Updated: Feb 25
Unsure what industry awards, qualifications and licences are out there for organisations that provide mountain bike activities? Then read on for an overview of the most common awards MTB activity providers should have.
British Cycling: Mountain Bike Leadership Awards The mountain bike leadership awards are all about guiding/leading rides. There's 3 levels, with 3 being the highest.
Level 1 (and the new Fundamentals award) is quite limited in its scope but can cover green and blue trails. Level 2 allows a leader to take a group up to 30 minutes travelling time (or 2.5km) from a road on trails that do not require wheels to leave the ground. You'll find that this covers most trail centre green, blue and some red trails. Level 3 leaders can operate anywhere as long as the route is 90% rideable by the whole group. Getting a Level 3 award is a long process. You'll need a Level 2 award (or equivalent), lots of experience leading groups and a lengthy log book before even turning up for the 3 day training. After the training comes a consolidation period in which you must further build your log book and leading experience. Then it's a tough 2 day practical assessment with a written assessment to go with it. The total cost can be just over £1000 to get to Level 3 completion.
The focus for these awards is on planning, excellent group management and safety, sound decision making and being inspirational to your riders. The standard required ramps up considerably for Level 3 – and quite rightly so. I've seen elite racers fail the Level 3 leadership assessment; they certainly had the technical ability to ride seemingly anything, but lacked the qualities a great leader should have.
These leadership awards cover ad-hoc coaching. In practice, that means the leader can give hints and tips on how to ride a particular section of trail to help the rider progress on the ride. It does not qualify them to run coaching sessions.
Level 1 & Fundamental leaders can only operate in strictly summer conditions – defined as no snow or freezing conditions forecast or prevalent. Level 2 & 3 leaders can operate into intermediate conditions which would cover light or avoidable patches of snow or brief freezing conditions (wind chill should be taken into consideration here). Some leaders may have done a legacy Winter Riding module. This is no longer insured by BC.
The Night Leader module extends the leader's current award to include riding after dark; it is not level specific but is insured by BC.
A leader can take up to 8 riders; that number includes any unqualified assistants. For example, if a leader had a group of 8 riders plus 2 unqualified assistants, they would be operating outside their capacity and would not be insured.
BC insure those that hold one of their leadership awards if they have a valid 2 day outdoor first aid certificate and have completed a child protection course. You can check out those leaders who have made their profile public here. Scottish Cycling: TCL & MBLA
You will find many leaders with a Trail Cycle Leader (TCL) or Mountain Bike Leader Award (MBLA). These awards were managed by Scottish Cycling and included Winter, Night and Expedition bolt on modules. In 2015, the Scottish awards were wound down and integrated into the BC awards to create a national set of awards. All previous TCL and MBLAs are still recognised with TCL being equivalent to a Level 2 and MBLA equivalent to a Level 3. The three bolt on modules were not brought into the BC scheme at this time. After much demand from leaders, the Night Leader module was reintroduced in 2018 as part of BC's national awards. Tutors are still running courses for the Winter and Expedition modules though. It should be noted that completion of these courses do not come with any formally recognised qualification or insurance.
British Cycling: Coaching Awards
BC's coaching awards also have 3 levels. They cover all disciplines of cycling, not just mountain biking. From level 2, coaches can take additional modules which are discipline specific. Coaching is all about elite race performance and covers everything from nutrition to psychology as well as riding skills. A coach cannot coach a group more than 10 minutes from a road which an ambulance can get to. In many circumstances, coaching on the trail is outside this coaching remit and the award does not permit them to lead a ride – they'd need a leadership award for that. Other leadership awards As the National Governing Body for the sport, the BC awards are seen as the gold standard. There are other awarding bodies out there though, such as:
Cycling Scotland: Go MTB Instructors Award
A one day course for existing mountain bike leaders to show competence in their ability to teach mountain bike skills. Instructors can be approved up to either Go MTB Level 3 or 5. Cycling Scotland provides no insurance to those that have completed the award and such skills tuition isn't covered by BC's leadership insurance either. Insurance cover is out there, but it's up to the instructor to obtain it. There are no guidelines on where the Go MTB skills tuition can or cannot take place or in which weather conditions. It should simply be viewed as a certificate of competence to teach skills.
The Adventure Activity Licensing Authority (AALA) The Adventure Activities Licensing Regulations 2004 make it a legal requirement for those that provide certain paid-for activities to under 18s to be inspected and obtain a licence. It can be seen as a quality assurance mark that the provider has the policies and procedures in place to reduce the risk to its customers.
Mountain biking can fall into the category of requiring a licence in some terrains. Mountainous terrain over 600m elevation and open moorland more than 30 minutes from a road/refuge are examples of terrain that require a licence. There are exemptions, such as being in a forest or on cultivated land, so providers can be more than 30 minutes from a road/refuge without needing a licence. You don't need a licence if the child's legal guardian is part of the activity.
The licence is expensive and there has been extensive talks of scrapping the licence scheme, largely due to the high cost of running the scheme. The Scottish Government has decided it will create its own licensing scheme when the current one is scrapped.
It is worth stating that activity providers who do not have a licence are not necessarily unsafe, it may be that they don't actually need a licence and feel the £715 application fee would be better spent elsewhere. Any provider worth booking with should have robust policies and procedures in place, whether they have a licence or not. You can find a list of organisations with a licence here. Curious as to which awards HBA has? You'll find info on that here and here.