LAST year, an estimated 63,000 people cycled in Cumbria, inspired by the Tour of Britain and the many cycling events springing up around the county. KATIE DICKINSON takes a look at the new craze for what has become the Cumbria’s fastest growing sport and the benefits it is bringing to the county.

A BOOM in cycling was responsible for bringing millions of pounds into the Cumbrian economy last year.

Inspired by the success of Bradley Wiggins in the Tour de France and Team GB at London 2012, the region is seeing a flood of new events designed for two wheels.

The Tour of Britain brought more than £4million into county’s coffers in 2013, and the Coast to Coast route pulled in a further £2million.

And Mark Brierley, cycling development co-ordinator for Cumbria County Council, thinks the numbers of cyclists will only increase.

"We saw a 29 per cent increase in bike events in Cumbria from 2012 to 2013 and it’s going up year on year – we’ve probably already topped that for 2014.

“I think if you include things like Grizedale, Whinlatter, the Go Lakes Sky Ride and the Fred Whitton Challenge, the annual figure of how much cycling brings to the economy would be double the £6million brought in by Tour of Britain and the Coast to Coast.”

With one in four people now saying they would like to go cycling while on holiday, Mr Brierley believes this is having a knock-on benefit for shops and accommodation in towns with cycle routes.

“When the Tour de France comes through North Yorkshire in July you’d already be struggling to get any accommodation in Kirkby Stephen and Sedbergh. And in the North Pennines there are communities that still have a pub because of cycling tourism."

It’s said that tourists on bike tend to frequent the smaller shops and stay in smaller accommodation.
Cycling is the fastest growing sporting activity in the county, according to Cumbria Tourism.

Richard Greenwood, head of operations at CT,  said cycling was the second most important element (after walking) of the £330million-a-year outdoor adventure industry.

“One of the great things about cycling is that it’s not all about the Lake District – it’s opened up other areas of the county that wouldn’t normally see much tourism.”

Toby Dalton, director of Staveley’s Wheelbase store, said bike sales had been ‘exceptional’ as interest in the sport increased.

“Road bikes have obviously been strong but so have leisure bikes, lightweight children’s bikes and new wheel size technology is giving mountain bike sales a boost.”

The county is set to welcome more world-class cyclists on May 15 when the Pearl Izumi Tour Series comes to Barrow, and new events are cropping up all the time.

One which premiered in Keswick last year was ‘Adventure Cross’ – a mix of road and off-road riding – the brainchild of Keswick-based company Rather Be Cycling. Another one is to be held in Cartmel on April 27.

Cheryl Frost of Rather Be Cycling said: “Cycling is in a boom and hopefully it will stay there – it certainly seems to be holding its interest for people at the moment. The number of events is getting so high and there are new ones all the time, so in a few years  it will be the really high quality ones that survive.”

The organisers of Keswick Mountain Festival (KMF) have just confirmed that former Great Britain road and track cyclist Rob Hayles will join riders in one of the festival’s sporting events in May.

Meanwhile 23 schools across Cumbria are currently taking part in the Big Pedal travel-to-school challenge over a two-week period.

The Big Pedal was organised by cycling charity Sustrans, who are aiming to double the amount of people in the UK who cycle to school or work by 2020.

Nikki Wingfield, Cumbria Area Manager for Sustrans, said: “Currently most car journeys in Britain are under five miles, which is very doable on a bicycle, but at the moment just two per cent are made by bicycle compared to 26 per cent in Copenhagen.

“In Cumbria, the figure is even lower and we know that Cumbria is one of Britain’s least active counties, with a recently published study stating that 68.3 per cent of Cumbrians are overweight.
“We know many people are understandably put off by traffic, safety fears and lack of experience, so we are trying to address this by expanding our cycle network.”