I agree with most of what Jonathan Liew says (UK cycling boom was not here to stay and lack of institutional will could keep it away, 6 February). However, his article doesn’t seem to entirely separate the sport of cycling from the activity. I have been a cycle ride leader and cycle trainer since 2009 – a few years before the boom times.
I was put off the racing side in the early 1980s when I found that cycling clubs were really just golf clubs on wheels. The “Rapha cafe bore” equates to 1980s golf bore. I loved riding the velodrome in Glasgow, pre-pandemic, until I rediscovered the golf club mentality of the 80s. I have never returned.
The National Lottery and British government poured millions of pounds into the British Cycling/Team Sky project, and it paid off handsomely. That reflected glory on the sponsors and politicians, which was gold dust for them. Public funds were shovelled to the private sector, which led to the defunding of public-sector cycling projects.
In my work, my colleagues and I have taken more than 3,000 people on led rides, and we have taught and trained about 1,000 people, both children and adults, to ride a bike. This is the level of where investment should be if behavioural and cultural change towards cycling is to occur. Trying to make the “sport” work will fail. Investment in infrastructure and activity cycling projects is the only way to make lasting and effective change.
“Anecdotally, the grassroots scene seems to be holding up pretty well,” writes Jonathan Liew. He has been hearing very different anecdotes from those that I hear, which suggest that non-elite cycle racing is in its death throes. There is very little “bunched” racing on the open road, and time-trialling, which provided a nursery for past British world champions, is in a bad way, with fewer competitors and events. Also, the volunteer organisers and helpers, essential to the sport, are getting older and not being replaced.
In recent years, British Cycling has not shown much interest in the grassroots; the organisation has been run by people brought in from outside the sport who have concentrated on international success for a tiny elite. Modern Britain is recognisable here – just go for short-term goals and to hell with the future. In the end, no non-elite racing will equal no champions.