Having gotten into cycling in the past 6 years we have already seen the sport shift a lot since the days of our secret socks, unshaved legs and spare tube around our waist. So we decided to have a look at what’s been happening with road racing in the Western Cape over the last 16 years, we trawled Racetec.co.za and got some great data to start analysing what has been happening on the road racing scene. This article breaks down some of these trends and looks at the reasoning behind them.
We chose the Sanlam/Burger/Stellenbosch Cycle Tour, we will call it Die Burger in the article as this is what is what it was called when we first took part. We chose Die Burger due to it always being at a similar time of year, has been held for the past 15 years and has age group data for the past thirteen years. We chose to not use the Argus as this, event is not a true reflection of actual road cycling in Cape Town as there are many international and national guests, skewing the figures.
Some interesting facts about Die Burger we uncovered while doing our investigation. It has not always been the same event, pre 2008 it was not organised by the Cycle Tour Trust, but rather a CWC organised event. The only two things that remained the same between the two events was the time of year and the Sponsors. The route was originally from the Sanlam building in Bellville to Stellenbosch and back, whereas the new route now finds itself starting in Stellenbosch and going through the Winelands and back to Stellenbosch. While we did want an event that had taken place every year, Die Burger did not take place in 2006.
Overall numbers in road events
In the year Y2K when everyone’s biggest worry was if computers were going to cope with the new millennia, Die Burger had 6300 entrants across all the distances offered. This number decreased to the lowest point in 2009 in the middle of the financial crisis, when only 3700 cyclists took part. It has since rallied over the 5000 entrant mark and the most recent edition saw 4100 riders take part. There could be a few external factors affecting this, one factor could be the change in the routes offered. To note, in 2000 there were 4 distances catering to all levels of fitness whereas in 2016 there was only a 98km distance offered. Is this a major reason for the difference in the size of the field?
Let’s drill down a little further then into the data and look at the age of the cyclists over the years. We looked at the males and females separately in this instance to provide a clearer picture. Also, unless someone pulls a Bruce Jenner, they can only move within the age categories and not gender. Having a look at the lads, from the graph below it can be clearly seen that the composition of the field is constantly changing. At a quick glance one can see the vast majority of the male cyclists taking part are between 30 and 60. Together this makes up around 75% of the total male field. On closer analysis of the graph you can see an aging of the field over time. Note how all Elite, U23, Junior and U16 all decrease constantly over the years. These young riders that 16 years ago were riding U16 are now almost all in Sub Vet category, which has led to this category remaining rather constant. This can also be seen by the massive increase in the Master and Grandmaster categories, both overtaking the Elite numbers. The Ultramaster category has even doubled by 2016 and for the first time ever had more riders than the junior category.
Lets turn our attention to the Ladies and see if they have followed the same path as their slightly more hairy counterparts. At a quick overview the ladies seem to have a similar sort of progression as the men in terms of aging. Although this may be the case there are some differences, it seems as ladies get older, instead of carrying on riding and sucking wheel like their male counter parts they stop taking part in events. The Grandmaster and Ultramaster categories have remained relatively constant compared to the men. We also see a large decrease in the number of ladies up to the elite category over the years. There are now more Masters ladies than U23, Junior and U16 all added together. It is also worth mentioning that although the graph above showing the total ladies taking part may not look too bad, there are now less than half the number of ladies taking part in Die Burger.
By the time you have gotten this far in the article, you are probably feeling like that dude on Vissershoek at the 99er that is stuck in the big ring, with his brakes rubbing and clicking bottom bracket, really questioning what the hell is going on. We have some theories that we think could be happening in the road racing scene in the Western Cape.
Yes, the dirty step child of the road cycling. Have they been poaching the youth from road cycling? Mountain biking may be seen as a safer sport, as less time is admittedly spent on the same space of road as drivers that are busy instagramming a quick selfie. There is also a lot more events marketed at the youngsters through mountain biking, there is the Spur Schools mountain bike challenge aimed at kids. The WP XC league which we attended earlier this year was packed full of kids that could neither drive nor sip on a brewskie. This safer and more youth orientated sport could be a major reason for the large decrease in the younger age groups in road events.
