Or, how bike events can set the tills ringing.

Getting more bums on saddles requires organisation

I’ve recently returned from a nine-day mountain bike trip to South Africa. File this under “it’s a tough life, but somebody’s got to do it” if you wish but it was no jolly. I was riding with my mega-fit roadie son, and he wanted to race hard for nine days, which is understandable, I suppose, because the trip was, in fact, a stage race, the annual Joberg2C, from just outside Johannesburg to the Indian Ocean.

The 900km route meant we had to cover at least 100kms every day for nine days, and all off-road. There were 700 racers, and I don’t think anybody was riding a bike that wasn’t worth at least £2000. That’s at least £1.5 million-worth of bikes, and as many of the machines were likely worth much more than £2000 I’d hazard a guess that the Joberg2c’s nightly bike parking zones were storing probably £3 million worth of high-end MTBs. (We were riding Pyga MTBs.) And Joberg2c is the small sister event to a larger one. The Sani2C is a three day MTB stage race which, over separate days, attracts three lots of 1500 riders (elite, sport and leisure) so that’s 4500 bikes worth perhaps £12+ million.

Both events were founded by twoSouth African farmers, who are also keen mountain bikers. These farmers are at least partly responsible for this £12+ million in bike sales. And as both events are tough on parts and frames as well as people (I saw some pretzeled wheels and quite a few busted clavicles) there’s also probably a post-race purchase spike too.

It’s entirely possible that many of the participants on the Joberg2C and the Sani2C bought their bikes in order to do these events. Riders tend to be executive level, and monied, and perhaps would have previously been attracted to golf tournaments rather than bike races.

Joberg2c and Sani2C are just two MTB stage races – South Africa has lots. MTB stage racing is huge in South Africa, partly because the drivers on South African roads are so deadly. These events and others are keeping the South African bike industry in clover. The South African economy is facing many challenges but people still seem happy enough to spend big bucks on the latest tubeless-shod carbon-framed super machines.

Clearly, we could do with similar big-bucks events in the UK – events which get people spending. It’s certainly a reminder that the unsung grassroots race and event organisers in the UK – road, CX, MTB and other categories – deserve our thanks. From the Tweed Run through to Tweed Love (urban cycle chic through to an MTB festival in the Tweed valley, Scotland), events stimulate sales. Add up the cost of the bikes in your average sportive and it’s a pretty penny.

And it’s always been thus. I remember riding the Wendover Bash events staged by Geoff Apps in the 1980s. This and other similar early MTB events encouraged the purchase of bikes. There’s nothing like an event coming up to getting the n+1 juices flowing. In the run-up to the Fred Whitton Challenge sportive in the Lake District you’ll find me researching rolling resistance to make sure I’ve got the smoothest running tyres for the event, and I’ll also stock up on gels and powders even though, on the day, I’ll likely stick to refuelling via the official food stops.

Many bike shops organise events, usually for the altruism of it all, but there are also compelling financial reasons why organising events can be an – indirect – money-spinner too. Events get people on bikes. We need more events, especially ones that wreck machines.

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