Stars and pyramids

A few things happened today which made me think more about the strategic level models that guide how the ATBA-UK works on its mission of supporting the growth of mountain boarding in the UK.

I currently have two models at different stages of completion and understanding.

The Riders Model

Mountainboarding rider's progession model

This pyramid shows the pathways approach we use to understand what types of mountainboarders there are, how people get into mountain boarding, what barriers get in the way, and what we do to help people overcome the barriers.

First timers are mostly those people who go to a centre and have a lesson. For most of them, that’s all the mountain boarding they will ever do and we recognise that one of the barriers that exists for this segment is the perception that mountainboarding is a one off activity like paintballing or zorbing but isn’t the kind of thing you do as a hobby.

Those that do take up mountainboarding as a hobby we call Hobbyists. These riders usually have a cheap board, will ride occasionally during the summer, and aren’t part of the community. A lot of these people are perfectly happy riding occasionally, but the barriers that prevent this group from moving up the model include the price of boards, not having others to ride with, and perhaps having lots of other things going on in their lives.

Those riders that are part of the community and ride regularly we call Recreational Riders. Moving a percentage of these riders up to the next level is a priority to counter the attrition rate of Competitive riders, who are those that participate in competitions. Arranging different types of competitions and choosing different locations for the competitions is one of the pathways we use to take Recreational Riders into the Competitive level, whilst also hopefully providing some variety for the Competitive Riders to keep them interested.

The Industry Model

Mountainboarding industry constellation model

This Constellation Model  is actually a model used by social enterprises to enable partner organisations to work together to achieve the same goal without having to be formally organised as a single entity. It means that any organisation within the constellation can get on with doing their thing regardless of the other organisations, but they are all working together in a loose way as they all have the same goal.

As I adapt this to fit the world of mountainboarding, I can see constellations developing for ‘Mountainboard Centres’, ‘Activity Centres’, and ‘Retailers’, with the ATBA-UK taking on the role of stewardship and the shared vision being one of growing mountainboarding in the UK. What is particularly interesting on this model, and why I think it fits mountainboarding so well, is the chaos/order line. This shows that all the elements of the various constellations can and do operate in a disorganised way, but that the shared goal and stewardship can bring order to the whole system and achieve more than the sum of it’s parts.

The final stage of this model development will be figuring out how the two models fit together and mutually support each other, e.g. with the Centres constellations having a focus on First-timers and all levels of riders in the Pyramid having a connection with the Retailers constellation.

ATBA-UK Product/Market Fit

How do we make sure that the products we deliver (competitions, membership, instructor training, etc) are want our customers (riders, parents, instructors, centre owners, retailers, etc.)?

Product/Market Fit has been described as if 40% of your customers would be disappointed if they could no longer use your products. This easily applies to competitions, I’m pretty sure most of the people who come to the comps would be disappointed if we didn’t run them, but what about our other products? They don’t have the same customer engagement and loyalty, and if they stopped, most people probably wouldn’t care.

We need to change that. But how? It’s relatively easy to survey the riders at a competition, but surveying about membership and instructor training is much harder. The question, ‘What does the customer want?’, is difficult to answer when the customer doesn’t know what they want.

So, we continue to add benefits and extras to things like membership and instructor training to improve the inherent value of the product, but we still can’t be sure we’re heading in the right direction.


One of my Google Alerts for my name turned up a couple of weeks telling me that I was a Director of the ATBA-UK. This was news to me. I don’t remember discussing it at a committee meeting or agreeing to it.

Having confirmed it with the person who files the returns to Companies House, I suddenly felt a little conflicted. It’s a pretty big deal being a company director, it comes with a lot of responsibility and consequences if someone else doesn’t do what they are supposed to.

On the other hand, I kinda expect to be involved with the ATBA-UK for the next ten years  or so, and I think I’ve got a lot to bring to the success of the organisation, so I guess it kind of makes sense. However, I am definitely going to work on putting more robust systems in place to make sure we comply with the regulations.

Something else I will work on is a guiding policy to ensure things like how directors are chosen, and having 25% of the board members being female, are followed.

How to layout berms

Today’s work on berms.

Finding the centre of existing berms using two dissected chords.

What is the best radius for a berm? Somewhere between two and three times the width of the track.

Laying out the out-track to make use of the tangent line the rider will be following as they leave the berm.

Euler Curve for the cross-section of the berm, giving a 5m wide track a riding width of approx 5.6m in the berm.

Just need to get it all into some kind of easy to follow instructions.

