Thursday, December 5, 2019

Why groups matter

I was so incredibly pumped after my morning ride yesterday, I just had to write something down. I could just say how lucky I am to live a few minutes ride from Meehan Range and some excellent trails. But that was more by design than luck and we've chosen to pay higher rent to live close to MTB facilities and riding/running distance from work. Meehan Range is not Derby. It's a low key park although the new skills park is fairly epic. Most who ride there don't use the skills park though. I've seen the carpark stacked on the weekend and less than 15 people on the jumps. The rest have been absorbed into the forest and I would only pass a couple of riders, even on the busier days. The trails are similar to what I learned to ride on in Brisbane - loose gravel over hard pack with numerous rocks. There's a tough climb to the top of Corkscrew which has switchbacks as are rarely built these days. Possibly built for 26 inch wheels and steep head angles so every time I manage to 'no dab' the climb I give myself a high five. It is a real achievement. For my warm up though I chose the easier K's Choice climb, wanting to work on my descending. Purposeful riding meant my focus was on skills today. The corkscrew descent is one of my favourite local downhills. Trying to achieve flow in 180 degree turns on loose gravel requires being fully tuned into the small movements of the tyres across the surface. Feeling where the nice drift becomes something less cool. At the bottom I was so stoked I turned around the headed back up - the hard way. No dabs. Yes! I get to experience all of this and then ride 22 minutes to work, almost entirely off road using bike paths and park trails.

It is difficult to overstate how much I believe that access to quality recreational opportunities, close to where people live, is a fundamental human right. There are numerous studies indicating benefits on physical and mental health, air quality as well as wildlife corridors and even flood mitigation. . While I value places which are more popular with tourists, it's the natural facilities which the community can access every day which should be getting more attention. If equivalent funding were put into local parks and trails as. for example, the Three Capes track or Derby, it would be very exciting to see the outcome. While there does not seem to be a lack of football fields and open grassed areas, it would be great to see more places which resemble natural areas. The Domain is a fine example of use of natural space for recreation with well maintained running and cycling trails in the city centre. There's also public gym facilities near the Cenotaph with an amazing view over the river and bridge. I see many people using it as I pass each day. Central Park in New York is a more famous example, although a little disconcerting that it's also where they keep finding the bodies in NYPD Blue. Safety, and the perception of safety can be an obstacle in people using a more natural environment. So what I'm arguing for is thoughtful park design, with a variety of experiences, with equitable provision, regardless of economic position. A democratisation of natural space. Not all green space is created equal. I think about a park close to where we lived at Moonah. A steeply sloping triangle of grass which was no good for kicking a ball on. Had no trees or features of interest. We could have flown kites if it hadn't been directly under power lines. I assume it fulfilled the green space obligation to the letter if not the spirit.

Personally, I like green space to be a journey. I'm not much for ball games which require other people. I want a place to get a quick run or ride in on a short circuit, or a more leisurely weekend exploration. We are lucky to live here. But I've met many people who look at the mountain every day but have never actually been ON the mountain, save for the obligatory drive to the summit. One my main goals, when providing mountain bike instruction, is to encourage people to use the great natural areas where they live and to give them the skills to do it. Councils have a vital role to play in this through programs such as Healthy Hobart. While our local council website is not often our first port of call for interesting activities, it might be worth checking out what's being offered, often for free or nominal cost. I'm working with the council in February to deliver mountain bike skills sessions and have arranged to provide bikes for those who haven't made the investment yet. That's real grass roots when we're targeting people before they have even bought a bike.

Local clubs and other social groups also have a vital role to play in providing people the confidence to take on a new activity. Much has been heard about National organisations and international representation. But less is heard about the work clubs do in providing events - whether that's races or group social activities - which bring like-minded people together. I didn't need a club to start mountain biking. But it wasn't until I started going to club activities that I got access to skills advice, organised rides and met people with countless years of experience in the sport. The other group I rode with on Thursday mornings was less formal, but also pivotal in growing my confidence and enjoyment of the sport. Not everyone is lucky enough, or socially confident enough, to fall into these social groups though. Which is why organised activities (races, group rides, training sessions) are really important and need to be well communicated to people who are interested in trying out an activity. One of my best experiences was with the Tasmanian Canoe Club who offered a weekend of whitewater kayaking instruction. They provided boats, helmets, life jacket and paddles and I had so much fun upside down in the water on the Forth River. I haven't taken up whitewater kayaking because I don't currently have time, or live close to facilities. But it's now a potential activity in the future because I have some basic skills and had a great first experience.

Just providing the spaces and facilities is often not enough to encourage people to use them. Groups of people with experience are needed to guide others when gaining confidence in using those assets. Investment directly by local, state and federal government, or indirectly through grants to sports organisations, is required to ensure those groups - clubs or other social groups - can help people to develop the confidence to live active lifestyles.

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