Close your eyes and youd swear you were on the open seas in an ocean-going sailing yacht. But youre not, youre in York. On the racecourse. In a tent. (Sorry, marquee). Visitor numbers were low for the first day thats to be expected, its not the weekend yet but theres plenty to see and do. And, thankfully the Met Office has been wrong so far, it has yet to rain

National Cycling Festival gets off to blowey start

Lets start positive: theres tons of things for people to see and do at this expanded York Rally. A great deal of effort has gone into the show organisation. The NCF, as CTC signwriters are calling it, is spread over a surprisingly large area. So large, in fact, thats its easy to miss some of the satelitte one-brand mini-marquees dotted around the pay-for-entrance compound.

The very impressive IPC big top may be a bit dark (more lights are promised) but it will be a haven for MTBing yoof. There are loud sounds from a resident DJ, SIS carbo drinks on tap, and the Raleigh-sponsored dirt jumps are just outside and theres a truck-sized video wall playing MTB videos and brand promos.

The posh tents flap in the wind but are light, airy and up to the job. The coolness of the weather is probably an advantage, last weekends weather would have seen exhibitors keel over in the heat.

There are plenty of trade stands, an on-site fun fair, obligatory simulators and enough grass-roots riding planned to fill any enthusiasts weekend.

But with the Red Bull all-night race being staged 70 miles away on the same weekend, thats 2500 hardcore riders and spectators who wont be hanging out with MBR magazine in the IPC big top. commercial staff are at the National Cycling Festival but editorial is at the Red Bull.

And if the BA/CTC were expecting Knavesmire campers to pay each day to get into the York Rally was it sensible to think the knobbly knees brigade wouldnt kick up a fuss over paying to get into their show? the organisers got a rude awakening.

Right from kick-off this morning the complaints came thick and fast (so CTC door-keeps told us). Show visitors who did not pre-register for a three day entrance ticket werent allowed to buy them on the door. That led to stiff words from Rally stalwarts, especially as soft information stands such as Sustrans, the Tandem Club, the Tricycle Association, the Rough Stuff Fellowship and other non-commercial organisations were placed in the pay area.

Even the cheap and nasty stands knocking out bargains a Rally tradition were in the pay area.

By 4pm there was a change of heart from the show organisers and a hastily scribbled notice went up informing campers that a three day discounted ticket would be available after all.

Desperation or democracy? And does it represent a cut to the revenue the BA/CTC were expecting?

Lets face it, this BA/CTC show is a numbers game. The official press release is still quoting the highly ambitious nay, suicidal target of 50 000 visitors to the show. Yet there were only 550 pre-registrations, many thousands lower than the pre-registations for Futures public bike shows.

A standard York Rally gets 15-20 000 visitors. That means the BA/CTC are expecting 30 000 new visitors. People from outside the box as John Carrington Beard of the BA puts it. This is laudable. The bike trade does, indeed, need to extend its influence into new areas. But with the 50 000 figure being bandied about for many months, any less than this will be disappointing for exhibitors who were promised big numbers of high-quality visitors.

Minster FM is broadcasting live from the Festival and theres been a pleasing amount of local press coverage (theres even been a best shop window competition organised by York Council who, by all accounts, have been real stars) but national TV and newspaper coverage of the event has been minimal, despite the BA paying for a three-month PR campaign. However, MBUK say they never got any press releases, BikeBiz got two or three and other magazines said the ticket booking information they were emailed with was wrong.

The lack of PR hits was the right agency chosen? Is a so-called good contacts book any substitute for hard work? means few people outside the box were exposed to the Festivals message.

Powabyke paid £3000 for a satellite tent location and saw just a handful of people all day today. EMAP paid for a crew of extemely attractive young women to stimulate samplings of On Your Bike magazine yet they metaphorically twiddled their thumbs most of the day.

Saturday and Sunday will see a marked increase in the number of show visitors but with one disgruntled CTC member (Paul Derby of Staffs) telling all and sundry at the entrance gate that there should be a boycott of the show because the charges were not well enough advertised in the CTC magazine, and with other members voting with their feet, its clear the CTC leadership underestimated how peeved many people would be to pay to get into the trade tents at the York Rally.

Of course, this is tempered by those visitors who sensibly see the £5.00 entrance fee as par for the course.

We expect to pay. Yes, its expensive for a family but you pay to get in everywhere nowadays and its not a problem if everything inside is up to the billing, said Vilma Robson from Stoke on Trent, here at York with husband, Paul and children Laura, 14, and Daniel, 16. They are not CTC members, have never been to the York Rally before and were enticed here by the ads in MBR.

Weve really enjoyed it. Lots to see, said Mrs Robson. Worth the money easily.

The BA/CTC need a lot more families like the Robsons and a lot less camper-carpers like Paul Derby.

Next years York Rally reverts to a two-day affair so the BA is clearly not going to be funding a Festival of Cycling in 2001. Now it is banking its hopes on a June trade show in Harrogate (see next story).

Out of the frying pan into the fire?


Im not a professional knocker. I want this show to succeed just like everyone else. I donated some of my photographs free of charge to help the poster and ad campaign. There is no criticism intended of the show organisers who have done an excellent job. But sycophancy gets you nowhere, a blind eye should not be turned to the failings on display (dont get me started on the poor signage at the show).

Remember, this is a closed industry website so the criticisms are meant to be constructive rather than damning.

One of the main failings is claiming a 50 000 visitor target. This raises false expectations. And without an effective PR and marketing campaign house ads in IPC titles are not enough reaching outside of the box was doomed.

And by choosing to house all the best bits of the show in the pay-for-entrance area, the CTC was guaranteed to cheese off a large chunk of its core audience. The CTC leadership dismisses such views, the moaners are old-guard reactionaries, but I reckon the CTC mag is going to be packed with letters of complaint for months to come.



The dirt track area and IPC big top


The handwritten climb-down sign


The Robson family


Tons of stuff to see, including the first UK outing of SRAMs Smartbar, here fitted to a Raleigh specially made for the job, Graham Snodden of SRAM told BikeBiz.

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