Off-Road Mountain Biking: A profile of participants, setting and preferences, by Gordan Cessford, 1995
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3. RESULTS - Rider Characteristics

SUMMARY: Riders are a distinct recreationist group characterised by younger male participants with professional-type backgrounds, an interest in `active' types of recreation, and a high degree of club involvement. Activity levels and relative experience levels are high, although experience is limited as mountain biking is only a recent development.

- The age, gender and occupation characteristics of these riders were representative of `active' outdoor recreationists. Women were a small minority of riders overall, although they represented almost half those rating themselves as beginners.

- Few riders had over 5 years experience, although activity levels and self-rated experience were high.

- More experienced riders had high club involvement, more experience of overnight trips, and had spent more on their bikes and associated improvements.

- Many riders also participated in running, walking, tramping and road cycling. With experience, more riders were involved in tramping and skiing, and less involved in walking and team sports, reflecting a more `active' outdoor orientation.

The descriptive characteristics of mountain bike riders were addressed in three ways: their socio-demographic features, their experience levels, and their degree of commitment to mountain biking.

3.1 Socio-demographic characteristics of riders

The patterns of age, gender and occupation (Table 3.1) generally match those of other `active' outdoor recreationists such as trampers; being characterised by a predominance of younger age groups, and of those with higher educational and occupational status. One distinction amongst mountain bikers was the gender balance, which was weighted more heavily towards men, to levels characteristic of activities such as climbing, hunting and fishing. More general activities such as walking or tramping tend to have more even gender balances (but most often still dominated by males). These characteristics can be considered to make mountain biking more representative of the other `active' types of outdoor recreation (e.g., climbing, backcountry tramping), as compared with the more `passive' types of outdoor recreation represented by walking.

Table 3.1: Socio-demographic characteristics (%)

AGE (years) Under 20
19
OCCUPATION Professional/Technical
36
20 - 29
42
Student
18
30 - 39
27
Admin/Management
12
40 - 49
9
Clerical/Sales/Service
10
50 - 59
3
Labour/Transport
3
Over 60
0
Not Working
3
School
3
GENDER Male
85
Agriculture/Forestry
1
Female
15
Other (non-specific)
14

3.2 Experience characteristics of riders

3.2.1 Overall riding experience

Rider experience at off-road riding was addressed directly by the number of years they had been riding mountain bikes, the number of races they had done, and their usual number of days spent riding off-road in the year. It was also addressed indirectly by riders rating their own experience and skill levels on a scale provided (Question 4). Results of these questions for all riders are summarised in Table 3.3.

The main finding of these experience related questions was that only 10% of the sample had been riding mountain bikes for more than 5 years. This emphasises how new this activity is in the outdoor recreation environment. Although riders had not been active for many years, their activity levels were high. Almost 50% were riding off-road on over 50 days per year, representing a frequency of 1-2 times per week on average. When seasonality is considered, the activity level in the peak season (non-winter) would appear much higher.

Considering that this sample was drawn from race entrants, experience of racing is not extensive. Less than 25% had done more than 20 races. This may reflect the recent development of the activity. However, when compared to the number of days riding, these results suggest that racing is not currently a big part of mountain biking activity for most riders.

Overall, riders did consider themselves experienced, with only 12% classifying themselves as beginners.

Table 3.2: Experience characteristics of riders (%)

EXPERIENCE Beginners
12
EXPERIENCE 1 year or less
20
(self-rated) Moderately experienced
24
(years riding Between 1 - 2 years
23
Have much experience
44
a Mountain bike) Between 2 - 3 years
19
Very experienced/expert
20
Between 3 - 4 years
16
EXPERIENCE None done before
12
Between 4 - 5 years
11
(races done) Only 1 race
12
More than 5 years
10
2 - 5
22
EXPERIENCE Only ride on road
2
6 - 10
14
(days off-road Off-road under 6 days
5
11 - 20
17
riding per year) 7 - 12 days
9
21 - 50
17
13 - 24 days
10
50 - 100
4
25 - 50 days
28
Over 100 races
2
50 - 100 days
23
Over 100 days
23

3.2.2 Variation in age and gender by experience

Changes in rider age and gender did occur across different experience levels (Table 3.3). In age, the proportion of riders aged 20-29 increased with experience. However, this may not reflect a stable pattern, as the activity is very new, and current rider numbers amongst the young may be maintained into the older age-groups with time.

High interest in mountain biking by women was indicated by their high proportion amongst the `Beginners'(42%). But their numbers declined to only 7% amongst experts. This could represent reluctance amongst women to acknowledge their experience, a high activity `drop-out' rate, or a more recent interest in riding amongst women which with time will translate into greater numbers of more experienced women riders.