How we should build berms

I’ve been thinking more about writing track building guidelines, and although they need to be quite detailed, I think they also need to have simple takeaway ideas that are easier for people to get their head around and make it more likely that the guidelines will get adopted.

These could be things like:

  • Tracks – Build up, don’t dig down.
  • Berms – Constant radius, and build on the track, not next to it.
  • Rollers – Seven times as long as high

What we learned from our first Downhill comp in the woods

The ATBA-UK’s first woodland downhill comp took place on the 6th April. Here’s so of the things we learned, and will use when planning future comps.

  • Downhill comps that don’t use the riding track as the uplift track run far more smoothly as the riding keeps flowing. Previous comps that used fire tracks for riding down and driving up could only do one at a time, which interrupted the flow of the comp and wasted time.
  • Our uplift held four people at a time, which as it turned out was fine.
  • The riding started at 11:30, half an hour later than planned but not a problem, and went on til about 15:30. The riders stopped before we ran out of time, which is better than the other way round.
  • The riders took breaks when they wanted, which worked out better than having a scheduled lunch break.
  • We need more dedicated officials. This one took the concept of ‘Rider-run comps’ to a new level, with injured and tired riders taking over the timing. It’s great that we have a) such a strong community of riders and b) such a simple system that this can happen, but it does mean that things will be missed and mistakes happen during the change-overs.
  • The synchronised watch timing system is still the best solution, not only for it’s simplicity and that it doesn’t need communication between top and bottom, but mostly because it proved plenty accurate enough at this comp.
  • Finding/making a track that is challenging to the Pro’s and yet accessible to new-comers continues to be something we need to think about. The solution to me, especially in places like Head Down, is to have two tracks, an easy and a hard, both starting and finishing at the same places.

Parallel Processing in Preparing for Competitions

Usually, the comps come together through a small amount of coordination between a few of the people involved, and lots and lots of thinking on our feet and improvising. This isn’t a very efficient way of doing something like organising a comp, and often means things get missed that really shouldn’t be.

So, I’ve been writing up the workflow processes for running ATBA-UK comps, with the short term aim of streamlining the process, and the long term aim of making hand-over to new committee members/event organisers more effective.

It’s actually more complicated than you might think. It’s hard enough to just mindmap everything into one place, there is always more to add and stuff you’ve forgotten. But having got enough stuff on the list, it’s then time to start organising the list. The obvious way of doing this is ‘first thing first’, ‘second thing second’. But this is a very linear or serial approach, and raises problems. The first problem is that the second thing can’t be done until the first thing is done, so if something stops the first thing, everything grinds to a halt. The second problem is that it’s much harder to coordinate a group of people to all accomplish things on the list together.

You could divide the list into smaller lists, one for promotion, one for paperwork, etc., and give each person their own sub-list. But then what we see is that each list contains a wide variety of tasks and that the person assigned that list may not have skills to accomplish everything on their list. So that won’t work.

What we need is a way of parallel processing the tasks on the list so that everyone involved can take on tasks that they are able to complete, do them at an appropriate schedule, and not get in the way of other tasks or people. Hmmm, needs more thinking about…

A quick population study of mountainboarders in the UK

Does having a mountainboard centre in an area increase the population of mountainboarders? Which county has the most mountainboarders? Which areas have the fewest mountainboarders? What has the greatest effect on the number of mountainboarders in an area; hills or population?

To answer these questions we took a sample population of 200 mountainboarders selected at random from the ATBA-UK database. We marked each of them on a map, along with all the Mountainboard Centres, and we did some statistical analysis of the data.

Here’s what we found:

22.5% of riders live within 10 miles of a Mountainboard Centre, and just over 30% of riders live in counties with a Mountainboard Centre. Herefordshire is the most densely populated county with 8% of riders. West Sussex and Devon were joint next most densely populated with 6% each. Cornwall had 5.5% and Gloucestershire had 5% of the mountainboarders. With an average for a county being just under 3%, it’s clear that having a Mountainboard Centre in an area certainly does get more people into mountainboarding and keep them riding.

The least populated areas were Wales, Scotland, and the East Midlands and Eastern regions. Also, there were surprising gaps in the Somerset/Wiltshire area and in Kent, but this may have been due to the selection process. Wales had 4.5% of the mountainboarders selected, approximately the same as Cheshire. Even though Wales has three times the population of Cheshire, plenty of terrain, and a mountainboard centre, it still has a lack of mountainboarders. Scotland is even worse off than Wales. Even with plenty of terrain and a population of five million people, only 3.5% of our mountainboarders live there. The low number of mountainboarders (just 2.5%) in the area from Scunthorpe down to Northampton and across to Ipswich could be easily accounted for by the lack of suitable terrain, but we don’t have any information to back this up.

