Will the Grand Prix race be good for cycling in Bristol?

News just in, the inaugural Bristol Grand Prix Cycle Race will take place on Saturday 20 June 2015. We are told that “cyclists will take over the streets of Bristol to inspire people of all ages and abilities to #lovethefuture of cycling”.

But what kind of cycling?

Some in BCyC are known to slide into lycra regularly and are fond of watching the thrill of a race. Others could not be less interested in watching pumped up, mostly young, aggressive people on hugely expensive specialist machines, wearing weird clothing and hurtling through the streets of Bristol risking life and limb, even if they’re not on pavements.

The problem is we use only the one word for a person riding a bicycle. English just uses “cycling”, whereas other tongues differentiate sport and utility cycling by having distinct verbs for them: wielrennen/fietsen in Dutch and faire du vélo/faire de la bicyclette in French. Both activities are performed on sort of pedal-driven tubular metal frame thing with two wheels; but that’s as far as the resemblance goes.

It’s the difference between walking with wheels, and running with wheels. Most people don’t put on special clothes and shoes to walk around town, but would expect to shower and change after a run. Would going to watch lots of people doing a 10k or marathon make you want to walk more?

The Road Danger Reduction Forum discusses the issue in a most compelling way from last year, Will the Tour de France be good for cycling in the UK? As they say “Cycle sport fans inevitably use the word ‘cycling’ based on cycle sport, and everyday cycling is supposed to slot into that conception of cycling. If the images of ‘cycling’ and ‘cyclist’ are of ‘cyclists’ [taking risks,] crashing and hurting themselves, that’s bad. It distorts discussion of issues like cycle helmets and is just plain misleading and negative. The brutal truth is not just that the fantastic success of Team Sky and Team GB has not led to a move towards cycling getting above a 1-2% national modal share. It is not even that there are minimal benefits from cycle sport feeding in to cycling as transport. It is that there are significant negative elements, particularly its association with crashing, that exist.”

Two views of whether racing cycling helps promote everyday cycling and get bums on bikes are set out in the CTC article Does cycle sport promote cycling? David Hembrow (who hosts our Dutch Study Tours) believes that sporting events don’t change peoples’ behaviour, “Sports are great, but everyday cycling has nothing to do with sport. Not even with cycle-sport.”

So, we are very much looking forward to Bristol’s Biggest Bike Ride the following day on Sunday 21st June (even if it’s now called Skyride). There is good evidence that mass community cycling events are effective at encouraging more people on to bikes (see Essential Evidence from Bristol’s own Dr Adrian Davis in his #23 paper Mass community cycling events).

Bristol Grand Prix cycle race circuitAnd we’ll be out there riding the circuit and cheering on the riders, but we won’t be under any illusions that this is helping to achieve the BCyC vision of Bristol as ‘a city alive with bicycles, where cycling is so easy that everyone does it’

The race schedule for Saturday 20th June 2015 will be:

2.30pm ‘Love My Bike’ lap for public entry (might  this be a Slow Bicycle Race? Jump to 3:00 for the action) 
3.00pm Junior / Youth race
3.45pm Corporate Relay Race
4.45pm Men’s category 3 and 4
5.45pm Women’s elite, category 1, 2 and 3
6.45pm Men’s elite, category 1 and 2