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Innovation: Pop up velodromes could transform cycling events

We’ve seen pop-up restaurants and cinemas, so why not a pop up veldrome? Street Velodrome’s Carl Thompson tells Kath Hudson about his vision to make it the world’s most accessible bike sport, with support from cyclists like Jess Stone

by Kath Hudson | Published in Sports Management 30 May 2016 issue 121
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Carl Thompson (right) founded Street Velodrome following London 2012
Carl Thompson (right) founded Street Velodrome following London 2012

Inspired by the excitement surrounding the British cycling success at the London 2012 Olympics, keen amateur cyclist Carl Thompson says the idea of taking track cycling to a wider public was one which wouldn’t go away.

After securing £40,000 from an angel investor, Thompson set about making his dream a reality. By September 2013, a prototype had been designed which could fit into a high street, offering banked turns which can be ridden without braking, and a variable track length. At the shallow end it’s easy, but the higher up the curve you go the bigger the thrills and the increased likelihood of spills. The experience offers a shot of adrenaline and is very addictive.

But the track on its own wasn’t enough. Thompson wanted to create a memorable event to support it: “It had to be enough to capture keen cyclists, have entertainment value and encourage people to be active, wrapped up with enough entertainment to draw a crowd and attract host partners and sponsors.”

Finally, he wanted the event to inspire behaviour change, so people would dig forgotten bikes out of sheds and children would ask for bikes for Christmas.

As part of his research, Thompson went to local authorities who had hosted cycling series previously, such as Tour of Britain, and asked them what they looked for in a cycling event.

“They all want community engagement, to be free to the public, flexibility and PR support,” he says.

Street Velodrome is a concept which ticks all of the boxes. The three day format (see box) ensures the opportunity for outreach work and it is free thanks to the creation of income streams such as sponsorship, advertising, retail, and a TV series to be aired on BIKE channel and BT Sport. Hosts also pay a fee and the model is being franchised overseas, with the US recently confirmed.

The pro competition is the hook and the entertainment to deliver the wider vision of making cycling accessible and to energise the grassroots. The 12 pro-riders take part in an elite competition at each event and coach the public.

“It includes pursuit racing, because that gets the audiences: the races are close, it’s quick and punchy and the tight corners are exciting,” says Thompson. “We make a touchpoint between grassroots and pro-riders. Mountain biker Jess Stone teaches kids and then they come back and watch her race. It’s about creating exciting moments which inspire for the future.”

THE STREET VELODROME SERIES

This eight part series has meets around the country. The 2016 series kicked off at The Eden Project, in Cornwall, on 6-8 May, alongside its cycling sportive. After travelling around the UK, the series will culminate outside Buckingham Palace at the end of July, when the SuperFinals will take place alongside the Prudential RideLondon. All the male and female finalists from the seven regional finals are invited to race again at the SuperFinals.
Each event follows a three-day format. The first day is focused on outreach work with schools.

The second day is for members of the public to try their skills. Cycling in pairs, they have a few minutes coaching from the pro-riders and then take part in a two-lap head-to-head race.

Day three is race day. Adults and children gain their place to race via a ballot. There are separate men and women races. The heats are time trials, with the top six qualifying for the final, where they go head-to-head. Children aren’t timed, and are chosen randomly to race in the final, for either the Sharks or the Tigers teams. The pro-riders final provides the climax to the weekend.

Each Street Velodrome series event follows a three-day format
Each Street Velodrome series event follows a three-day format

2016 HOSTS

•The Eden Project, Cornwall
•Hillingdon, London
•Belfast, Northern Ireland
•Ballyclare, Northern Ireland
•Stockton
•Worthing
•Lowestoft (standalone event, not part of the series)
•Bury St Edmunds
•SuperFinals – Prudential RideLondon end of July

2016 HOSTS
2016 HOSTS

PUSHING THE CYCLING MESSAGE

Thompson has started a charity called Cycling Futures, which aims to break down the barriers to cycling and get it included in the national curriculum as a life skill, like swimming. Cycling related numeracy and literacy content has been created which can be accessed by schools the charity engages with at the events.

Street Velodrome has also partnered with Re-Cycle to encourage people to donate their old bikes, which will then be refurbished and shipped to Africa, making a huge difference to the quality of life for people living in remote villages.

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