The Cycling Popularity Surge
In the last few years the popularity of cycling has soared in Britain and I was wondering why this had come about and how. We are generally a nation of cyclists and have always had a strong tradition of clubs and associations across the country and a lot of these have been in existence for many years. So what has made the difference?
I think there are a number of factors involved here, not just one big surge but more like a series of waves to make up an ocean of interest. I’ve heard it said that cycling is the new golf and that a lot of businessmen in their mid-thirties to forties are rediscovering the bike and spending large amounts of money on very expensive road bikes, getting decked out in lycra and hitting the road. This in turn makes me ask another question, why?
I have a bit of a theory about this and it could be wrong but here goes.
This group of people are the right sort of age that many of their fathers were keen cyclists. They would encourage their sons and daughters to have bikes because, let’s face it, everyone had one. At Christmas time probably the best present you could ever get was a bike. They as children growing up in the mid-seventies were still among the generation that were pre computer game orientated and would happily spend the day out on their bikes bombing round the streets to their hearts content. Television only had three channels too so there really wasn’t much to make you sit at home.
The range of bikes were quite broad at that time too, with Raleigh making bikes like the Grifter, a sort of pre cursor to the bmx bike and the Chopper, which by the way I really wanted but my Dad thought was a bit dangerous with it’s different sized wheels. There were also at that time a lot of what we just used to call racers, mostly five speed but if you were lucky ten.
Back to my theory, this group eventually leave the bike behind, enter the eighties, go to work and discover the world of the computer which is then taking off. They get married and have kids. As their children start to grow up, they suddenly find themselves with nothing to do at the weekend again because their children are off with their friends and certainly don’t want to hang around with Dad all day.
So how can our man fill his spare time, he starts to think about his own childhood and how great it was with a bike. He already knows a couple of mates who have taken up riding again to lose a bit of weight after spending a few years behind a desk. So he’s off down to the bike shop and when he goes through that door he becomes like a child again. The smell of the tyres and all the exciting new bikes and accessories hanging on the walls transport him to a place he identifies with.
To start with he is a bit cautious and spends a moderate amount on a new bike but after a couple of months he’s hooked and he’s back to spend a fortune on a brand new Cervello.
Next up is the mountain bike, a lot of us were building our own mountain bikes in the seventies but we didn’t know they were mountain bikes because we called them track bikes. Made up from old racers with cow horn handle bars and if you were lucky enough to get hold of some, off road tyres or knobblies as we called them.
There was a guy who took playing around with track bikes a bit further though, he was an American chap by the name of Gary Fisher. He really developed the mountain bike into the form in which it is recognized today, he might look like a laid back old hippy type but he knew exactly what he was doing.
Mountain bikes have given the cycling industry a real boost over the last 15 years or so and they are everywhere. I bet nine times out of ten if a child of around 9 years old gets a bike it’s a mountain bike. You can even go out to Tesco’s and buy a mountain bike from them for around £65.00 now. I heard the other day that a company in China were producing whole finished bikes wholesale for £9.95. Unbelievable, they are rubbish but they get you started.
Mountain biking as a recreation and a sport boomed and everyone jumped on it, because it wasn’t like biking in the old days. Everything was now designed and purpose built. The industry took technology straight from motocross bikes with Hydraulic disc brakes and fully adjustable gas or air suspension, light weight alloy frames and more gears than you could shake a stick at. Don’t get me started on gears, I think there are already far too many for practical purposes and it’s just another way for manufacturers to sell you the latest thing. Get the right ratio of gears and you’d only need about half of them, anyway rant over back to the theory. Mountain bike trails have sprung up across the country and they are booming now. I used to go to Wales and the centres and trails were rammed with people.
Lastly is the effect that the likes of the professional riders have brought to the attention of the general public. If you take something like The Tour de France, just as mountain biking is taking off, Lance Armstrong wins seven times in a row. This obviously creates a lot of interest, especially as he had a story behind him of triumph over illness. Sure there have always been multiple tour winners but his was a case of right place, right time. I think this sparked a great deal of interest in road riding again.
Then you have the track cyclists, Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton and Bradley Wiggins etc. were part of the GB team that took the world on at the track and pretty much wiped the floor with them over several world championships and Olympics. Now everyone’s interested, the surge is growing as the media start to report on it more and more. We have the Manx missile Mark Cavendish who became the World’s fastest man when it came to a sprint finish on a stage race. He is unbelievable when the time is right. He makes the rest of the field look like they’re in slow motion sometimes. Not to mention the fact that he has won on the Champs Elysees for the past four years. Finally we have Bradley Wiggins, he has won just about every stage race in Europe this year including our first British winner of The Tour de France and now he has taken an Olympic Gold to top it off. But what he has also done was to make cycling cool. With his trade mark sideburns and Mod styling and love of British music he has brought some real swagger to the sport.
All these things, I think have combined to make cycling in this country the number one sport. I say long may it continue.