In cities that sprawl over many horizons, and where investment in roads has come at the cost of investment in trains, the sports cycling scene has a symbiotic relationship to bicycle transport. Though we who live in sprawling cities, welcome the current upright-bike craze, for the way it attracts non sportive cyclists, we know that without high pressure tires and bikes with steeper frame angles, people who live in suburbia would have no practical option but driving. Average week day trips in my city are 10.75km: too far for most on a Dutch bike, but not so bad on a racer, hybrid or fixie.
Portland, Oregon, is a sprawling city with a lively bike racing scene. Friends of mine there are forever posting pics of their cycle-cross events onto facebook. My city, likewise, has racing aplenty: 3 road racing clubs for a city of just 300,000 inhabitant, and 3 organised races per weekend, and that’s not to mention the wheelchair racing scene that we have here. And like Portland, Newcastle has a high bike modal share compared to national averages: 2% Newcastle (5% Portland). Newcastle’s flatland suburbs, meanwhile, have rates as high as 4.5% of all trips to work. If someone would pay me, I would crunch numbers and prove to you that sprawling cities with more bike racing, have more bike commuting. But I don’t have time for proving connections that aught to be obvious. Racing is a celebration of pedal power, that ultimately inspires more citizen cycling, than it perturbs.
It is with this connection in mind, that I keep looking for locations in my town, for an off-road, road racing circuit, to serve our three road racing clubs, and our wheelchair cyclists. The current president of my own bike racing club, suggested I look at this former rubbish tip site in Shortland. The 5km cloverleaf circuit I have sketched out, works with topography, prevailing winds and proposed new vegetation, to provide a complete road racing experience for riders, that also favours spectatorship. It would attract many riders to the sport from the region, and attract major events. A grandstand in the South corner would provide spectators a view of the whole course, and give each club its own room below, with common toilets. Our paralympians might use the facility for offices, safe training, and international competitions.
Currently hundreds of people in this city are racing bikes in the shadow of Orica, Australia’s most notorious chemical plant. They and their families would thank the government and/or sponsors who gave them a safe place to race. Plus, for every person who races, there are many more who own all the equipment, and who would give racing a try, if only this city had a safe, controlled venue. These are the people who would then commute more often by bike, just so they could be more competitive next time they race. In so doing, they would be reducing congestion, emissions and the burden on healthcare caused by sedentary lifestyles.
I’m assuming a circuit here could operate in conjunction with the Newcastle Golf Practice Centre, and be shared by Newcastle’s 3 road racing clubs and wheelchair cyclists. I’ve heard other locations suggested, but this one is central, accessible (even by train), fenced, and would require no felling of trees. It just needs 5km of light-duty roadworks, a nice grand stand, and strategic tree planting to make it look pretty.