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Bike Perfect
Bike Perfect
Guy Kesteven

Bespoken Word – Guy finds further proof of how mountain biking can help communities

Specialized Soil Searching.

For a tiny coastal village, Matanzas has a surprisingly busy - and often bloody - global history. In fact, its name actually means ‘Slaughter’ or ‘Killing’. It was the landing point for the Spanish ‘Conquistador’ invaders who launched their brutal genocide of the population of central Chile. Later it became a center for piracy and sea lion hunting on the rocky coast, and in 2010 it was hit by a powerful Tsunami wave 

The wind and waves that blow into the natural grey sand beach harbor and its stunning coastline are now bringing more welcome visitors though. Matanzas is well established as a World Class - and World Cup round destination - for surfing, windsurfing, and kitesurfing, with a dedicated beach for each and the sort of surf shops you’d expect. Scruffy van life vehicles on the seafront road contrast with super modern cube hotels like the Surazo we stayed where pro surfers mingle with weekend wave seekers from Santiago around the fire pits as the sunset goes down.

Not a holiday... honest (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

But why am I writing what sounds like a holiday brochure copy as part of my opinion piece this week? As well as all the coastal sport, the local Navidad ‘commune’ of just 7000 people has not just one, but two mountain bike parks which are rapidly becoming a significant draw for those who want to get their thrills on dry land. Specialized Chile has played a big part in developing the growth of grassroots riding through their global ‘Soil Searching’ program. This sponsors individual trail builders and group projects all around the world, including Mathias who runs the private OMZ bike park on the hill just behind the beach. This park now has an entirely new XC trail designed to provide a permanent training and competition track for local racers and riders of all ages. It was brilliant to see the young Chileans in coaching groups with Mathias, hanging out around the shipping container snack bar and bike shop on site before heading up the hill to shred. 

Speaking to ex-pro BMXer and X-Games gold medallist Allan Cooke from Specialized, Soil Searching and initiatives like creating trail legacies through events is just a corporate extension of the ‘No dig, no ride’ mantra. The BMX-born idea that everyone riding a trail should also contribute to its creation and upkeep. They certainly aren’t the only mountain bike company supporting initiatives like this either. Santa Cruz - where Cooke worked previously - has a Pay Dirt program that commits a percentage of profit to trail building and advocacy. Trek are headline sponsor of the Trash For Trails campaign in the UK and works super hard with other advocacy efforts all around the world. Even small companies like Cotic, Peaty’s, and PNW all build percentage profit donations to trail and rider support in their business plan.

Many hands make light work, particularly when it comes to trail building (Image credit: Fanie Kok (Specialized))

The second bike park we visited was part of the Reserve El Maiten, a national park with walking and heritage trails as well as an excellent network of trails from flowing blue grade runs to serious jump lines. Another private reserve we visited had an excellent marathon XC-style trail looping out to the stunning coast and back inland to a lake with safari-style boat trips to a vast covered valley aviary. The effect of this kind of investment - both private and governmental - can be seen in the surrounding architecture too. Old beaten-up shacks are increasingly being joined by state-of-the-art cube cabins straight off the pages of an architecture magazine overlooking the rich rolling landscape between the sea and the Andes. 

Speaking to Jonathan - another trail builder and advocate from Specialized Chile who was the embodiment of the fantastic welcome and enthusiasm we were met with everywhere told me that Covid lockdown has seen a big shift in Chile. Like many areas improved remote working infrastructure such as wifi and transport etc meant people could leave the big cities and pursue a healthier, happier lifestyle in places like Matanzas. Several sets of whatever the Chilean equivalent of ‘Turkish teeth’ are were gleaming in the darkness at the Surazo hotel beach BBQ on the last night too, confirming that the latest wave to hit this tiny village is designer not destructive.

Allan Cooke and Jonatha Junge from Spesh Chile on Matanzas Beach (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Watching how mountain biking is helping to bring new people to Matanzas and lifting local economies previously based on farming and fishing has real echoes of how mountain biking has benefited other areas. Everywhere from original MTB hot spots like Crested Butte and Moab in the USA, Whistler in Canada, Finale Ligure in Italy, Morzine in France etc to the Welsh forests and Tweed Valley MTB hotspot of Scotland. We as riders are providing a massive boost to not just individual towns but whole areas. Innerleithen has even created a specific business park for the mountain bike industry to capitalize on the number of people and companies who want to move there. According to Allan and other Specialized employees who live in Santa Cruz, the local university college lists the trails on its campus as a major draw for prospective students. Harm Spoelestra - another camp attendee - told me how the resorts in the French Alps where he lives are regularly opening ski lifts for riders in winter as snow conditions become increasingly erratic

In short mountain biking not only has the power to transform rider's lives through clear mental and physical health benefits, but it also has the proven power to transform whole communities. And if that means more places to ride in stunning locations like Matanzas then I’m definitely all for ‘MTBification’ as the ultimate much-welcomed expression of trail-building projects that can often be seen as a menace by landowners and communities at first. 

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