GCN Tech Show: Is the cost of cycling killing the sport?

Has the cost of entry simply become too much?

Clock20:00, Thursday 30th November 2023

In the Tech Show this week Alex Paton and Ollie Bridgewood are looking at a topic that most of us can agree upon – that the cost of bikes and kit is becoming a huge problem. Has it become so bad that it’s actually killing the sport? Elsewhere in the show, we take a look at the hottest tech from the past seven days and visit the Bike Vault to have a look at your latest entries.

Is the cost of cycling killing our sport?

If you’ve been a cyclist for more than a decade or so you’ll have noticed quite a dramatic change in the landscape over that time. The bikes we ride now are almost unrecognisable compared to those of 10 or 15 years ago. And one thing that’s become very clear during that time is the substantial rise in the cost of bikes. A quick look at any of the big brands’ flagship bikes reveals that a price tag above £/$/€10,000 is almost unanimous.

Now, the prices at the top may not be something that bothers an average rider too much. As amazing as these superbikes are, they’re not something most people have in their garage. It’s the impact this top-end price has on the models that sit beneath it that matters. So now an entry-level bike is around the £/$/€2,000 mark and a mid-tier bike can be somewhere around £/$/€5,000, which is pretty pricey.

Where this becomes really significant is for those who are looking to compete in bike races and events. In this scenario, the quality and therefore cost of the bike tech and componentry really matters. Ten years ago it was possible to roll up to a local crit or road race on an aluminium-framed bike with shallow box section rims and be competitive. The unfortunate reality is that this is no longer the case. Aero bikes, deep-section wheels, and skinsuits offer such a measured advantage that if you don't have access to them then you’re not on a level playing field to start with.

This is most notably an issue when it comes to junior racing. With some now able to race on the latest top-tier kit, competitive racing is becoming more restrictive for those who can’t afford the gear. So ultimately we’re not seeing the same talent emerge.

The CTT (Cycling Time Trials) is the UK’s governing body for time trialling. They’ve shared with us some data on participation in their events where it’s clear to see that participation has been decreasing year on year. Time trialling is a discipline that’s perhaps most affected by equipment with real gains on offer for those with the deepest pockets. Where does that leave those who can’t afford to keep up? It’s not just time trialling where this is apparent with similar reports from other governing bodies such as British Cycling.

It undoubtedly looks gloomy but don’t despair! There is some positive news to come out of this. The CTT introduced a road bike category to all events this year that has its own regulations including a maximum wheel depth. This does away with some of the biggest tech advantages on offer to those with the biggest budgets, which leaves us with a higher level of competition that requires far less investment to be competitive.

As a result, participation has increased, however, all the growth has been within this new road bike category. Of the 1000 new registrations for 2023, 83% of them were for the road bike category showing that this is an area that most people see as more achievable from a cost perspective.

Are you finding the cost of cycling restrictive to your participation - either in a competitive sense or maybe just more generally? Let us know in the comments below.

Hot and spicy tech

Even though the road season is over, it has not been a quiet week in the world of bike tech. Here are some of the top stories from the past seven days.

Decathlon becomes co-title sponsor of AG2R La Mondiale

French sports retailer Decathlon has made a return to the WorldTour with a five-year deal as co-title sponsor of the French WorldTour team AG2R La Mondiale. This partnership brings with it fresh bikes, helmets and glasses from Decathlon’s premium brand Van Rysel. The bikes they will be riding are the newly released RCR which costs £8,500 for a Dura-ace Di2 equipped WorldTour race bike.

Cycle to work scheme gets an update

Here in the UK, the cycle to work scheme allows employees to get a bike through a salary sacrifice scheme that sees monthly payments deducted pre-tax. The changes from provider cyclescheme will affect retailers as they are no longer able to charge the fees the scheme costs to set up on top of the cost of the bike. Instead, it is now required to be paid out of the profit the retailer makes on the sale.

UCI revises its fines for non-compliant clothing

The UCI has revised its rules on non-compliant clothing that deviates from the regulations. Things that can fall foul of these rules include sock length, skinsuit material, as well as incorrect placement of former national or world championship bands. This clampdown has come with an increase to the amount teams and riders can be fined with a maximum penalty of £1,800 for the rider.

Watch this week's GCN Tech Show in full above or on the GCN Tech YouTube channel.

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