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by Matt de Neef
September 13, 2019
The controversial AusCycling initiative has generated its fair share of debate in recent weeks. Many support the proposal to dissolve Australia’s national and state cycling bodies in favour of a unified, multi-disciplinary system, while others remain steadfastly against such a wholesale change.
This week though, AusCycling has found itself with a somewhat unlikely ally: Australia’s biggest cycling advocacy group, Bicycle Network.
In the fragmented world that is Australian cycling, AusCycling has seen an opportunity to become the national advocacy body for all Australian riders. It wants to lobby governments for better cycling infrastructure, it wants to develop a national bike education program, and more generally, it wants to be a strong and unified voice for the interests of Australian cyclists.
It’s easy to imagine Bicycle Network being concerned by AusCycling’s advocacy plans. Bicycle Network styles itself as “Australia’s largest community of bike riders” and boasts nearly 50,000 members across the country — roughly the same number as CA, MTBA and BMXA’s “full financial members” combined. Alongside the Amy Gillett Foundation, Bicycle Network has become something of a de facto national cycling advocacy body. Perhaps most importantly, many of AusCycling’s advocacy goals overlap with what Bicycle Network already does.
But far from opposing AusCycling’s creation, Bicycle Network supports the endeavour — “we see it as a great opportunity rather than a threat,” reads a post on the Bicycle Network website, published Thursday.
“Bicycle Network believes that this is a positive move and should be great for the sport of cycling. Reducing the current fragmentation and duplication will surely help.
“We’re looking forward to AusCycling being an ally in navigating the challenging waters of advocating for the needs of all kinds of bike riders.”
Bicycle Network sees a continued role for itself even if AusCycling goes ahead as planned. It will continue its Ride2School program “to set young people on a path to becoming lifelong riders” and it will continue to focus on getting as many people riding as possible, with less of a focus on the racing and elite sport that it sees AusCycling gravitating towards.
“In an ideal world, there should be plenty of funding for crit courses, MTB trails and velodromes, as well as separated bike lanes and off-road paths,” the post reads. “However, this is not always the case and sometimes some people are disappointed when one thing gets funded over another.
“It’s well known that when we build more accessible and connected places for people to ride bikes, more people of all ages, genders and abilities ride. If faced with having to choose between a first-class elite training facility or 10km of separated bike lanes or paths, we’d like to think AusCycling will get the balance right and go for the one that gets more people riding.
“Sometimes, our decision-makers also get it wrong when it comes to bikes and it’s the role of bike advocates to call it out, represent their members and fight for riders [sic.] rights. As a non-government-funded organisation, we’ll continue to have a vital role. At times, it could be much more problematic for AusCycling if they’re being seen as biting the hand that feeds.” [ed. AusCycling is an initiative of and will be funded by Sport Australia, a federal government agency.]
In late August, CyclingTips asked Cycling Australia CEO (and AusCycling steering committee member) Steve Drake whether he saw a role for Bicycle Network in the new system and whether AusCycling might seek to collaborate with Bicycle Network in the future.
“I think that the more consolidated the sector can get, the better,” Drake said. “One or a few loud voices will have a lot more impact than 19 yappy little dogs that politicians can ignore and sponsors can struggle to deal with. Yes we need to respect the past and and we need to respect the contributions that people have made historically, but if we’re going to set up … not even the sport but the activity of cycling for success in Australia, we need to get rid of some of this fragmentation so that we do have a louder voice and we can get better outcomes.
“Because what we’ve been doing for the past 20 years or whatever — it’s been okay, but I don’t think it’s optimal.”
For the moment, questions still remain about whether AusCycling will even go ahead as planned and if so, what form it might take. Members, clubs, the state organisations, and the national bodies will all vote on the proposal over the coming months. Currently there’s considerable opposition to AusCycling at Cycling New South Wales, WestCycle and Cycling Tasmania, which could hamper efforts to get road and track cycling into the AusCycling setup. It’s possible that AusCycling will initially exist with just MTB and BMX but what that means for Cycling Australia and its constituents isn’t yet clear.