Cycling, Facilities and the Future of our Sport
Cycling is a unique activity in many ways. It exists as a sport, a recreational activity and a means of transport. As a racing cycling club our interest is obviously in the competitive aspect of the activity. However, in WA, as a percentage of participants who regularly undertake the activity in its many forms, active sporting participants by far represent the smallest group.
We can however, as a sport, be proud of our achievements. Despite the relatively small number of racers as a percentage of participation, WA cycling performs exponentially above our weight class when it comes to developing athletes that excel at the highest level.
It could be argued that in terms of producing elite athletes, Australian, World and Olympic champions, cycling in WA is the state’s most successful sport. Particularly when measured against the number of registered participants.
WA riders currently riding at the World Tour level:
Jessica Allen, Cameron Meyer, Luke Durbridge, Robert Power, Jai Hindley, Michael Storer, Ben o’Connor
This last week alone two Western Australians have won stages at a grand tour; Ben o’Connor and Jai Hindley at the Giro d’Italia. Tonight, we may well have our first grand tour winner (go Jai)!
On the track and road at a senior level we have had multiple Australian, World and Olympic champions:
Sam Welsford, Cameron Meyer, Travis Meyer, Michael Freiberg, Ryan Bailey, Melissa Hoskins, Darryn Hill, Lucy Tyler-Sharman, Peter Dawson, Steele Bishop
Not to forget current Australian Cycling Team member Matt Richardson and Podium Potential Academy member Connor Leahy.
At the junior level WA has also had significant success with multiple World and Australian champions (notably the Meyer brothers and Jessica Allen).
Since 1983 cycling has had eight WA Sports Star of the Year winners. Again, as a percentage of participation, more than any other sport.
All this from a sport that has one, yes one, dedicated sporting facility: The Midvale Speed Dome.
It’s no coincidence that many of these riders have come through the Midland Cycling Club. There would be a strong argument that in terms of producing champions and riders at the highest level, that MCC are maybe the most successful cycling club in Australia. As a tenant of the Speed Dome, a significant part of this success has come via the club’s access to this facility and therefore its ability to attract and develop elite junior talent.
Of course, this is not the only reason. Coaches, volunteers, tradition and a long and storied history in the sport have all played their part. But access to a facility (The Speed Dome and before that, the outdoor track in Midland) have been central to its ongoing success over a long period of time.
Nearly every successful sporting club is anchored around a facility.
Club rooms and dedicated sporting facilities provide a club a home. A place to build culture and identity, a place to train, to compete. A place for juniors to be introduced to a sport in a safe and welcoming environment so they can develop skills and compete. A place to host social as well as competitive activities and to develop revenue streams to support the club and its growth.
As a competitive cycling community, we are faced with a real existential threat. Unless we can lobby local, state and federal governments to invest in dedicated competitive cycling infrastructure we face the very real risk of having no-where to race other than the Speed Dome. The current crop of young champions competing on the world stage may be the last.
Let’s be clear, we don’t need new elite or state level facilities like the Speed Dome, we need club facilities like criterium circuits or outdoor tracks that are relatively cost effective to maintain and to operate for this sport to grow. These are the facilities where clubs can develop a base, train, race and grow membership and introduce juniors to the sport. As clubs grow so does volunteering, the lifeblood of any club.
The other beauty of facilities like criterium circuits is their utility. They can be used for any wheeled sport, for learn to ride activities, for recreational and health and fitness purposes.
Facilities also bring down the cost of competition, both for the organiser and the participant.
Look at this from the Balmoral Cycling Club in Brisbane:
They hold racing nearly every Saturday of the year at their Murarrie Criterium track. Cost of entry for open riders is $16 and for juniors it’s $11.
You can see the circuit here:
Juxtapose this against what we have to spend and undertake to run summer racing:
For RCCC to run at Bayswater it costs around $1400 a race. To run at DRMC circuit hire alone for a half day Sunday is over $1800 including toilet hire, and over $1200 for our twilight races including toilet hire. We keep our entry prices as low as we possibly can whilst not exposing the club to financial ruin.
For Sunday racing at Bayswater the application process starts in June or July with ordering the TMP. An event application is then made to City of Bayswater which includes the TMP, a Risk Management Plan, Emergency Management Plan, a Noise Management Plan and an application to have the coffee van.
Once Bayswater approve the event and sign a Temporary Suspension of the Road Traffic Act this document is sent to local Police and then to State Traffic Intelligence at Midland for their approval.