Table 3.2: Descriptive characteristics by Experience levels (self-rated) (%)

PROFILE CHARACTERISTIC
Beginners

(combined)
Moderately Experienced
Have Much Experience
Experienced Expert rider
AGE Under 20
22
21
19
18
20 - 29
24
42
43
50
30 - 39
32
27
28
22
40 - 49
15
7
8
8
50 - 59
7
3
1
2
GENDER Male
58
82
90
93
Female
42
18
10
7

3.3 Commitment characteristics of riders

An increasing commitment of participants to mountain biking with increasing experience levels was shown by their investment in equipment, involvement in clubs, and patterns of outdoor activities. These are listed in Tables 3.4 - 3.6. An important implication of club membership is the role clubs may play in enhancing the self-regulation of riding attitudes and behaviour.

Increased club involvement by the more experienced riders is notably high when compared with that apparent for other outdoor activities. Local Wellington riding clubs dominated membership at the lower experience levels, but other clubs from elsewhere in the North Island increased their proportion as experience levels increased. However, the race events sampled are important on the national race calendar and attract many committed riders from further afield. This may explain the high membership levels with greater experience, and the presence of some members from distant clubs.

Further commitment is indicated by the increasing investments made in bikes and modifications by the more experienced riders. Amongst beginners, most modifications involved addition of minor items such as handlebar extensions (bar-ends). The more expensive bikes favoured by the more experienced riders usually came with these items. However these riders carried out other more substantial modifications (e.g., suspension forks and clip pedals).

Table 3.4: Commitment characteristics of riders

COMMITMENT CHARACTERISTICS
TOTAL %
Beginners (combined)
Moderately experienced
Have much experience
Expert/very experienced
Club Membership Yes
33
5
22
36
55
No
67
95
78
64
45
Bike Value ($) Under 1000
16
46
31
9
1
1000 - 2000
44
49
60
44
22
2000 - 3000
24
5
4
32
38
Over 3000
16
0
6
14
38
Done overnight tripsYes
41
10
34
47
53
No
59
90
66
53
47
% who have modified their bikes
22
9
11
40
56

A high proportion of riders (41%) also indicated they had done multi-day riding trips (Table 3.4), and particularly amongst the more experienced riders. This suggested riders have a high familiarity with the potential for multi-day riding, and a high interest in doing more such rides. Overall, 30% of riders did specify particular places they would like to do such rides in the future. The locations of these rides are summarised in Table 3.5, along with those places such rides had already been done.

Riders'initial interest in multi-day rides had been largely confined to road-rides, but they appear more interested in undertaking off-road rides in the future. The diversity of riding areas named, and the high apparent interest in more localised trips (e.g., in Wellington area), suggests that pressure on specific backcountry areas from multi-day riding trips will not be great. However, interest in having the options available to do such rides appears high.

Table 3.5: Locations of multi-day riding trips (those already done and those desired)
Locations for Multi-day riding trips (categorised)

(% of the sample who specified each location)

Ride done here before

(n=195)
Want to ride here

(n=152)
South Island road riding

Wellington `Big Coast' event

North Island road riding

Queen Charlotte Walkway

Off-road riding (other South Island)

Off-road riding (other North Island)

Molesworth/Rainbow routes

Off-road riding (other Wellington)

Wellington coastal routes

Heaphy Track

Rimutaka Incline Track

National Parks Tracks

Other

37

25

20

12

9

9

9

9

8

3

2

0

6
21

1

7

5

14

12

5

10

8

7

0

14

17

Rider commitment to their activity was also investigated by the relative importance they attributed mountain biking in their outdoor activities. Table 3.6 summarises the top three outdoor activities indicated by riders. The % figures represent the proportion of the whole sample who indicated the activity as one of their top three.

Most riders included mountain biking in their top three outdoor activities (93%). Beginners differed mainly in that 41% did not. As experience levels increased, involvement in walking declined, while that in tramping increased. This may be indicative of a more `active' approach to walking amongst the more committed riders. Road cycling was indicated by many beginners (32%), possibly reflecting their generally greater preference for riding on sealed roads (refer Table 4.5). This road-cycling preference then decreased, but increased again amongst the expert riders (29%), perhaps reflecting the preference of many competitive mountain bike riders for road training.

These riders are active outdoor participants, and the emphasis on `physical' outdoor pursuits appears greater amongst the more experienced riders. Because mountain biking is a new activity to most, it is likely that it has generally complemented existing outdoor activity preferences, rather than being the means by which new users have been introduced to the outdoors. Over a third (37%) included tramping/walking in their top three activities, suggesting that many may be aware of the potential conflicts with other track users.

Table 3.5: Outdoor activity characteristics of riders (their top three activities)

MAIN OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES
TOTAL %
Beginners (combined)
Moderately experienced
Have much experience
Expert/very experienced
Mountain Biking
93
59
95
98
100
Running
28
37
32
26
26
Road cycling
20
32
12
17
29
Tramping
20
3
18
22
26
Walking
17
37
22
13
8
Skiing
17
9
1
18
29
Sailing/Windsurfing
6
2
4
7
8
Hunting/Fishing
6
7
3
5
10
Kayaking
6
3
3
8
5
Climbing
6
2
8
8
4
Outdoor Team Sports
15
28
23
12
8
Other Activities
39
50
31
45
36


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