After her career as a top mountain bike racer, Manon Carpenter became involved in climate activism. Since then, this has evolved into a vision of a completely reframed sport.

A decade ago, Manon Carpenter rose to prominence in downhill racing, clinching both the World Championships and the World Cup Series titles. Hence, many were taken aback when the young Welshwoman concluded her successful career in 2017, only 24 years old. But this marked the beginning of a new and perhaps more significant journey.

“After I finished racing, I had more time to think about what I wanted to do with my life – and the platform I had created. While studying geology, I attended some sustainability courses and went to a lot of outdoor film festivals where I saw many engaging stories. I was especially touched by the documentary The Serengeti Rules, about damaged eco-systems and how they can be restored. It shows that where we have disrupted nature, it can heal if we allow it to,” says Manon Carpenter and continues:

“Before, I was nervous to talk about climate action and environmentalism since I felt like a hypocrite. But now I started to meet committed people with a background in sports and outdoor. Initially, I focused on individual changes, such as reducing travel and altering diets. However, I soon realized the necessity of addressing these issues systemically.”

One conversation led to another, propelling Manon Carpenter into involvement with Protect Our Winters (POW) UK. Originally a winter sports-focused organization, POW had broadened its scope to encompass various outdoor activities, including summer pursuits.

“I really liked POW’s idea of speaking with a relatable voice, and I attended one of their ‘Carbon Literacy Training’ courses.”

Trails facing new challenges

Just as dwindling snow seasons and receding glaciers impact winter sports, mountain biking faces challenges from a changing climate. Between November 2021 and February 2022, powerful storms ravaged the UK, devastating communities and forests alike. Manon Carpenter documented these events in her film “Winds of Change – Soil Searching,” spotlighting communities in Northumberland and Aberdeenshire as they adapt to climate fluctuations, striving for a sustainable future for their trails and woodlands.

“It’s not only fallen trees; extended heatwaves erode trails in summer, while winter rains saturate them,” Manon Carpenter observes.

Environmentalism hasn’t historically been a focal point within the UK mountain biking community, Manon Carpenter notes. Attitudes are shifting, however, with riders getting together to restore damaged trails – and discussing the underlying causes. This is where organizations such as POW can have an impact, urging support for progressive politics, enhancing climate change education, and advocating for sustainable investment in energy and transportation infrastructure.

“POW knows how to get the message across, and they raise the importance of real change. For us in the UK, the general election in the end of the year is very important. We really want to encourage people to vote for the right decision-makers.”

Can the mountain biking community also drive transformative change? Manon Carpenter believes so.

“I am part of a growing initiative called Reframing Mtb. We want to collectively progress mountain biking in the UK, with a strong focus on cultural aspects, diversity and inclusion. We need to attract new groups of riders! We also see that the trail associations deserve much more support. And we need to together restore nature and be more aware of its vulnerability,” says Manon Carpenter.

 

Lead photo: Samatha Dugon

Gabriel Arthur
gabriel.arthur@norragency.com
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