Don’t laugh straight away, you may be chuckling, thinking who would down grade to running from their S-Works Tarmac with E tap to Asics and a barcode. Having a look at the stats above for the Rondebosch common Park Run which has been “running” for almost 4 years, it has almost 500 runners per week. There are a few things Park runs have in favour over cycling, one being they are everywhere, no need to drive ages to some desolate farm stall. Unless that’s your vibe, then you can do the Root 44 Park run. It also costs nothing, the only thing in cycling which is free is the StravistiX plugin for Chrome. It is also a lot more accommodating to families, far easier to convince the wife to stroll around a Park run with the kids and dog while you hammer a Park run, than getting them to spectate or take part in a fun ride in Paarl.
We have obviously only looked at Die Burger for our stats but one has to believe that the greatly reduced calendar in 2016 of only 9 road events, compared to the 43 road events in 2001 is contributing to the issue. Many people enjoy the ability to constantly challenge themselves and having so few events may deter some people from taking up road cycling. In the 2000/2001 season starting in September you could race almost every weekend and sometimes twice on the same weekend. Obviously the reduction in allowed routes from the traffic authorities has not helped the cause at all over the past decade. The races lost include some real cracking rides, Three Passes Cycle Tour, Die Wingerd Breakfast ride, Cape Talk Bay City Cycle Tour and the Medallion Tour de Stellenbosch. This also had an effect on the cost of events, back in the early 2000’s one could buy a family entry ticket which was a greatly reduced cost for a family of 4 to enter an event. This really encouraged and enabled families to take part in funrides.
Back when Blink 182 was clogging up the Ericsion high 5 at 5 on 5 FM, fun rides very rarely had a 100km option. Just 6 out of the 43 road events in 2001 had a distance greater than 100km, 3 of which were 100km on the dot. The majority of fun rides were 85km in length, although I did not race them, I am told those races were no easier than the ones today. Racing up Constantia Nek or Ou Kaapse Weg made up for the 15 extra kilometres we do now days sitting on the wheels through Agter Paarl. There were also a lot more distances to choose from, many events had a long, medium and short route options, and this would allow something for the whole family. A lot of the ladies I spoke to while compiling this said they never thought they would ever do the long route. They started with the 15km, then the 40km and then ended up on the long route within a matter of fun rides. Two of these ladies have now also completed the Coronation Double Century. Therefore the limited routes and length of routes could a possible barrier to entry for beginners looking to start road cycling. Although many of these short distances may not have massive numbers, it allows youngsters to get introduced to cycling at a younger age and allows for a family to all partake.
Having thrown around the idea for this article for a while I have been fortunate enough to talk to people that have organised fun rides in the past who shared their feelings about the decline in the fun rides. One of the more prominent things which most cyclists don’t appreciate is the vibe at the end of the event, many jump in their cars quickly to rush home, mainly because of the reasons mentioned above about not including the whole family. In the past many corporates would have gazebo’s set up at the finish area and you could chat a little with your mates and family after the race. This allowed for the organising school or Rotary club to sell food and drink to the cyclists after the race and earn a little extra profit for the day, which made it worth their while to host events. This was always aided by the lure of the lucky prize draw which was a great way to keep everyone at the event for as long as possible. I know I personally started cycling as a 10 year old on my 18 speed grip shift MTB so that I could get a chance at the lucky draw, now look, I am an almost 30 year old regular road cyclist. I use regular very loosely. Is this family element of road cycling now missing and in turn has caused a decrease in the number of youngsters taking part in road events?
Wrapping up the article we started playing with the pivot table and various graphs and noticed something strange when we clicked on of the parameters we had ignored previously, the tandem data. We were unable to determine the gender of the tandem riders but we can guess that they probably follow the similar makeup of the general field. What is most interesting is the number of tandem entries has stayed the same over the past 14 years. Also, most surprisingly the composition of the field has remained relatively similar. The smallest number of riders are always the Ultra masters, U23 and Junior. This is very promising, it shows that there are many veteran riders riding with U16. The constant amount of entries could be down to the parents not being too concerned about the longer distance as they are able to assist the younger one with the longer distance.
Let us know what you think is the reason for the changes in the road racing scene in the Western Cape. What do you think can be done to start getting youngsters into road cycling again?