DH ain’t dead, but the fu­ture’s not look­ing rosy

Mountain Biking UK - - UPLIFT -

THE UK IS fa­mous for its down­hill scene, with our small isle pro­duc­ing some of the world’s top rac­ers. But with both the Bri­tish Down­hill Se­ries (BDS) and SDA (Scot­tish Down­hill As­so­ci­a­tion) can­celling races this year and BDS or­gan­iser Si Pa­ton an­nounc­ing that he’s step­ping down, it begs the ques­tion, what’s hap­pen­ing to UK DH?

On a world­wide scale, the sport is boom­ing. More view­ers than ever are tun­ing in to watch World Cups online and a record 22,000 spec­ta­tors at­tended Fort Wil­liam last year. Away from the spot­light though, or­gan­is­ers are struggling with dwin­dling num­bers and ris­ing over­heads. Sim­ply put, fewer peo­ple are racing down­hill – and en­duro has a lot to an­swer for that.

When a trail bike can do so much, it’s dif­fi­cult to jus­tify

own­ing and main­tain­ing an­other bike. With bike parks spring­ing up all over the place, peo­ple are less in­clined to drive long dis­tances to get their grav­ity fix – es­pe­cially to visit the same venues we’ve been racing at for the past 15 years. What’s the in­cen­tive, when you can go to an en­duro and ride fresh­ly­cut stages all week­end? For many, the for­mat of en­duro trumps DH too. Would you rather ride all day on mul­ti­ple tracks or sit around wait­ing for one shot at the prize?

And even the prize isn’t as al­lur­ing as it used to be. Be­fore so­cial me­dia, the path­way to be­com­ing a pro rider was to win races, but these days the in­dus­try sets as much store by In­sta­gram fol­low­ers as podium places. A rider who pro­motes ‘the life­style’ in videos is more al­lur­ing to spon­sors than a mid-pack Elite-level racer. Why com­mit to the cost, time, pres­sure and risk of racing when the re­wards aren’t there for any­one out­side the World Cup top 20?

Re­gional race or­gan­is­ers need to think about how they can lure peo­ple back. Whether that be by racing on new trails or mix­ing up the for­mat with one-day races or by adding a trail bike cat­e­gory – as Si Pa­ton has done. At a na­tional level, we can hope that the pop­u­lar­ity of World Cup DH will at­tract big­ger spon­sor­ship for do­mes­tic racing, but achiev­ing this is down to Bri­tish Cy­cling. They need to recog­nise the im­por­tance of home­grown racing and sup­port it, be­cause if it dies, then the step­ping stone to World Cup racing is gone and where’s the next Danny Hart or Rachel Ather­ton go­ing to come from?

Pre­vi­ous page and top The Fort Wil­liam track is a clas­sic and the BDS round held there al­ways at­tracts plenty of in­ter­na­tional rid­ers keen to get some prac­tice in be­fore the World Cup comes to town Above Bri­tain has pro­duced an as­ton­ish­ing six DH world...

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