental ill-health and make mountain biking part of their recovery. This may come in the form of working with therapists and making mountain biking part of the clients’ therapeutic process or just getting people out into the outdoors, enjoying riding to help them self-regulate their mental health. It will all be driven by the needs of the client.”

Christine Fox

With the growth of the program, they were able to hire a professional guide to lead sessions and help develop the curriculum. While the position for that ride leader was publically posted Fox and McLean received a wave of offers from passionate mountain bikers and professionals to volunteer in the 2021 season which should help out immensely.

At the time we spoke the DMBinS team had received a sizable chunk of funding from Nature Scotland, which is a national organization aimed at protecting nature and getting more people out into the forest as a means of preserving it. Fox and McLean said that Nature Scotland has been super supportive, and wants to make trail therapy part of their green health initiative. Trek Bikes and Edinburgh Napier University have also come on board with some much-needed support.

Participants will have gone through a bike mechanics and bike building course prior to hitting the trails, helping to familiarize them with the machine before heading into the woods. As with the previous trail therapy sessions, the riders are self-selected with support from staff at National Health Scotland mental health services.

The hope is to kick things off in May this year, Covid willing, and to continue the search for additional funding both nationally and through the bike industry for the following season. We will publish a summary of the official research findings as soon as It’s available.