Cycling and the Surrey economy - The Wiggins Effect
- Credit: Various
With road cycling in Surrey more popular than ever, two-wheeled tourists are arriving in their droves – but how can your business benefit from the boom? Nicci Shepherd reports
For the second year running, this summer’s Tour of Britain saw top international cyclists such as Sir Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish battling it out on Surrey’s beautiful lanes and hills. Organised by the Surrey-based Tour Britain, the race is just one of a series of recent high-profile cycling events – ranging from the Olympic road races to the RideLondon-Surrey 100 – which show that Surrey is serious about cycling.
Interestingly, though, it’s not just the county’s sporting profile that has increased as a result of this phenomenon; it’s had a knock-on effect on the local economy too. For The Tour of Britain, more than a quarter of a million spectators flocked to towns and villages on the 96-mile route, and Surrey County Council estimates that the 2012 race contributed £7.2 million to the local economy. Some businesses, however, are working hard to extend the benefits of this boom in cycling well beyond race day.
Nowadays, of course, Surrey is a mecca for serious cycling enthusiasts not just at the events themselves but all year round – and these riders don’t waste their energy carrying refreshments; instead they rely on a handful of cyclist-friendly cafés that have sprung up across the county. In Ashtead, Jamie Chisholm has been running cycle café and workshop Bikes and Beans since 2005 and he is clear about the benefits of these road races for his business.
Getting in on the act
“Surrey is very special, the hills are challenging for road-riders and it has the best mountain-bike trails in south east England,” says Jamie. “When these cyclists stop, they want hot, nutritious food served fast and somewhere safe to leave their bikes. With The Tour on our doorstep, more and more of these cycling enthusiasts will see what a great destination Surrey is, for a day-long ride, a weekend, or even a holiday.”
Fanny Maiklam, proprietor of Fanny’s Tea Shop in Merstham, agrees with Jamie’s advice but believes plenty of outdoor seating is key to keeping cyclists happy. Her tea shop, which began life as two chicken sheds, has plenty of space for hot cyclists to cool down whilst they wait for their food to be served.
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“The cyclists arrive in groups, five, ten, sometimes 20 riders at once,” says Fanny. “They want to sit outside, most of the time they’re hot and sweaty, and they prefer to keep an eye on their bikes. We love being thought of as a cyclists’ café; in fact, we’ve even sponsored our own cycling club. It’s all great for business.”
In the run-up to the Olympic road races, Foxhills Hotel in Ottershaw played host to Team Sky. The team’s director, Sir David Brailsford, apparently chose Foxhills for its location and state-of-the-art training facilities, something the hotel has capitalised upon by creating its own ‘Velo’ weekend breaks aimed at serious cyclists.
“These special weekends have been incredibly popular, with guests coming from across the UK and Europe to ride the same roads as Sir Bradley Wiggins and his teammates,” says Jo Oates, group marketing manager at the hotel, which was an official sponsor of the 2013 Tour of Britain Surrey Stretch. “We also have two thriving cycle clubs, which hotel guests and our members can join for guided Sunday morning rides.”
Foxhills hasn’t forgotten non- cycling partners either, who can make the most of the hotel’s spa, golf course and racquet and running clubs. This broad appeal, for cyclists and non-cyclists alike, is key to their success in attracting two-wheeled tourists to Surrey. Tourism on the up Tourism in Surrey is on the increase, with websites like Visit Surrey promoting great days out and short breaks, but the county still isn’t seen as a destination for longer holidays – yet. However, The Tour of Britain has worldwide television coverage and in 2012 it was broadcast to 124 countries. Peter Hodges, spokes-person for Tour Britain, explains the boost to tourism that coverage of this kind can bring.
“Many of the viewers who watch The Tour of Britain and other races on television aren’t keen cyclists themselves, but seeing the Surrey Hills and iconic sites like the finish line on the cobbled High Street in Guildford, they’re inspired to come and visit, whether just for the day or even longer.”
As for the thousands of people who gather on the roadside, Peter points out that the nature of cycle racing involves long waits for brief flurries of action as the cyclists zoom past. He believes therefore that local businesses in towns like Farnham, which were included in the route for the first time in 2013, can do more to engage with these spectators.
“Cafés, pubs and restaurants should consider ‘race-special’ offers or longer opening hours to tempt people in,” he suggests. “Small towns like Farnham, which have lots of independent shops and cafés, are best-placed to make the most of events like The Tour. Once a spectator has had a great experience, they’ll probably come back, and explore the town properly next time.”
Seizing the moment Jeff Toms, vice president of Farnham Chamber of Commerce, which supports independent businesses in the town, believes highly-publicised events such as The Tour are vital for attracting more visitors to Surrey – but he too accepts that local businesses could try harder to make the most of all the opportunities that are presented to them.
“We encourage our members to be proactive in becoming involved in events like The Tour, take advantage of any promotional publicity in the local media and partner with the event organisers,” he says. “The 2013 event saw a mix of local people and visitors who were new to the town, and by using creative marketing it’s possible to encourage these people to return.”
There’s no denying that The Tour brings millions of pounds of extra revenue to Surrey’s businesses, but the ones that seem to have made the most of the influx of two-wheeled tourists are run by people like Gary Bird. Gary owns East Street Cycles, an independent cycle retailer with three stores in the Home Counties. He recognised that keen cyclists were willing to invest thousands of pounds in buying a bike and created welcoming shops that are staffed by enthusiasts.
Road cycling hub His latest venture is a shop dedicated to road cycling that opened in Farnham at the beginning of October. Gary is using this new shop to build upon this existing community of loyal customers by creating a ‘road-cycling hub’, with coffee machine, library and big screens.
“My newest shop is based on a European model of road-cycling retailer; it’s about creating a hub that people can ride from,” he says.
“We already have cyclists travelling 30 or 40 miles because of the community we’ve created around our existing Farnham store, but now we are seeing more demand than ever for road cycling it felt like the right time to expand the business and create a place where road cyclists can feel at home.”
With more and more cycling events coming to Surrey, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate what your business has to offer cyclists. As these local companies have proved, you can benefit from the cycling boom by catering for the very specific needs of the county’s two-wheeled tourists.
Tell us what you think… Has your business benefited from the influx of cyclists visiting our county? Or perhaps you’re planning to capitalise on the next event taking place. Write and let us know by sending a letter to the usual address; by e-mailing: email@example.com or sharing your thoughts with us on Facebook and Twitter.
Surrey cycling in numbers:
20% - The percentage of the Surrey population who cycle at least once a month – that equates to 200,000 people. In the Elmbridge, Woking and Guildford boroughs, the figure is close to 25%.
£10,215 – The price of a Pinarello Dogma, the most expensive road bike ever sold by Beyond Mountain Bikes in Smithbrook Kilns in Cranleigh (they’ve sold two so far!). Road bikes in the store start from £600 and most customers spend between £1,200 and £2,500.
11,000 – The number of local schoolchildren who receive Bikeability training in Surrey each year.
400 – The number of store-baked cheese straws sold each week at Peaslake Village Stores in the Surrey Hills – mostly to hungry cyclists who also buy around 500 cups of tea and coffee.
21% - The maximum gradient of Barhatch Lane, a 2.9km climb out of Cranleigh. It’s featured in The Tour of Britain and is one of the toughest road bike climbs in the county.
80,000 – The number of cyclists who have registered for the 2014 Prudential Ride London-Surrey 100 ballot (the 2013 event had 20,000 places). 50,000 of these riders registered within 24 hours of the ballot opening.