How to start up a cycling event business

The popularity and profile of cycling events has been boosted by the success of British competitors in a variety of cycling disciplines on the global stage. Check out our guide for starting and running your own cycling events business.

Research your target market

Estimating demand

You will need to find out whether there is enough demand for your proposed cycling event business from riders in your area and possibly from further afield. It is likely that you already have some knowledge of your local cycling scene, but if you don't there are various things that you can do to try to estimate the potential demand, such as:

  • contact local cycling clubs with details of your events and ask them if their members would be interested in entering. As well as finding out if they are interested, they may make positive suggestions that would help you to make changes to your events
  • visit a few events locally to see how many entrants they are attracting
  • read the cycling press. There are often reviews of regional events in cycling magazines and these may mention the level of entrants
  • talk to the people that work in your local cycling shops as they often know a great deal about the local scene
  • check the calendars for other cycling event series. If there are many similar events arranged for the same day, this may indicate that demand is healthy enough to sustain several event series

Check out the competition in your area to identify how many other cycling event organisers are operating locally. You will have to judge which of these you will be directly competing against. For example, if you plan to organise cross-country mountain bike races, you will face competition from other cross-country mountain bike races as well as, to a certain extent, from related events such as cyclo-cross and enduro.

Have a good look at events organised by your competitors to establish:

  • how much they cost to enter
  • how good the track or course is
  • whether they attract entrants from the whole of the country or just your local region. Also try to find out if they appeal to top-ranked riders
  • whether they offer British Cycling, Cycling Ireland or Union Cycliste International (UCI) ranking points
  • what sort of prizes they offer (if any)
  • how well run they are

Why will people choose to enter your events

You need to make sure that enough people choose to enter your events so that you make enough money to cover your operating costs and make some profit. Riders may be encouraged to enter your events (and keep coming back) if:

  • your entry fees are lower than those charged by your competitors
  • your events are run in the months when your competitors are not operating
  • you offer cash prizes. Most regional events do not offer substantial cash prizes, so if your budget is large enough, you could consider offering them
  • your tracks or courses offer particularly attractive features. For example they might be very difficult, varied and so on
  • you make sure that every event is run as efficiently as possible
  • you brief your employees and any volunteers working for you to be polite and helpful when answering queries from riders and spectators
  • you make sure that you offer good services, such as a medical team, catering facilities, shops, spectator facilities, a covered area (if the event is held outdoors), camping facilities close by and so on
  • you play good music and try to use a commentator who is amusing and informative

If riders enjoy the events that you put on, they are much more likely to enter future events and recommend them to others. You are also likely to find that riders from far afield will be attracted to your events as your reputation grows.

Find out what people want

It is likely that in the first few events that you organise you will be learning as you go along. It is important during this period that you listen to any feedback that you receive from riders, spectators and employees, so that you can make any necessary changes to how your events are run. Also, if the cycling press covers your events, make sure that you read these reports.

Research current trends, plus legal and tax issues

Establish your rider profile

Your market

It is likely that you will receive entries from riders of both sexes and a huge range of ages. You will probably arrange your entrants into different categories, which will vary depending on the type of event that you are running but may include:

  • fun
  • juvenile
  • youth
  • junior
  • senior
  • master
  • veteran
  • expert
  • elite

There is technical information on age categories for the different cycling disciplines on the British Cycling and Cycling Ireland websites.

While the vast majority of your entrants are likely to be enthusiastic amateurs, depending on the profile and quality of the events you organise, you may also attract some entries from professional cyclists.

Discounts

You might decide to offer discounts to members of cycling clubs or students. You may also charge a lower entry fee to riders that enter more than one of your events at a time.

Decide what services to offer

You are likely to offer a range of extra services to the riders and spectators that attend your events to make their experience more enjoyable. These may include:

  • providing catering facilities. You may decide that you will offer these yourself or, more likely, you will allow a mobile catering van to trade from your event venue if the venue itself doesn't offer this. (For example, a skatepark or velodrome may well have its own catering outlet)
  • selling T-shirts, stickers and so on that carry your logo
  • selling photos of individual entrants
  • selling videos that include the main highlights of your events
  • providing commentary and music over a PA system
  • providing bike washing facilities. These can prove to be very popular, especially at muddy outdoor events
  • allowing cycling retailers to set up stands from which they can sell a selection of their products
  • providing medical support
  • providing mechanical support for riders that have a problem with their equipment

You'll charge for some of these services and others will be included in the entry fee.

