Cycling: The Ongoing Evolution of the Sport | Sports Destination Management

Cycling: The Ongoing Evolution of the Sport

Sep 13, 2018 | By: Guillermo Rojas

Cycling in the U.S. continues to evolve as a sport. Over the past few years, USA Cycling has seen some new trends emerge and the organization has been working on new initiatives to increase participation and make cycling even more fun and accessible.

What are some of the new trends these days that event directors should be looking for?
The most notable trend, according to Jeffrey Hansen, director of product management and operations, is the increased interest in bucket-list events, from USA Cycling National Championships, to gran fondos such as Gran Fondo New York or the Haute Route series of events. These fondos and non-traditional races are working with USA Cycling at a much greater rate than ever before. At USA Cycling, we’re positioning the sport of cycling as a lifetime event, and those types of events are a great way to do it.

Something interesting we’re seeing is cities inviting well-known cyclists from the past to come along on these rides. It lets the cities showcase themselves as a destination and it gives people the opportunity to ride with a celebrity. That’s a lot of fun and a great attraction for drawing people to the city to cycle there. Most people won’t get the opportunity, for example, to play basketball with Michael Jordan. This is something they can tell all their friends about and as a result, it drives more participation to the next ride.

Getting back to the previous note about cities showcasing themselves brings up another good point: cycling takes place outside and when we’re telling the stories of a race, we’re highlighting the story of the city we’re in. We also want events to be entertaining and fun for everyone. One great example of this took place in June in Knoxville, Tennessee, where we held our USA Cycling Pro Road, ITT & Crit National Championships. The start and finish lines were downtown, which meant the businesses got to showcase themselves to all the people who came to watch or to compete.

Knoxville really did a great job of promoting the event and of building the excitement for the ancillary events as well. They had street pole banners up for a month beforehand and there were posters, news pieces and commercials – it really helped plant the seed in people’s heads and get them excited. During the race, there was a real festival atmosphere downtown, and everyone was enjoying the day. It was a great model and we’d like to see more cities get involved the same way. We really want cities that are going to be partners with us, and that will have that spirit of cooperation.

Photo by Weldon Weaver

What is it that makes a city a good host community?
We like to partner up with a strong local organizing committee such as a sports commission or a convention and visitors bureau. They are good at creating relationships that allow us to highlight local businesses and attractions.

That being said, when we do venue selection, the following are things we look for, in no particular order:
• Appropriateness of venue/course from a competition side
• Ease of travel to and from the venue city
• Accommodations in a variety of price points
• Geographical rotation of event (movement of event through the country every few years)
• The presence of a strong cycling community or club; this generally means there is a built-in fan base and a lot of good publicity for events comes by word of mouth. Our sport does not have the large marketing dollars but it has a very local community.

According to our vice president of event operations, Chuck Hodge, when it comes to event placement, USA Cycling will meet with cities at several conference, such as the National Association of Sports Commissions. We’ll then meet with cities one-on-one if they express interest. Once the event location/city is picked, that group is encouraged to attend one of our National Championship events, where the representatives will receive a behind-the-scenes tour to fully understand all aspects of the event.

If a city is interested in bidding on an event, USA Cycling will have RFPs available on the website for review.

The potential economic impact of hosting events can vary, depending upon the type, scope and location of the event, but as an example, in 2014, our Professional Road and Time Trial National Championships in Chattanooga, Tennessee, recorded the following numbers:
• Economic impact of $5.9 million within the local community of Chattanooga
• Total average daily visitor spend: $180.30
• Weekend spectators: 30,000
• Time trial: 5,000
• Road race: 25,000
• 35 percent were new attendees (10,500)
• 60 percent were residents of Tennessee
• Extensive media coverage in 16 countries

USA Cycling’s Calendar, listing nationwide events, is found on our website, under Events. The calendar includes information on the discipline, date, location and more. We also have a section with resources for race directors, including information on permitting as well as other services, such as online event management and marketing tools, including our online registration platform, access to event calendars and other materials.

Photo by Weldon Weaver
How is USA Cycling building the sport?
We want cycling to be a fun sport for everyone. What we’re seeing, in terms of both races and gran fondos, is that events need to create more of a family atmosphere to make them attractive to everyone. A lot of bike events take hours and hours to complete so we’ve added some fun, non-pressure events and some entertainment.

One of those is our use of Frog Bikes that allow young kids to race one another on a short course. They can get the finish line experience and have some fun while the racers are off competing, and it also keeps their parents happy and engaged.

Social media has become a big tool for race directors, and we’ve really seen them use it well. They promote the race day experience, the spectators, the kids, the age groupers, the professionals – and then they also provide information on some of the other attractions in the city: the wine tasting, the scenic beauty of the area, the food, the hot spots for nightlife – that all gets captured and pushed out on social media and it builds the awareness of the event (and the city) and how much fun everyone is having.

Every amateur sport desires growth. Unfortunately, we live in a screen culture and it’s hard to get people away from that. We’re seeing some growth and some plateaus. Of all our disciplines (BMX, cyclo-cross, mountain bike, road and track), cyclo-cross has been the most consistent area of growth for us.

One unique thing about our sport and the events we host is that across all our championships and five major disciplines, we have not just a pro level but an amateur level. We also have events where some of those divisions are combined. You can compete on the same course as the superstars which certainly isn’t the case in too many other sports.

To keep the momentum going and to grow participation, USA Cycling has been refocusing its efforts. In addition to having strong national teams, we want to make cycling the lifestyle sport that people enjoy. As a result, you’ll be seeing us talk not just to racers but to enthusiasts as well. We want more people to come to our events to cycle to interesting places in that city, to go downtown to have dinner and enjoy the whole experience of being away and using their bicycles.

The good news is that these days, almost every community has some kind of option for cycling. You’re seeing more bike routes being planned and more parks are including trails for walking, running and cycling, for all ages and all levels of skill and fitness.

Something else we’re noticing is that the cycling demographic is changing: it’s becoming younger. The Millennials are the community on two wheels. It’s where we’re seeing the most growth, and where we can count on finding people who want to explore cities by cycling. We’re going to be watching that demographic very closely. SDM

Cycling Events and Erie, Pennsylvania:
A Perfect Match

Erie County, in the northwestern corner of Pennsylvania, is well-known among cycling enthusiasts for its wide variety of scenery and topography. From the flat landscape and waterfront views throughout Presque Isle State Park and along Lake Erie, to its scenic grape-growing region (the largest such region east of the Rocky Mountains), to rolling hills, regal old-growth forests and its urban city core, Erie offers a landscape for all types of cyclists.

To celebrate the growing bicycle culture, Erie annually hosts Lake Erie Cyclefest, a four-day event for cyclists of all interests and abilities. Riders are treated to six different events (with rides of varying distance and landscape) along with local fare, craft beer and music. The 2019 event is slated for August 1-4 and cyclists are already saving the date.
Consider Erie, Pennsylvania, when choosing a site for your next event. Our flat, lakefront terrain makes our region a premier cycling destination. Visit to learn more.

About the Author