COMMENT: The UCI says Britain is starting to realise it has a new national sport...

Can cycling’s popularity rival football’s?

What a time to be part of the UK cycle trade.

We’ve just heard that we’re second only to Germany in the amount of bicycles sold (in Europe) and, according to the UCI, the country is started to realise we have a new national sport on our hands.

Is that claim really true? To take a straw poll, cycling is tenth on the list of sports on BBC Sport page – and on The Telegraph too, despite its alphabetical superiority. The Sun doesn’t list cycling at all. So, it seems there’s some way to go before mainstream media is convinced that cycling is our new national sport.

Nevertheless, there’s a palpable air of excitement in the world of cycling.

British Cycling was important enough to lure Prime Minister David Cameron from the Tory Party Conference earlier this week, while our cycling pros have been going from success to success – not least when Mark Cavendish recently became Britain’s first male world road race champion in decades.

According to a BBC report based on government agency UK Sport figures, cycling is delivering serious value for money. British Cycling has, since 2001, won a total of 103 world championship and Olympic medals on the track and road, dwarfing success from other sports, especially in terms of the investment it has received. And not forgetting that British Cycling has doubled its membership since 2007 to 40,000.

And then there was the report from the London School of Economics that cycling was generating nearly £3 billion for the economy.

It’s a dizzying array of great news for bikes, for those that work with them, write about them and of course those that ride ’em.

So, how far can this momentum take cycling? And will the trade be able to tap into this momentum?

One of the watershed moments for modern football was Euro ’96. With international teams coming to the UK and with an England team seemingly capable of winning, the national conscious seemed stirred by the event, to lasting effect. With London 2012 around the corner, there’s every chance the same could happen for cycling. Could it be a tipping point? Either way the impending Olympics won’t hurt. 

As to whether the trade will benefit – well there’s no reason to think it won’t. Times are tough at retail, as the COLIPED-COLIBI report acknowledges, but all these factors we’ve been hearing about have a bearing on cyclists and would-be cyclists. Or to put them another way, customers and potential customers.

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