Additionally, Bayswater require us to door knock every business in the area informing them of our activities. As we are running on public roads with the permission of council and Police, we run the very real risk of having everything cancelled should an occupant on the circuit complain, or we have an incident that brings the event to the attention of these authorities.
This is an onerous and lengthy process that requires significant volunteer resources and runs the risk of disappearing should there be no alternative available. Given the complexity and difficulty of running events it is unsurprising that only three clubs in the metro area (including WCMCC) run road events with any regularity.
This lack of club and racing facilities for cycling is brought into stark relief by the increasing difficulty and complexity in securing courses and running events in WA, particularly in and around the metro area. As urban sprawl continues unabated and Perth grows at a rapid rate, regular access too safe, affordable and suitable circuits becomes increasingly difficult. Even then the regulatory and compliance burden gets more complex and difficult. Even running criteriums, something RCCC specialises in, is becoming increasingly difficult.
So how did we get here? A massively successful sport from a results perspective, riding a wave of popularity and participation with only one facility. There are many answers:
In the short time I have been involved as a cycling club administrator I have seen many things; Clubs and administrators embroiled in court action over governance issues, mismanagement of state and national association finances leading to wind up and re-structure, a failure to convert the massive growth in recreational participation into membership and sporting participation.
When the sporting precinct at Mount Claremont was planned and built, cycling clubs and administrators were to busy fighting amongst themselves to have an active say in getting cycling into the mix. After that we were broke and in disgrace with state government.
When I became chair of CycleSport WA WestCycle had commissioned a report on cycling facilities. The agency charged with delivering the report did a terrible job and it took way too long to deliver. The final product was pretty much useless. Effectively it was wasted money.
There is now a process being undertaken around a state facility that will house road, track and BMX. From my position that would also be a waste of money.
We don’t need a state facility, we need grass roots facilities to drive membership and participation.
A state facility, particularly if it is run by Venues West as a commercial operation, will be a white elephant. A facility needs a club, or clubs to anchor it, use it and maintain it. Notably there has been very little stakeholder consultation in this process to date.
AusCycling is not the answer here either. We are yet to see what level of local support we will get, or how many AusCycling staff will be in WA to service the three “codes”. In the near term they won’t be engaged with local and state governments to drive investment in facilities. And if they do get to the position where they are, it will be years down the track.
WestCycle have been, rightly in my opinion, focused on the easier wins. The principle shared path network (probably the best in Australia) and mountain bike trails investment. Something like $50 million dollars has been spent, or is planned to be spent, on MTB trails around Perth and in the South West. Convincing a government to spend up to $10 million dollars on three criterium circuits is hard work and faced with limited resources to deploy WestCycle are always going to take the easy wins.
The shining light here is obviously Dr Chris Howard and Northern Beaches CC. They have a funding commitment from City of Wanneroo for the Splendid Park Cycling Facility and have a further commitment for another circuit at the Alkimos Regional Sport Facility when it is built further down the track. This success is entirely due to the persistence and lobbying of Dr Chris Howard and his ability to sell a vision to City of Wanneroo. Praise must also go to City of Wanneroo and Mayor Tracey Roberts for seeing the potential and buying into Chris’s vision. This is a model for all other clubs seeking to get facilities built.
So, what’s the end game? Four closed circuits of between 1km and 1.5km’s:
- Spendid Park and eventually Alkimos in the north
- South servicing Peel Districts Cycling Club
- East, most likely an extension of the Speed Dome circuit servicing the tenants of that facility, or at Whiteman Park
- Central / Western Suburbs servicing the inner city
An estimate would be an investment of between $5 million and $10 million dollars given Splendid Park is mostly funded already and that 600m of track already exists at the Speed Dome.
As part of the Cambridge Cycling Club project I have met more politicians and stake holders in the last few months than I ever have before. This project continues unabated. But given the uncertainty around cycling governance in this state our pathway to government is not clear.
I do know one thing, given the amount of money state and federal governments are spending on projects for COVID stimulus, and the states sports success on the international stage, there has never been a better time to pitch the need for facilities.
This approach can’t be piecemeal, it needs to be coordinated. Whether WestCycle have the appetite or resources to do this going forward remains to be seen. I for one would not blame them if they didn’t, particularly given what they have put up with over the last few years.
If they don’t then the clubs will need to have a united voice to government directly. The fact there will be no State Sporting Organisation is irrelevant. We service Western Australian members and our activities benefit the cyclists of Western Australia.
President: Roues Chaudes Cycling Club
(If I left anyone of note off the athlete list, please accept my apology. Let me know and I can edit the entry)