What type of event to run

There are a number of different disciplines within cycling, including:

Road racing

This is probably the best known of all of the disciplines thanks to the large amount of media coverage that is given to the Tour de France, which is road racing's headline event. As the name suggests, road racing takes place on the open road and varies in length from events that take place in one day to the Tour de France that takes three weeks to complete.

Downhill mountain biking

Possibly the most technically demanding and dangerous of all of the disciplines, downhill mountain biking takes place on specially created tracks. Riders set off individually at 30 second or one minute intervals and race against the clock. Due to the nature of the bikes that are ridden (large amounts of suspension travel, heavy weight to ensure strength and fairly highly geared), competitors do not ride up to the top of the hill before starting their runs. Instead, transport is laid on by the event organiser or, less commonly, competitors are required to push back up to the top of the hill.

Enduro mountain biking

A hybrid of cross country and downhill mountain biking that includes a certain number of timed downhill section as well as cross country and uphill sections that are not timed.

Cross country mountain biking

Cross country mountain biking is an established Olympic sport and takes place over an off-road track consisting of varied terrain. Races vary in length and involve either completing a set number of laps or cycling from point A to point B. The first rider to complete the course is the winner.

Four Cross (4X) mountain biking

4X mountain biking is a discipline where four riders race down a short course that includes a number of technical features, such as jumps and berms. The winner is the first rider across the line.

Other mountain biking disciplines

Other mountain biking disciplines include trials, where riders negotiate a series of demanding obstacles, and dirt jumping, where riders perform spectacular jumps on a specially prepared track.

Track racing

Track racing takes place on a banked oval course (indoor or outdoor) in a number of different formats, for example Madison, Keirin and so on, and over various different distances. Britain has enjoyed recent Olympic and World Championship success in this discipline and is now a dominant track cycling nation. Cycle speedway is a different form of track cycling that takes place on a short oval dirt track.

BMX

BMX races take place over a short dirt course that incorporates jumps, bends and berms. The first rider over the line is the winner. BMX competitions are also held on half pipe ramps and street obstacles, where the rider is judged on the tricks performed rather than timed. BMX racing was included in the 2008 Olympic Games for the first time.

Cyclo cross

Cyclo cross was the original form of off-road riding and riders use bicycles that are more similar to road bikes than cross country mountain bikes. Races tend to be shorter in length than cross country mountain biking, but occur over a similar type of course.

Seasonality

Cycling events that are run outdoors are generally held in the summer to take advantage of the better weather and longer daylight hours. However, there are some exceptions; many cyclo cross events are held during the winter and other mountain bike series are also run then, with some even held at night. (Bike light technology has improved so much that very bright lights are affordable to many riders and night riding has gained in popularity as a result.)

Regardless of the time of year that you are planning to hold your events, it's a good idea to check the calendars of existing race series to make sure that you don't organise your events to clash with one held by your competitors, as this is likely to reduce the number of entries you receive.

Promote your business

It is extremely important that your events are well publicised so that you attract enough entrants to cover your costs and make a profit. Depending on the type of cycling events that you are intending to organise, you are likely to be competing with both regional and national events so you need to make sure that yours stand out from the rest. There are a number of ways in which you can promote your events, including:

  • having your own website. This is a very useful, 24 hour advert for your events on which it is a good idea to include all of the relevant details that entrants may need. You could also consider including your own reports on previous events and a forum for riders to leave their comments to try to create a community feel which will hopefully mean that people will enter more events in the future
  • taking out an advert in the cycling press. This is probably the most effective way of promoting your events as you are speaking directly to the people that you want to attract. Remember to include all of the relevant details in your advertising, such as the nature of the event, the cost of entry, when and where it takes place and so on. Perhaps even include an entry form in your advertisement
  • using social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter to keep in touch with entrants to your events
  • getting the cycling press to print a review of your event. When you are just starting out, it may be difficult for you to get press coverage of your events, but as soon as your reputation grows you are likely to attract more interest
  • getting coverage from your local paper, radio and television
  • contacting cycling clubs, universities and so on to tell them about your events. You may even consider offering discounted entries to organisations such as these
  • registering your events with British Cycling and promoting them through the British Cycling website
  • posting details of your events in online cycling forums

If you are spending significant amounts on advertising, you should try to monitor how effective it is to make sure you are getting value for money.

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