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Boardman: Yorkshire Worlds not guaranteed to get more people riding bikes

Chris Boardman interview
Joe Robinson
17 Sep 2019

Model such as RideLondon needs to be considered for sustained effect according to Boardman

When the UCI World Championships start this weekend in Harrogate, Yorkshire with the mixed relay team time trial, it will signify the start of the largest cycling event on British soil.

With 14 events spread across nine days, hundreds of athletes and thousands, if not millions, of spectators lining the routes for a week, the Worlds could far eclipse the previous watershed moment of the Tour de France’s Grand Depart in the county five years ago.

The pinnacle of road cycling, the World Championships visiting the UK for only the second time in its history should help inspire more people to get into cycling, increasing national numbers with people simply taking incentive from the pro racing on the road.

However, for former time trial World Champion-turned-cycling policy advocate Chris Boardman, simply bringing cycling’s biggest event to home shores is not a guarantee that more people will start riding bikes.

‘The Worlds coming to Yorkshire can have an impact on the number of people cycling but it’s not a given, by far,’ Boardman told Cyclist.

‘I looked at the national figures recently from it and wanted to see if sporting success has an effect on people cycling and, to be honest, my position is that is doesn’t. We have 1.7% cycling use in the UK despite having the most dominant Olympic cycling team for the past decade.

‘Just because you can create a great sporting spectacle doesn’t mean you will have more people riding bikes, you have to work for it.’

Nobody is denying that the Worlds will not provide a grand sporting stage to showcase Yorkshire’s beautiful countryside and the nation’s continuing appetite for professional bike racing.

Boardman believes the potential is there, it is just how local authorities and businesses capitalise on the opportunity that will make the difference, pointing towards the example of RideLondon as a leading force in getting people riding bikes.

Operating for the best part of a decade, the RideLondon weekend has combined the attraction of WorldTour men’s and women’s bike racing with the world’s largest closed-road sportive and a FreeCycle that sees almost 100,000 people take to the capital’s streets on bikes.

It’s an example that Boardman believes should be followed.

‘London's done an amazing job with RideLondon but, if we are honest, the pro race is the most boring and least inspiring part of the entire weekend. The inspiration comes from the amateurs, the regular people riding their bikes,’ said Boardman.

'I actually looked at RideLondon quite closely recently and what I saw was that people on the Saturday, the day before the sportive and pro race, on the FreeRide - that was where the impressive figures were.

‘There are 80,000 riding in the FreeCycle; 30,000 of those at the FreeCycle do not consider themselves regular cyclists and 12 months later are still cycling.’

Boardman was also keen to praise former London Mayor, now current Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s vision of introducing a ‘marathon on wheels’ to the capital that has also grown into an event that not only costs the city nothing but now makes money that helps pay for cycling infrastructure.

It is a model that Boardman wants the Worlds and Yorkshire to take inspiration from and one he also hopes he can introduce to Manchester in the near future.

Now Manchester’s walking and cycling commissioner, Boardman has been hard at work improving the cycling infrastructure of the city and was involved in bringing the Tour of Britain back to the city’s roads for the first time in 25 years.

It was an experiment that he believes can give local councils and authorities the confidence and securities to put on future cycling events that will go beyond just professional bike racing and towards getting the average person on a bike.

‘London has done the hard yards and the product they have now didn’t arrive polished but now with RideLondon it is onto a winner,’ said Boardman.

‘I am looking at events like RideLondon and using those as a vehicle to do more here in Manchester. The Tour of Britain came to Manchester and I managed to have it visit all 10 districts and was the first test.

‘This year it was just a sporting spectacle, but if we keep it, I want to take it to places like Oldham and Wigan and see what we can introduce that lets everyday people have a go and leverage them into making cycling an everyday thing.’