Ian Maxwell: Edinburgh boost from Tour de France

This year's Tour de France makes its way through York
This year's Tour de France makes its way through York
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The success of this year’s Grand Depart of the Tour de France from Yorkshire has made it an even more tempting prospect for Edinburgh, and another bid to host the event seems very likely.

Although the bicycles used in professional cycle races are from the same species as those ridden by Edinburgh’s growing band of commuter cyclists, the two activities are planets apart.

You don’t need to even break into a sweat on the typical commuter journey, and racing to get to the lights before the end of the green phase isn’t quite the same thing as a sprint finish.

But despite the vast gulf between my everyday pedal to work and the superhuman efforts of Bradley Wiggins or Chris Froome, I will certainly be backing Edinburgh’s bid to take a key part in the Tour.

When the Grand Depart took place in London in 2007, Transport for London conducted research to examine whether hosting a major sporting event has an impact on levels of cycling.

Survey results indicated that just over half of those attending the race and accompanying events said they were more likely to cycle as a result of the Tour de France, in particular for leisure.

The Go-Ride Come and Try It sessions, organised by British Cycling, were very successful both in London and Kent in attracting young people with little or no experience of cycling.

Overall, one fifth of cyclists interviewed at the festival said they already cycled more than in 2006 and 11 per cent had taken up cycling since then. Those most likely to cycle more included younger women, people aged 16-34 and those in social classes ABC1.

The London Cycling Campaign (LCC) delivered a series of guided rides to the Tour, targeted at up to 2000 novice, returnee, family and child cyclists, led by the LCC’s borough groups members from different locations in outer London.

These rides converged on an exclusive access enclosure alongside the Prologue course for a trackside viewing experience. Riders were led home again at the end of the day. This event attracted a range of age groups, including a substantial majority of women and three-quarters said that the event had encouraged them to cycle more.

But if Edinburgh is successful in hosting the Grand Depart, we will only see a real long-lasting impact on everyday cycling levels if a lot of effort is put into translating this enthusiasm into everyday bums on saddles.

We need major through routes that feel safe for novice cyclists, so that these new recruits can take to the city streets. They will also need easy access to advice and encouragement, such as the Dr Bike Cycle Safer stalls that are being held throughout Edinburgh by the Bike Station.

Edinburgh also needs far better road surfaces, not just on the race route but throughout the city. And if the traffic can stop for a day to allow for the race, why not introduce traffic-free Sundays throughout the year in far more Edinburgh city centre streets.

So as well as being a world-class sporting spectacle, the Tour de France in Edinburgh could be a powerful tool to attract more cyclists, as long as accompanying events are properly organised and funded over a far longer period before and after the event.

Filling the streets with brightly coloured cycle racers for one day in July isn’t nearly enough in itself – although it will be fun to see them cope with the tram lines.

Ian Maxwell is from cycling campaign group Spokes