So, what does all this tell us? It tells us we all need to support Mountainboard Centres if we want a strong community of riders. It tells us we need to think about ways we can encourage people to get into mountainboarding in areas without centres. And it tells us that we need to think about the big picture of supporting the growth of mountainboarding in the UK.

Some thoughts on learning how to mountainboard

I spent the past few days working on updating the ATBA-UK Instructor Training Programme. It’s brought a lot of my more unorthodox thoughts on teaching mountainboarding to the forefront of my brain.

Powerslides Vs. Emergency Stops

Traditionally, most mountainboard lessons have included learning to powerslide. Some instructors even teach it before turns. I have a few problems with powerslides for beginners. Firstly, doing powerslides well requires a certain amount of board control, which most beginners don’t have, and so often go wrong, or at least take some of the fun out of the lesson.

Secondly, if they are taught as a way to avoid hitting something or someone, then what a powerslide actually does is take away the riders ability to steer and keep them heading towards the thing they are trying to avoid in an uncontrollable manner.

My third issue with powerslides is the safety/legal aspect. If a person suffered spinal injuries from a powerslide that went wrong, I can just imagine the lawyer questioning the instructor with something like, ‘So, you gave the client helmet, wristguards, elbow pads, and knee pads, and then told them to put the part of their body that isn’t protected on the ground at speed?’ The instructor might as well hand over their wallet there and then.

So, what’s the alternative? I think J-turns should be the main stopping technique taught to beginners. Taught properly, J-turns can be used to stop safely at any speed, and the rider remains upright and away from the ground.

And if the rider needs to learn an Emergency Stop (not a powerslide, which I think is actually an intermediate technique), then they should be taught to get low and pull a hard backside turn so they steer away from the obstacle.

Heel straps

Don’t think I’ve ever seen a beginners board used for teaching at a centre with heel straps. Why not? Most regular riders use heel straps because we recognise how much more control we have over the board, and yet centres/board manufacturers/instructors/whoever still seem to to like to make it as difficult as possible for beginners to control their board.

I realise there is an extra expense associated with heel straps on a fleet of beginners boards, but part of that cost would be offset by not having to buy leashes, and the heel straps don’t have to be proper ratchet heel straps. A few metres of seatbelt material would make an entire fleet of heel straps.

Giving a beginner a better, and more realistic, experience of mountainboarding would surely help to get them coming back. It’s also got to be safer as it prevents them from taking a foot off the board whilst they’re going along and twisting an ankle or doing the splits.

Using brakes

Just about anyone I mention this to says, ‘Oh no, bad idea.’, but I’m not put off the idea. I think teaching people to mountainboard with brakes has two big advantages. Number 1 is image. If more mountainboards had brakes, and people didn’t have to look quizzically at them and ask ‘How do you stop?’, the boards would look safer. They’d fit into people’s preconceived ideas about things with wheels having brakes (i.e. bikes). If people saw that they could have a go at mountainboarding without the risk that comes from slides and putting various parts of your body on the ground at high speed, then more of them might give it a try.

Number 2 is a equality. Tackling the safe/dangerous image would get more people to have a go. But with slides as the main stopping technique, the rider needs to be of a certain physique, fitness, and flexibility. With brakes more different types of people can not only have a go, but stick at it. I’ve seen loads of people hobble away from mountainboard lessons with a bruised behind, never to return. Take away the need for slides and a person can ride all day without ever getting muddy (I’m reminded of the scene in Riding Giants where they are talking about the revelation of tow-in surfing and how they could ride all day without getting their hair wet) or getting any bruises.

The argument against brakes is that reduces the skills a rider learns, but I’m not so sure about this. They may learn different skills, but riding well with a brakes takes skills too. And what’s better; fewer highly skilled riders or more less skilled riders?

I realise these are unorthodox and even unpopular ideas, but sometimes steps forward come from the out-of-the-box thinking, and without considering new ways we’ll be stuck doing things the same old way forever, even if it’s not the best way.

What do I need for a Downhill Competition

Checklist for Dave, the ATB-Wales & ATBA-UK Downhill competition

  • Pallets
  • Hammer
  • Gaffa tape
  • Leatherman
  • Tent pegs
  • Tarp
  • Spade
  • Medals
  • Paperwork
  • Pens
  • Batteries
  • Rubber gloves
  • Ice packs
  • Blood donor keyring
  • Warning signs in Welsh
  • Diet coke
  • Blog enabled phone