Ride the North 2021

This statement was prepared and shared with registered participants on 24 June to further explain that our event will not take place as planned this summer. As of today I will work on alternative plans, but they will not be Ride the North. There will be further communications with all registered participants to follow on the issue of plans B and C and refunds.

Thanks for your understanding of what has been such a very difficult landscape to navigate through.  I launched a different version of RtN in Oct 2020 absolutely determined we’d be back stronger in 2021 and it’s not been easy to swallow a decision to concede on that.  I appreciate some further explanation of the circumstances might be helpful, so I have outlined my considerations in reaching the conclusion that Ride the North will not take place this summer.

Cycling Events in Level 1 and Level 0

My initial concerns were about the likely cap on numbers if we are still under Level 1 or Level 0 restrictions, but that is much less of a concern than the details of the guidance. The headline guidance is that there would not be a requirement for social distancing on the bike, but there would off the bike – that is very manangeable. There would be a requirement for no spectators and that does pose a bigger challenge – as I have no direct communication channel with people who do spectate and the finish-line would be a bit awkward – but that is not impossible.

However, there are detailed guidelines below the headlines that include:

• “There should an emphasis on organising events with as few participants as possible in attendance at any one time” – This is the opposite objective I have had.
• “It is essential that no group of riders overlaps with another group, and the time between groups to facilitate this should be determined by risk assessment taking into account the length of the event, the ability of the participants and the course profile” – This is a million miles away from happening at RtN. If you were to start in a group at 0930, you cannot overlap with a group that started an hour or two earlier. Groups overlap throughout our event and I could spread the start out over 7 hours and they still would. I cannot marry the integrity of the event and this requirement.
• “Organisers must ensure that riders can access their refreshments via a ‘self-serve’ system”. Realistically, I cannot do this.
• “The ability to safely host feed stations should be carefully considered. Adaptations may include reviewing the distance that participants will ride during the event in order that they may be self-sufficient, or making it a requirement that participants are self-sufficient”. I cannot do this. We are riding through very small rural communities and it’s not a realistic consideration.

The conclusion to all this is that Ride the North was not going to happen under any restrictions.

Beyond Level Zero

The Scottish Government has announced 9 August as the target date to move out of level zero to something that has always been referred to as ‘near normal’. We will be entering Level 0 a minimum of 3 weeks after the initial schedule and clearly 9 August is a plan that cannot be certain. Yesterday Scotland recorded it’s highest number of daily cases since the start of pandemic – I do appreciate that may/may not have knock on impacts for hospitals, the issue of concern for an event is whether the dates look very reliable in the current circumstances. There is also a clear (and pivotal) relationship to the issue raised in section below regarding our event’s relationship with communities.

The FM in her statement on Tuesday outlined changes to social distancing in Level 0 but added (in a line not hugely reported) “We will however keep in place temporarily the rules and processes currently applicable at level 0 for organised outdoor events, given that these can attract much larger crowds”. This highlights that organised outdoor events are already excluded from some of the restriction easing. Near normal on 9 August could well be normal except for restrictions on events and large gatherings. Events of over 500 people we stopped by the Scottish Government a week before lockdown last March, so I’ve always been aware they may be the last thing to return.

I have sought guidance from Scottish Cycling as to whether any of their current guidance will apply beyond level zero. I do not have an answer to this yet, but a realistic expectation is that this issue may be still to be finalised and Government may not have fully decided what restrictions might still apply beyond level 0.

The Ride the North Community Dimension

I have to highlight that I work so closely with many very rural communities – they are the heart of our event. I have kept in touch with all those on the 2021 route over recent months. Our event enjoys goodwill and (I’d like to think) a reputation for working with those communities respecting wishes. Nobody has ever said the event should not visit their community BUT my feeling is that there was a judgement here that went beyond the government restrictions. If Covid-19 felt ‘pretty much over’, I think we could have gatherings of cyclists in small village, but as of today (24 June) my decision is that I will not be asking the communities whether they are comfortable with 1,600 (rule observing) cyclists coming to visit this summer.

I do totally acknowledge that it might have been possible to run some sort of cycling event this summer but I am of the opinion that without the community dimension our event isn’t Ride the North. This year the event had made a pitch to more new cyclists and it’s not the event I planned (and sold) if there are not to be frequent opportunities to stop in communities along the route.

The Support/Partnership Issue

The final decision as to whether it was viable to go on at this stage is influenced by the support structures and whether it would be possible for Ride the North to continue with knowledge that it has support from public agencies to help deal with added complications of Covid and/or the added risk that the event that might not be permitted to happen.

The support structure for events has come through EventScotland. EventScotland opened the ‘Scottish Events Recovery Fund’ in November 2020. An application for support to help run Ride the North was lodged in December and refined in January. As of 24 June 2021, the outcome of this application is unknown.

EventScotland are working with Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Councils to fund the Tour of Britain’s visit to our area on 12 September. This project plan featured mass ride activities and public participation and I had hoped RtN could be integrated with that.  I have sought clarification whether there was a potential for Ride the North to move date to become an associated mass ride activity and form part of a festival weekend of cycling across our area. It would need some substantial changes to RtN to create a hybrid event and I cannot do this without some assistance/partnership. The Councils have clarified that the mass ride activities presented as one of the benefits of the project when funding was approved,  was purely an opportunity for an event organiser to run mass ride activities rather than something they can contribute to. As of 23 June, Aberdeenshire Council felt it was still possible to get an approach from an event organiser for an event mass participation event on 11 September. This opportunity might have looked different in normal times, but the risks and the workload are too great to go alone on this.

Thank you

…for all the patience and support on this. Covid-19 has delivered worse outcomes than a cycling event being cancelled but I am so very sorry to reach this decision for a whole host of reasons.  It is a passion and part of livelihood and this has been a painful conclusion to reach.

Neil