Plans have been unveiled to put Lancashire at the centre of a cycling revolution, thanks to one of the biggest names in the sport.
Brian Cookson, the former president of world cycling, has launched plans to set up a new international women’s cycling team and base it in his home county.
The former Hutton Grammar pupil hopes the move will kick start a bicycle part-making boom using local engineering expertise gained in the aerospace industry.
With cycling popularity booming, the move comes as county chiefs are looking at ways of doubling the number of cyclists hitting the county’s lanes over the next 10 years.
Former President of the Union Cycliste International (UCI) president Brian said: “To create a Lancashire based women’s cycle team that’s the best in the world would be a fantastic flagship for sport in Lancashire.
“The move would not only put Lancashire firmly on the cycling map but could revolutionise women’s cycling.”
The team would be based in Lancashire administratively and corporately, but it will be an international team.
The search is now on to get the backing of corporate sponsors who will take naming rights and Brian predicts team members will come from Britain, Australia, the Americas, Asia and Africa to be a part of the revolution.
Estimating five to seven million pounds a year will be needed to run a team of around 12 to 15 riders, he stressed it is time women’s pro cycling is taken as seriously as the top men’s teams.
Brian, who has worked with British Cycling, said: “They will be paid properly. In most cases women are riding in effect as amateurs. Very few make a living out of it. We want to raise the bar in every sense and make sure the team are resourced with the right coaching, the right medical support. I think there’s a sea change in attitudes to women’s sport.”
He predicts the team would also be used locally to promote women’s sport and fitness issues generally, would boost interest in cycling and create more opportunities for the count’s booming cycle and parts manufacturing industry.
He continued: “The team would be based in Lancashire administratively and corporately, but it will be an international team. I’m hoping UCLan will get nvolved as they’ve a great sports department and a great materials and technology department that can help with equipment and bikes.”
While the search for sponsorship continues Brian, an honorary fellow at UCLan, who was awarded the OBE for services to cycling, is also hoping to make use of his local university’s talent not only in engineering and design expertise, but also in sports journalism.
The is being joined in the ambition to create a pro team by Clitheroe-based Beacon bikes, which already has a department in its bespoke store The Fell devoted to women’s bicycles and kit.
Brian is back home in Lancashire after his four year stint as the president of UCI was knocked back when he failed to be re-elected last September.
He said: “I was not ready to roll over and go away. I want to do something in sport I’ve not done before. I’d gone as far as it’s possible to go in the political side of sport and administration.
“I wanted to do another four years (at UCI). But politics in sport is just the same as politics in any other walk of life. It can be brutal and surprising. You have to walk away with your head held high.”
Citing the skills the county boasts within its aerospace and linked industries he has a suggestion: “Maybe we should use some of the expertise developed for the defence industry for a beneficial activity and industry that can improve the health of citizens of this area and the rest of world as well.”
Boom time for bikes
Across the county leading bicycle companies have perfected top brands and businesses which have a national and international reach.
Cyclists are proud to ride a bike stamped with a home grown local company’s name - and to be able to select features to suit them,
While frames may often be manufactured abroad, the bicycles are designed to Lancastrian specifications and built here in the county.
The race is on to source ever more parts locally and push new technologies to the limit in pursuit of state of the art bikes and cutting edge performance.
Whether it is success on track or on mountain bikes, hobby or professional sport, these companies have their sights set on claiming an ever more significant share of the market.
In Clitheroe, Darrin Robinson is a comparative newcomer. He has high hopes that technological developments will ensure his Beacon bikes are winners.
The former oral surgeon and NHS director set up the brand in 2013 after a lifetime tinkering with bikes in his spare time.
He says he spotted a gap in the market for a premium British brand.
He said: ”We’re building a brand new brand from scratch and that’s what Beacon is all about.”
It will also be about innovation with ambitious plans for developing a UK-wide project for frame manufacture.
With an MBA and extensive business experience, Darrin is clearly enjoying building the company. But, for him, it still comes back to the simple love of cycling.
