There's no ignoring it, cycling is now an industry with a solid consumer base attracting a wide range of people all with different economic status whether you are an everyday commuter just wanting to get around by the 2 wheel human powered contraption or you're an out and out racer looking for the next technological upgrade to give you the cutting edge against those glory hungry accountants (I apologise for the stereotype but I am yet to meet someone who is not an accountant or in a job of that status who owns a £5k+ bike!).
One particular area which a lot of businesses are jumping on the band wagon of is the all day events of sportives. Ranging from short to ultra distances, these now money making schemes can attract now in their thousands. My love for cycling began 8 years ago, finding a sportive to join in that era was difficult. Only well established event companies would hold them and they would not be as frequent as they are now. At the time, I was working in a school which had some cycling enthusiasts and was approached to join a group to tackle the Princes Trust Palace to Palace Ride. Just over 50miles from Buckingham Palace, through bits of Surrey before finishing up opposite Windsor Castle. This was a slightly scary thought as I was sticking to laps around Richmond Park, 3 laps was an achievement for me on my rattle cage Carrera Valour (I had never placed the headset and due to my naivety and limited knowledge of bike maintenance, the headset had rusted and moulded itself onto the forks hence the rattle everytime it crested the slightest bump in the road! Myself and @test_richie had to saw it off!). Unfortunately, this well looked after beast of a bike was stolen from my garden so it is now longer with us, I did think though the silver aluminium frame and blue Bontrager tyres were striking.
Most mileage has accumulated in one ride before this was roughly 40 and I had never ridden the roads either. To this day, I regard the sportive as one of the best I've done. The start in front of the Queens crib on a traffic free Mall on a sunny Sunday morning, I was so impressed with the organisation and the all round good feeling the event had generated. There was feed stops and your usual event photographer but I just loved the route. One of the criteria for the entry was to raise money for the Princes Trust, I think the group in all raised a couple of hundred pounds from school but there was no minimum limit which I appreciate. Just feel the thousands of pounds ask by some charity sport events really price out those who would love to take part and contribute but struggle to raise the minimum target.
I had the taste for this and it wasn't long before I was approached by a friend's father who liked things old school. To this day, he still writes in a cycling diary all his data and key info of each ride, he was basically Strava before the world became obsessed with online data comparisons. He also acted as my mechanic whenever something went wrong with my bike, I am forever grateful for this and if you're reading this, if you ever want me to change a puncture for you or lend you some energy gels or show you how to work a Garmin, just holla! Finding sportives at the time was not as easy as it is now. In literally 0.79 seconds, Google will find you 37.2million results linked with the word sportive. One of the biggest cycling retailers at the time and who continue their Super Series Sportives with a decent reputation, Wiggle, was running an 'Ups and Downs Sportive' through the Surrey Hills. The memory for me that day was my first meeting with Whitedown. I got over Leith Hill ok but that devil of a climb with a 20% gradient pointed at me, laughed at me then told me to do one! I must confess and it wasn't cockiness that brought me to say it, I honestly thought giving a fellow rider some words of encouragement as I climbed past was the nicest thing I could do at that present moment with probably 70% of the riders at the time struggling to get up too. But as I piped up with 'keep going mate' as I rode past, the hill mocked me for it and it got to me, I had to pull over to take for the sole reason my legs said nah! I had never encountered something as steep before. As I focused on not throwing up on the side of this now nemesis of mine, the rider I had encouraged earlier had re-passed me, following him was a couple of riders who gave me the same words of encouragement I had fatefully passed on!
I can proudly say that Whitedown has now been conquered many times with out stopping but it's no friend of mine and I doubt we will ever see eye to eye especially as its evil sister Barhatch keeps ringing me, whatsapping me, 'MyFaceBoTwitSnapAgram'-ing me to go out on a date with her! Thanks to the success of the London 2012 Olympics and the cycle race taking in Box Hill 9 times (see previous blog for a run down of what that slog felt like!). @RouteSurreyUK and I challenged ourselves to a couple more sportives around Surrey organised again by Wiggle and Evans Ride It. The Wiggle sportive was an attempt at joining the 100mile club but due to seriously wet weather and me hitting the wall, I had failed but Ali proudly achieved the feat, I will always be in awe of him for that. The wall came just before Leith and Whitedown 80miles in, my body just started to fail, the legs knew it didn't have much left, my toes were freezing just after 5miles thanks to a huge puddle by Ranmore which we all had to ride through and I knew if I wanted to get back to event HQ, I had to call time and detour back. Ali completely understood and rode on, I took the lonely route back along the a25 past Whitedown and back to Dorking. I'm not sure if its confession time here but I sinned again, I rode across the finish line and my timing chip beeped. I didn't tell the marshalls that I took a short cut back so officially on the timings sheet, I achieved Silver status for the 100miles and was quicker than Ali. Out of respect for my forever loyal cycling companion, I declined to print out the electronic certificate and will take this secret to the grave (well its still a secret if Wiggle don't find out!).
I'll refer back now to the first paragraph. Sportives. It's not so much as an added excursion you can throw yourself on to enhance your cycling experience but now a concrete income for all businesses trying to grab a slice of that money pie. I don't have specific figures at hand but cycling in this country is worth hundreds of millions through sales of bikes, clothing, energy bars, gels, parts, servicing and of course events. My first sportive cost £15 and for that feed stops, signs guiding you on the route and marshalling was included. Forward on to 2016. These events are now costing double and in some cases triple that. For the Surrey Hills, there are plenty of events to choose from which take in most of the major climbs. The discussion I had with Ali is what are we getting for our money? We ride these roads near enough weekly, we could design a better route and has the sportive appeal had its day? With regards to Surrey, I think this might be the case or its peaking.
The alternative is to travel further afield. Ultra sportives such as the Dragon Ride and LEJOG are a massive pull for those looking to for that next level physical challenge. But that takes a lot more financial discipline as it will cost more with entry fee and accommodation. So what next for the sportive industry? I propose something similar to the Tour of Cambridge, an amateur weekend sportive involving a time trial and sportive race. With the wide range of options in the Surrey Hills, a weekend event could involve hill climb competitions, time trial-esque stages and a longer race sportive. Its local enough for Londoners and cyclists from the South East to ride to and return home so accommodation is not an issue for majority of people. It has an event to cater all types of riders but still maintaining an amateur feel so everyday Joes are not put off by those who think Sky or Trek are one call away (they ain't!). I think throwing in one free photo doesn't hurt either, the quality of photos on offer from the event photographers are second to none, I can't fault the quality but downloading an electronic copy for sometimes in excess of £10 does feel extremely steep? I'd be more inclined to buy more if I knew one was complimentary. The whole event itself does not need to be charged in line with the rate of inflation, event companies will make enough money the entry fees, sponsorship and extra purchases linked to the event like gels, bars, parts and clothing to offer a subsidiary entry fee which will be inclusive to those not as financially blessed as others who run Zipp wheels as run arounds (you know who you are and I envy you and your deep rims!).
Put it clearly, I feel sportives are losing a value for money feel. Some companies are starting to mix it up with KOM challenges etc. but more creative ideas are needed to really appeal to the loyal cyclist. This year, I will be looking to support the club sportives to help put money back into the local areas, not only are they cheaper but the money will go back to where it should be. I completely understand businesses need to make a profit to stay ahead in the market but theres no price on loyalty and value for money. I for one don't want to be pulling this face again on a sportive any time soon! (Before you point it out, yes, that is the same Polaris jersey I wore in my first sportive!).
'Don’t buy upgrades, ride up grades'