To Ride the North or not to Ride the North …

Ride the North 2021 (Statement on 18 June)

As we know, the Covid-19 virus spreads via social interaction and I’ve known and understood from the outset that has implications for those who run events. It was so disappointing not to be able to run Ride the North in 2020. That setback had a straightforward counter-measure – I’d organise a different RtN for 2021 that would be part of the bounce-back, for my small business and for others hugely impacted by the pandemic. Ride the North 2021 has around 1,600 registered participants. Many of these participants would be raising funds for 25 different charity partners. Many participants would be vising from outside our area and staying in local visitor accommodation businesses. Charities, hospitality and events have all been facing desperate challenges.

I’ve been anxious not to reach an early conclusion about the viability of this year’s event. Ultimately cycling has been a hugely positive thing for so many people during lockdown and cycling has all sorts of public benefits – in terms of economy, sustainability and health.

I run an event that I know doesn’t fit easily into categories with other cycling events. In all truth I never tick the box that says Ride the North is a sporting event. It is a cycling event – that is beyond any debate, but I think it’s a community event and a festival too.

Covid-safe cycling event guidance for all cycling events is issued by Scottish Cycling – the governing body of the sport of cycling in Scotland. I run an event that might have more social interaction than any cycling event ever staged in Scotland and the guidelines for cycling present quite fundamental challenges for an event like RtN. A normal event (as I have staged 2011-2019) is not possible. I could attempt to run an event under Covid controls but I would have to put the emphasis on the word ‘attempt’. While you’ll know I have great support from wonderful volunteers, this is an event with one person in a position of responsibility with 1,600 cyclists. I had thought that the fact that participants are typically spread over 40 miles would help with social distancing and while it will, it will not help other aspects of covid-safe compliance.

I appreciate entirely that guidelines cannot be written to cover every circumstance for event and also appreciate our event isn’t all that similar to most. I run an event that has hundreds of people stopping and starting dozens of times – it is the opposite end of the cycling event spectrum from a time trial and it generates much more social interaction.

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 many people who do spectate and the finish-line would be a bit awkward – but that is not impossible.

However, there detailed guidelines below the headline guidance that include:

• “There should an emphasis on organising events with as few participants as possible in attendance at any one time” – I am not quite sure what to do with that guidance – as few as possible 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 consideration.

The conclusion to all this is that Ride the North will not happen unless we are out of the restrictions that result in these guidelines that are applied to all cycling events. I value the reputation of the event, the relationship it has with local communities. I acknowledge that it has a high profile in the local area. The only credible position I cam take is to be guided by the guidance.

In order to continue planning throughout, I will await further Government guidance. I will await to see if there is clarity or certainty that allows me to keep going in the next statement on Tuesday 22 June. I acknowledge that I am looking for a degree of certainty that looks optimistic – the situation is always changing and certainty is understandably absent. I am desperate to avoid working on an event that cannot happen and desperate to avoid cancelling an event that would have been allowed to happen. I will make a decision after the 22 June update, but feel I have probably mapped out here that the odds look against the event taking place as planned.

HOWEVER, as previous communications, I am not prepared to fully give in. If I cannot run an event for 1,600 people, I will look at what the guidelines do allow me to do. The weekend is in the diary and I do understand it is important to more people than just me.

Thanks for all your understanding.

Neil