The Responsibility of the Trail and Life After Racing

In conversation with mountain biker Manon Carpenter

Feature type Interview

Published Jan 17, 2022

Author Hannah Bailey

Photographer Saskia Dugon

Hannah Bailey
Hannah Bailey Hannah is an award-winning photographer and journalist who works tirelessly to shine the spotlight on women in action sports. She shows the real faces, telling genuine stories of those involved in the niche culture to inspire others to get involved and society as a whole.

Can you tell us a bit about how you started mountain biking and formed a passion for it?

Growing up, I was immersed in bike riding culture. My dad was heavily involved in organising races in South Wales. I tagged along, and was always around the scene as a child. And then I transitioned into riding. When I got older, and could travel around, the mountain bike world was a great place for me, and an exciting scene to be in, full of great people and it was a good challenge. 

It was a gradual transition into the competitive scene. With my dad being part of the race scene the way he was, I was very lucky – I went from local races, where I was riding for fun, and just gradually made my way onto the international scene. It was never a huge jump, and all of a sudden I was on the World Cup stage as a Junior! Back then, 10 years ago, there weren’t as many women racing. My first year out of school, I decided to give it a go and race full-time, putting everything into it. That led to me continuing for six years on the World Cup circuit. 

As you have progressed, where has your motivation with riding shifted to?

Before the end of my racing career, I decided I wanted to go back to university. I’d always thought I would do that but it had been put on the back-burner while I was racing. I had some big injuries and felt like I’d put everything I had into my racing career. So once I started feeling like I was done with the race circuit, it was time to step away. 

When I stepped away from the race scene I was just riding for fun, riding for me and enjoying bigger adventures, heading out and getting lost for the day. I have played in lots of different areas of mountain biking since then, but really enjoying the adventures I can have on a bike and taking the time to be outside. When you are racing, everything is about going as fast as you can and improving as much as you can, so, for me, over the last few years, it’s been nice to slow down a little and just enjoy.

Right now, I mix studying for a PHD in Geology part-time with bike riding, which is what I do with my time off. What I am doing in biking is constantly evolving but I like the balance that the mix of study and bikes gives me. They are two completely different perspectives and two completely different worlds. I have also transitioned into the media production-side of mountain biking, managing a few smaller films recently. And this past year I have been delving into a bigger project, looking into how we access spaces on mountain bikes. It is all quite varied! 

Where do you call home and your local trail? And what is it like?

Caerphilly, just outside Cardiff in South Wales is my home. I travelled a lot during my years racing, but here has always been home for me. I can ride in three different directions from my house and be out in the hills for hours. Most of the trails are in the trees, steep and rooty, with lots of turns, which is a common theme in South Wales- winding through the trees! There are quite a variety, which is surprising because we are on the edge of Cardiff – the capital city of Wales. There really is a lot that can be found.

So how did the film idea come about?

I got inspired around this time last year on a bike ride. I was thinking how great it is, getting to explore through riding bikes off-road. Last year, we could go for a ride from the house, do a loop within the local area and just have a great day out. I thought how great it is, but then realised how much of what we ride isn’t official – or isn’t necessarily allowed – and also how inaccessible it is for so many people, who wouldn’t know where to start. 

I got chatting with filmmaker and mountain biker Tommy Wilkinson, who I knew was interested in similar topics. It’s complex, and has taken a while to develop exactly what we want to show with the film, but we want to look at how we access trails in the UK, the benefits MTB can bring, and speak to people with real experience of managing trails, or land. We want to think about what the future for trails might look like, and how that can be achieved. 

As riders, a lot of us aren’t really aware of what goes on behind the scenes, either about the riders building the trails, or the people that manage or own the land and are deciding what to do about it. It has been really interesting to learn about all of this, and to bring it together in one coherent project. 

Do you feel a responsibility to share these messages and awareness to educate others?

Yes, for different reasons. During the past year, there have been real examples of tension between different users, such as walkers and cyclists. It’s important that we raise awareness around what we can do on our side about that; being responsible cyclists and not making a mess, being aware of where we are riding and how we interact with others on the trail. I have benefited so much from the trails in my area and across the UK, so I’d like to create, or add to, some important conversations. I’m sure there will be many different opinions out there, which is why we want to speak with people with real experiences and get a range of views. 

Do you think the mountain bike community is going to be welcoming to this topic?

It’s a hard one. There are definitely riders who are happy with how things are, and want to continue getting away with whatever we can. But there is also the fact that more and more people are taking up mountain biking, and there are more people discovering the outdoors in general. It will come to a point where something needs to change. So I think many will welcome a discussion. Irrespective of whether there will be a definite conclusion – or just offered opinions – it will be interesting!

How did you come to be working with Patagonia?

I started speaking to Patagonia last summer, telling the team about my plans and what I wanted to do in the future. I had just finished my undergraduate degree, and we were just chatting about all sorts of topics that we aligned on. I was invited to a Patagonia Virtual Ambassador summit last summer. We mountain bikers joined in as the newbies. It was cool to meet everyone and get involved. It went from there!

What is it about Patagonia’s values that resonates with you?

I have always respected Patagonia as a brand – the way I think any outdoor enthusiast would. It really seems to be a company that cares, and leads the way in talking about, or acting on, social and environmental issues, as well as producing really high quality outdoor gear. 

I try to make conscious or positive decisions on my impact. It’s not perfect but the intent is there to do better and I think that is very much the same with Patagonia: trying to do better and trying to use its influence where it can.

What do you think it could bring to the MTB scene?

I think Patagonia is really excited about coming into the scene and amplifying the climate and environmental discussion. It’s not talked about a lot in mountain biking, but it is definitely creeping in. 

There is space for a lot more conversation! It will be interesting to see how that goes, and how Patagonia will approach that. 

There are brands in mountain biking starting to make products much more responsibly, and Patagonia will contribute to that in a big way. It leads the way on doing things better in many sports, but now Patagonia will be coming into a scene as the new kid on the block! I think it will be a positive addition, and there is a lot of knowledge Patagonia can bring from years of experience producing technical equipment for other outdoor pursuits. 

Do you see the environmental impact of climate change on trails or in your travels?

The biggest impacts that mountain bikers have seen recently are the floods. There have been a good few events cancelled because the trails have been washed away and the local infrastructure destroyed. More frequent, extreme flooding events will be a trend in the future. Last February, we had the wettest month on record, which caused huge erosion for trails and major problems for people living in the worst affected areas. Also, as mountain bikers, we spend a lot of time in the woods in managed plantations, such as a lot of the woodland in South Wales. Larch disease is a big problem here, which we can’t do anything about, except washing our bikes to reduce its spread. It means a lot of forests that have trails have been obliterated through felling, and it’s affecting the whole region. From what I’ve read, larch disease isn’t directly linked to climate change, but it does show the devastating effect plant diseases can have, and changing climate and environmental conditions will impact the plant disease – in many ways that can’t yet be predicted. 

How do you think we can make mountain biking more inclusive for all?

I think representation is really important. You can’t be what you can’t see – or at least seeing others that we can relate to doing something makes it seem more inviting or realistic.  Whether it’s gender, ethnicity, physical ability or class – or simply your way of life. I think showing that all walks of life are welcome and able to get outdoors and active is really positive. In mountain biking, working towards making representation in mountain biking more representative of the general population would be a strong step in the right direction.

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