The inaugural 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships represents a truly unique sporting competition. Firstly, the event will launch a new format, in which the 13 of cycling’s existing UCI World Championships will be brought together during a two-week period in the summer of 2023 for the first time. Secondly, and just as important, the event has societal change at its core as the organisers take a policy-led approach to its delivery.

Cycling’s governing body the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), Scottish Government, Glasgow Life, UK Sport, British Cycling and VisitScotland with its EventScotland team are all playing an integral role in helping to deliver an event that does not only exhibit world class athletes, but that forwards a growing buzz around cycling for fun, leisure and transport. There is a genuine commitment to spark behavioural changes across Scotland long after the event itself and huge positive impact is also anticipated across the UK and around the globe. The pandemic has encouraged more people onto their bikes and accelerated conversations around a greener, healthier future. With that said, these UCI World Championships could not come at a better time.

Inside Edge are delighted to have been appointed as the global sponsorship sales agency for the ‘world’s biggest cycling event’. The opportunity excites us for a number of reasons. Indeed, because of the commitment to long-lasting societal change, this represents a very different approach to many other sponsorship opportunities within sport. Chiefly, the environmental and health benefits of cycling and the subsequent, long lasting impact that the Championships is designed to have is to be at the heart of any partnership. Furthermore, supporting the drive for behavioural change alongside a clear association with a globally consumed, multi-discipline sporting event, should help brands achieve meaningful cut-through in a cluttered sports marketing place in several significant ways. Partnership packages and activation concepts offered to prospective partners will be designed around encouraging active and healthier lifestyles as well as inspiring future generations; complimenting the core objectives of the event hosts, underpinned by a new global sports platform.

The UCI Cycling World Championships themselves have four key policy drivers – participation, transport, tourism and economy. Much is already being done and planned to ensure that this  mega event delivers on its mission. The Scottish Government and sportscotland have launched an £8 million fund to improve cycling facilities across the country. The plan, as journalist Michael Houston writes, is to ‘develop a network of accessible, inclusive and inspiring facilities.’ The country’s overall aim, according to Scottish Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop, is ‘for Scotland to become one of Europe’s top cycling nations.’ There are already plans in place to improve the cycling network in Glasgow and Hyslop views the Government’s plans to work closely with the UCI for this first ever event as a ‘game-changing opportunity for cycling in Scotland.’

Elsewhere in Britain, cycling has boomed. Transport for London’s early modelling revealed in May last year that there could feasibly be a 10-fold increase in kilometres cycled in London compared with pre-COVID levels. TfL’s response was the implementation of the London Streetspace programme, which has been far from plain sailing following resistance from taxi drivers due to the recent increase in traffic post-pandemic. Nevertheless, the road closures, expanding of walkways and increased cycle lanes signposted a shift towards creating a capital city that is increasingly encouraging both walking and cycling. Further afield, in Chicago the implementation of the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 marks the city’s aim to become the most bike-friendly city in the country. The plan is centred around safety, building infrastructure that directly challenges the key barrier that many people face when it comes to participation in cycling. 645 miles of a cycling network will connect neighbourhoods across the city, underlining a vision that sees not just growth, but a diversification of the sport.

The Growing Cycling Market

The market for cycling is certainly expanding. 42% of British people have access to or own a bicycle. In 2019 alone, £33.22 million was spent on bikes or cycling equipment and COVID-19 has accelerated a diversion to a more cycling active populace. The UCI Cycling World Championships in Glasgow and across Scotland has a real opportunity to continue this momentum.

The emergence and growth of the e-bike has also played its part in the 2020 cycling growth. Whether it is Peloton’s growing grasp on ‘stay at home’ cycling, or electric bikes that are increasingly in demand, people are exploring the world of cycling more and more. Indeed, popular Dutch brand VanMoof claimed that they sold more of their e-bikes in the first four months of 2020 than they did in the previous two years combined. In the UK, approximately 50,000 e-bikes are sold each year and 5% of UK adults say they are interested in getting one themselves. The worldwide e-bike industry is expected to rise to £440 million by 2026, currently standing at £89.31 million. In 2019, Brits imported lighting and equipment worth £18.45 million for their e-bikes. Clearly, alternative transport is becoming both more desirable and more appropriate.

As petrol cars get phased out in the UK and around the world, it is realistic to think that there will be a continued, potentially exponential, growth in the use of bikes. The vast market of cycling is also becoming increasingly inclusive. From extremely affordable push bikes to multi-thousand-pound e-bikes, the market is positively saturated. Any future infrastructural work by cities and governments needs to reflect that too. Multiple studies from within North America have demonstrated a correlational link between cycling infrastructure investment and gentrification and privilege. This June in Toronto for example, 40km of new bike lanes were approved, the largest one-year increase in the city’s history. A clear suggestion that cycling is on the up. However, of the eight approved projects, five were in the gentrified urban core and none can be found in neighbourhoods within the poorer districts that uncoincidentally have the highest rate of COVID-19 infections. Enhanced mobility across cities needs to be more comprehensive.

Paul Bush OBE, Chair of 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships, believes the Championships will be a “catalyst for change and progress in Scotland in making cycling part of the normal, everyday lives of people.” Evidence that the importance of this event is bigger than the sport itself is furthered by recent VisitScotland initiatives. Earlier this month, VisitScotland became the first national tourism organisation in the world to sign up to the Tourism Declares initiative. VisitScotland’s plan also includes a long-term commitment to increased promotion of public transport and active travel, including maximising the transformational benefits of hosting the UCI Cycling World Championships. Moreover, in the last year, Glasgow has been recognised as one of the world’s top five cities for its commitment to sustainable business tourism. Clearly, there is a collective will to pounce on the magnitude of the event coming to Glasgow and Scotland in less than three years’ time.

The 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships will not only provide a two-week spectacle of cycling at the highest level, it will also further boost the growth of cycling witnessed in the  last year and highlight the importance of working towards a greener future.