The exponential growth of cycling in Australia has been undeniable. Cycling shops are springing up everywhere, the trails are busier, the club and Cycling Australia races have high levels of participation, and commuting by bike is becoming a recognised form of transport that a large proportion of Australians use daily to get to and from work. In short, more people are cycling more often. Along with this I have noticed the introduction of many new cycling charity rides.
I'm sure you have noticed it too. We've all seen the flyers and the ads online and in cycling magazines. You know the standard tag line: 'Get on your bike, get fit, get active, and raise money for (insert random charity name here)'. I've ridden a few of them in my time and I'm sure you have too.
Now, I'm not against charities and I'm not against public philanthropy for a good cause. In fact I think there needs to be more of it in Australia, we are lagging behind other countries (like the U.S.) in the public philanthropy stakes. There are certain charities close to my heart, and if I see a charity ride in their aid I'll happily fork out the cash.
I just find it hard to ignore the economic aspects of these events.
Essentially these events are money making activities, often not just for the charity. There are many organisations involved (commercial and non-profits) that have financial vested interests in these events; event organisation companies, public bodies and corporate sponsors - they all have a stake in the success or failure of any charity ride, and sometimes we are talking big money.
Some of the rides are even advertised on TV. TV advertising is very expensive, I should know, I work in Marcomms. Organisations do not outlay that sort of money for advertising unless the potential profits are sizable.
So - profits need to big (to ensure the charity is well looked after), plus event coordination costs need to be covered, then there's road-closure and event marshalling costs and advertising costs, and I'm sure there's other costs I am unaware of. All of this ads up and someone has to cover it, corporate sponsorship only goes so far.
Registration fees are where the bulk of the funds come from. Registration fees that cycling enthusiasts pay - to do a ride that, on any other day of the year, they could do for free. And these registration fees aren't cheap.
For example, last weekend, you had the choice of four different charity rides. If you were to register for the longest ride option for all four of these events you would be up for $300 in fees. And most of the time there's not a lot in it for the cyclists as these events are not races sanctioned by CA, therefore there are no prizes for placings.
I'm concerned that we as cyclists are being taken advantage of with these sometimes expensive events. Do charities and event organisation companies see cyclists as cash cows? Are the $150 - $200 registration fees really justified? Perhaps they are just trying to cash in on the rapidly burgeoning popularity of our sport?
Don't think I am against raising money for good causes - it's not about that. Personally I think you have to make your own judgement call with these events. Obviously you can't compete in all of them, so you just do the ones that either interest you because of the route, or interest you because you support the charity involved. I think the Amy Gillett Foundation do a fantastic job and I am therefore happy to participate in at least one of their charity rides per year.
This is a phenomenon that is unique to our sport, apart from perhaps running, there are no other sports that feature so heavily in fundraising ventures - this fact in itself inspires debate. What are your thoughts? Comment below.