What would the Tweed Valley be like if mountain biking had never taken off as a mainstream sport? Quieter and less prosperous, no doubt, but according to Neil Dalgleish, director of the TweedLove Bike Festival, probably home to a much more elderly population as well.
“There’s a really interesting demographic side to what’s happened in Peebles and the Tweed Valley,” he says. “I grew up down there and it’s changed without a doubt, and I think that’s mainly through the advent of mountain biking and the Glentress and Innerleithen trail centres. A whole load of people – people with young families – have been attracted to live there who wouldn’t have otherwise. There’s now a massive part of the local population who have either moved there because of the biking, or who are locals who have become really enthusiastic about riding bikes.”
The statistics certainly seem to back him up. Almost 20 per cent of pupils at Priorsford Primary School in Peebles now cycle to school, compared to the Scottish average of just three per cent. At Peebles Cycling Club, the waiting list to get into the kids club currently stands at about a year. Alpine Bikes, Scotland’s largest chain of bike shops, has just opened a branch at Glentress, joining a whole host of other bike-related businesses in the area. At Galashiels, the Borders College now offers the UK’s only mountain biking course as part of its Borders Academy of Sporting Excellence, and – as you might expect having read all of the above - the Tweed Valley has produced its fair share of mountain biking royalty, notably former Junior Downhill World Champion Ruaridh Cunningham.
The TweedLove Bike Festival, which starts today and runs until 5 June, is an annual celebration of all this bike-related activity, and this year its programme has swelled to reflect the area’s burgeoning biking community. Innovations include a series of women-only coaching sessions to cater for what Dalgleish sees as a marked increase in the number of women taking to the trails.
“If you go to Glentress on any weekend now it’s phenomenal the number of women you see. I think people have started to see it more like skiing – it’s social, it’s fun, you improve your fitness and you get a bit of adrenaline without having to push it too far, so I think it’s becoming a very attractive thing for many women.”
From a spectator’s point of view, the big draws will be tomorrow’s POC King and Queen of the Hill event at Glentress, which Dalgleish says will provide some “seriously fast downhill” and the Glentress Seven next Saturday, which will see riders attempt to complete as many laps of a gruelling, hilly course as they can in seven hours. Also well worth checking out is the festival’s signature event, the Peebles Sprint, on 29 May, which will see the town centre closed to traffic, allowing road racers to go head to head on a tight-cornered 1km course. Those with a yen for the road less travelled, meanwhile, should sign up for the festival’s inaugural “Bivvy Night” on 3 June. Like most of TweedLove, says Dalgleish, it’s an event born out of the enthusiasm of local riders.
“After last year’s event, a few people suggested, ‘why don’t we go and have a bivvy up in the hills and see if anyone wants to join in?’” he says. “So we’re arranging transport from Peebles to the start of the route in the evening, then we’ll all pedal up into the hills and bivvy in an appropriate spot – we’ve got several options depending on which way the wind’s blowing. In the morning we’ll do a great trail ride down to Peebles. Well, it’s not just going to be down – it’s going to be down, then back up, then down, then back up, but we’ll be taking in some of the best riding in the area, so it should be memorable.”
Looking at the way mountain biking has helped bring new economic and social life to what might otherwise be a declining rural area, you can’t help wondering if the residents of the Tweed Valley might have hit upon the secret formula for arresting the decay of similar communities throughout Scotland. After all, wherever you have hills and mud, you can make mountain bike trails, and Scotland has both in abundance.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 23 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 24 mph
Wind direction: North
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Wind direction: North east