“It makes you live longer,” he says. “It’s good for your wellbeing. You’ll never be stressed after you’ve been out for a bike ride... and it’s open to everybody.”
Elsewhere in the county, Hope Technology, based in Barnoldswick, is fast becoming a world leader in engineering bicycling components.
Hope also has long term plans to build a training velodrome in the county.
The company has purchased land for bigger premises and the 200 metre velodrome would form part of the build.
Sales and Marketing manager Alan Weatherill said the company, renowned for its components, also now manufacture one bicycle from start to finish.
He said: “We learned carbon manufacturing and sell the HB160 mountain bike all over the world.”
The company provides occasional training sessions through its Hope Academy scheme, including at this week’s London Bike Show.
The academy rents out bicycles to children, so they can have a bicycle which fits and as they outgrow they can change to a bigger cycle.
Alan said: “It also gets people used to riding good quality bikes. We’ve about 300 rented out at the moment.”
County Coun David Whipp said the success of Hope builds on the county’s success in the aerospace industry.
“The Hope success has built on expertise built up in the aerospace industry,” he said. “We’ve two very different types of transport where they are using the same skills, the same technologies to create these top quality cycling components. The same technologies are used for the manufacture of cutting edge jet engines by companies like Rolls Royce.”
Award winning Ribble Cycles is one of the longest establish cycling manufacturers in the world and is now based at Walton Summit and Dolan Bikes, which is based in Ormskirk, has a long pedigree making top level bikes.
New county strategy
A new strategy which aims to double the number of people cycling in the county is due to be considered by Lancashire County Council next month.
It covers not just the county council’s area, but Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen too and has seen the council consulting widely, working with partners to shape policy.
A council spokesman said: “The strategy will shape local spending priorities aimed at developing Lancashire’s walking and cycling offer over the next ten years.”
The intention is to build on existing walking and cycling routes. The plan also aims to increase walking by 10% over the same period, with a focus on encouraging more primary-aged children to walk to school.
It’s hoped the plan will help to tackle what the council describes as “worsening levels of physical inactivity” in the county.
County Coun Andrew Snowden said: “Cycling is an important part of our strategy and a priority for this administration, which is why we are investing the significant amounts of money we are in improving cycling facilities. It is good for healthy living and improving the wellbeing of people across Lancashire, reducing congestion and of course just having fun and getting out and enjoying the beautiful county we live in.”
But while the ambitions are being welcomed, cyclists are also pointing out the major need for improved junction designs, better quality roads, pothole removal and courtesy on the roads.
County Coun Gina Dowding, the only Green councillor on Lancashire County Council uses her bicycle every day.
She has long campaigned for the road network to be made safe and convenient for pedestrians and cyclists.
She said: “I think it’s basically looking at the roads in a different way with a priority of looking at the needs of cyclists. Making sure firstly about basic safety around potholes, keeping kerbs free of rubbish and debris. Make sure junctions give priority to cyclists. There’s a tendency to give priority to people in cars and cyclists come second. It’s about always allocating a percentage of the highways budget to cycling, even if it is just five to 10 per cent of all transport budgets. When you see how cycling is integrated in places in Europe it is so inspiring and it makes you wonder why we are so far behind.”
County Coun Andrew Snowden, lead member highways and transport said the county is investing in cycling.
He said: “The highway schemes in the City Deal and Growth Deal have good cycling facilities built into the design from the outset. In Preston, 31km of new cycle route is planned as part of the City Deal. This includes a 6km additional loop to the Guild Wheel.
He added: “The County Council’s capital budget allocates £500,000 annually, aimed at improving the safety of cycling. And of course the County Council has created the award winning facilities for cyclists at the Preston Guild Wheel, Padiham Greenway and Lee Quarry. The East Lancashire Strategic Cycleway will see an investment of £6m in new cycle and walking routes, with a further £1.9m from an Access Fund programme.”