Scotland is at the vanguard of mountain bike innovation, not just in terms of products and integration but in trail design. One of the top destinations in the world for the sport, the country has a national mountain biking strategy that goes up to 2025, and in 2023 will be hosting the inaugural Cycling World Championships, featuring 13 different disciplines. It’s estimated that the hundreds of thousands of visitors to its mountain biking centres bring in £150m a year to the Scottish economy.
Edinburgh Napier University’s Professor Geraint Florida James has been closely involved in this mountain biking success story over the past twenty years. Initially focused on mountain biking research, using data gathered in real time from bikes and athletes, Professor Florida-James and team also worked with Scottish Cycling on an innovative sports science support programme with then National Downhill Coach, Chris Ball (now Director of the Enduro World Series). Both World Champions Ruaridh Cunningham and Reece Wilson were athletes on this programme.
Business ‘speed-dating’ in Scotland
In 2012 Professor Florida-James was approached by Moira Forsyth from Scottish Enterprise, which had identified the mountain biking industry as an exciting prospect that could help stimulate the remote rural economy. Scottish Enterprise was looking for an academic collaborator to advise on research; and together with Scottish Cycling’s Graham McLean (Head of Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland), the three partners embarked on an exploratory road trip around the country, meeting interested parties on a ‘speed dating’ type exercise.
Professor Florida-James recalls: “We would jump in a car, head round the country and if anyone had an idea for something to do with mountain biking they could come and speak to us. It was a fantastic opportunity for us to respond to their needs - and a very different model of academic engagement, which allowed us to reach out to riders and to build connections with a wide range of companies and personalities.”
One of the first companies involved was Scottoiler, which offered an innovative oiling system for bike mechanisms. “We were able to show that their product offered significant performance gains to athletes, and that allowed them to take their product forward and develop it in another direction, founding a sister company,” Professor Florida-James explains.
We were able to show that their product offered significant performance gains to athletes, and that allowed them to take their product forward and develop it in another direction...
Testing biking ideas and products
In 2014 Professor Florida-James became the lead academic for the Mountain Biking Centre of Scotland (MTBCOS), set up at the Trail Head of Glentress, one of Scotland’s ‘7 Stanes’ mountain biking centres. MTBCOS is the world’s first centre for open innovation in the mountain bike industry, with partners Scottish Enterprise and Scottish Cycling. Glentress is visited by 300,000 bikers a year, offering an unparalleled opportunity for businesses to access consumers in order to develop ideas and test and refine products. MTBCOS offers a full spectrum of innovation and support services and to date, over 200 businesses have benefitted from this support.
The success of the Glentress partnership has secured a potential £19 million from the Borderlands Regional Growth Deal to establish the world’s first Mountain Biking Innovation Centre, Bike park and Trail Lab in Innerleithen in the Scottish Borders. If plans are approved it is hoped that the development will open in 2023, coinciding with the Cycling World Championships being held in Scotland, the first time that every cycling world championships will be held in one country.
Professor Florida-James has been closely involved with developing the business case for the Innerleithen Project: “We’re already getting interest from around the world: the industry is really excited about our ability to test and gather data both in the Trail Lab and the Innovation Centre Labs, making this a seamless offering of tailored support.” An area of research already realising commercial potential is around vibration exposure, an issue which can negatively impact on rider health and performance.
A bright future
MTBCOS is an invited founding member of Cycling Industries Europe and also a full Network Partner of The National Manufacturing Institute of Scotland. With such a strong network partnership, the possibility of future collaborations on bike technology is extremely healthy, and with the arrival of e-bike technology, having a power source on the bike could revolutionise our abilities to collect all types of interesting and useful data.
Professor Florida-James sees endless possibilities: “The future of the Scottish bike industry is very bright. It’s key to keep the next generation of researchers coming through and enthused."