Making cycling events greener

When we organised the first commercial mountain bike event in the UK there was just a small nod towards sustainability. It was, to be frank, pathetic – all we did was include directions to the venue from the nearest railway station.

Of course, most of the 700 spectators arrived in mortorised vehicles. Many of them did the 120 mile round trip from London, in cars that didn’t have catalytic converters, they drank fuel at 25 mpg and used leaded petrol. It was 1984.

We’d kidded ourselves that ours was an Earth-friendly event simply because it involved cycling. Thirty years on, we know better (see the previous post).

So, how best to organise an event that has no impact on the environment?

We’re not talking about carbon offsetting, the cop out that’s used by the motor racing circus called Formula One. We’re interested in genune zero-impact events – and there’s nothing to stop you from still paying an offsetting outfit to plant some trees, to boot.

One of the biggest contributors to an event’s carbon footprint would be travel. So, in a perfect world, events should be restricted to entrants who live within a short distance. How short is short? Ideally it could be reached by bike easily in an hour or less.

That gives a radius of maybe 12 miles and an area of 450 square miles. If you can’t attract enough participants from that area within Western Europe or the eastern seaboard of the USA then maybe you shouldn’t run it.

For some, in the more remote places, the next best option would be to restrict entry to those who travel by public transport – and I don’t include flying. In fact, rail travel is the only credible method for many because buses and coaches tend to reject bicycles as luggage.

If even that is tricky, event organisers could hire coaches that will carry bikes, and include the fares in the entry fees, along with a supplement large enough to offset the carbon several times over.

Granted, these may seem extreme and naive. For something a little more considered, see what the Council for Responsible Sport has done.

They’ve devised a sophisticated method for encouraging organisers to reduce their events’ impacts on the planet.

But precious few cycling events have ever applied for certification.

Executive director Kevin Peters tells me it may be because “cycling events take sustainability for granted”.

That’s sad. It’s pretty much where we were in 1984.

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