14 May 2024

It is not often that the international mountain bike industry must sit up and take notice of decisions by national courts, but a recent ruling by the highest court of the Netherlands is a critical case study that concerns everyone in the sector. Next week’s International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) European Summit near Vienna will see the industry and other stakeholders gather to look at the future of mountain biking and this case will undoubtedly be a source of much reflection, but no celebration. 

On the surface it seemed very simple. The Dutch Forest Commission planned to rezone a forested area and relocate some of the popular and well-used recreational trail network supported by local voluntary trail association, with full support of the local riding community. The result will be improved conservation of a sensitive area in the forest and better trails. 

The shock, and indeed frustration for the sector is that this resulted in a 13-year legal battle which has just been concluded, when the State Court agreed that the move is legal.

Why is this so important for the industry?

The first concern is the basis for the objections, largely based on wildlife and biodiversity conservation, including EU regulation for species protection. Cyclists of all kinds usually regard themselves as low impact and non-intrusive users of the countryside, without the noise, pollution, waste or impact on the landscape of mass tourism and motorized vehicles. That includes responsible mountain bikers, like the MTB Noordwest group in this case. But globally recreational activity is increasingly coming in conflict with the interests of conservation, and mountain biking is an easy target for objections. This case proves that mountain biking can demonstrate sympathy with the environment, which will give confidence to others facing similar challenges. 

Secondly the sector was not initially well prepared for the scale and determination of the campaign to limit mountain biking. We all owe a huge debt to the volunteers of MTB Noordwest who never let go of the challenges and did not get sucked into the negativity of the situation. There have been multiple court cases, high legal costs and challenges to all involved in the media and the community. When this project started nobody could have imagined that it would take 13 years, and involve such complex legal procedures. It was not appropriate for companies to get involved directly in these actions, because accusations of corporate interest could perhaps inflame the tensions, but what it does highlight is the need to recognise local voluntary trail associations who are sometimes the only voices on the ground when MTB access is challenged.

How will Cycling Industries Europe and the wider mountain bike industry respond?

Since we founded CIE we, and several of our members, have been supporting IMBA Europe to develop a stronger Europe-wide advocacy network for mountain biking and since 2022 we formalised that with a collaboration agreement and some core funding from our companies’ membership fees.

This creates a stronger platform for sharing knowledge and experience across mountain biking and enables IMBA Europe to channel knowledge and education to those facing access challenges.

We have also founded a special interest group in our membership, where product managers and public affairs specialists can meet to share our expertise on how we can best support the defence and growth of mountain biking. More companies are always welcome!

But that’s not enough. There is a strong case for every brand to look at the locations and markets where your products are being used and ask “how can we help here?”. Local trail groups might welcome some financial and practical support in promotional, legal and marketing activities. And if there are battles to come, reassure them that they can rely on their industry community to back them. We believe that is part of our duty to the amazing people who keep our local mountain biking alive. 

To find out more:

IMBA Europe Summit – register here 

IMBA Europe news story on the case here.

CIE Mountain Bike Interest Group – join us!

Picture by: Edoardo Melchiori 








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