Sunday, 29 August 2010

Skyride: Great fun but now what?

I had a great time taking my daughter twice round the Leicester Skyride circuit today in her newly installed front child seat.

Despite inspiring me to dust off my bike, I was left slightly wondering what the whole event was about. Having registered a few days ago and despite a lot of publicity from Leicester officialdom it felt slightly unclear where we should go and what we were supposed to actually do. Just turn up and start peddling seemed to be about it.

On the day we happily meandered between the various stopping off points via various barricaded and marshalled routes (some better showcases of the city than others).

Having only recently realised that the 'Sky' in Skyride is none other than everybody's favourite satellite TV broadcaster I was anticipating a bit of 'corporate' gloss on the event. I've got no problem with sponsorship of good causes though in actual fact there was precious little visibilty of the company other than their brand name (which seemed strangely neutered within the 'Skyride' brand).

When companies do this sort of PR it usually means they are attempting to change perceptions rather than drive immediate sales. I would guess that Sky wish to appeal to the cycling types who are probably a bit more middle class than their traditional customers. A bit of digging revealed the actual brief (page 4) from Sky's PR firm RPM: "To drive perception and awareness of Sky’s sponsorship of British Cycling, whilst encouraging 1 million more Brits to start cycling by 2013." Again I don't have a problem with this provided we the punters get something measurable in return.

My gut impression though was a deal along the lines of "Let's let Sky use our city for a mass PR stunt and hope that it encourages more people to cycle more regularly".

What I would like to see are more measurable results (i.e. what is the true legacy of Skyride on cycling numbers? How many less cars are on the road as a result? etc, etc). All that RPM's document could tell us was that for the London event "37% said they would cycle more regularly" - a statistic which is probably more exciting to a PR firm client than an urban transport planner!

I'd also like to see Leicester capitalise on this event better. The city should be able to get access to the Skyride registrations database and do some serious follow-up marketing to all the people who took part. It should also be measuring cycle usage before and after the event to see if it has any lasting effect.

As one of the original Skyride cities I'd also like to see if Leicester has the guts to be the first to run this on a busier day such as a Saturday. It's a big leap from a fenced-off course on a Sunday to a full-on weekday rush hour but we have to head in that direction if we're to achieve the critical mass of cyclists which will start to really affect traffic and exercise levels. Research I've read seems to suggest it only takes a small percentage reduction in car usage to substantially unclog roads - something which benefits cyclists and car drivers alike.

Finally, here is a thought-provoking little clip of what is possible (though read this and weep!):-


  1. Hi Ben. If you fancy meeting up with myself and the City Council's Cycling Co-ordinator Andy Salkeld I'm sure you would find out that there is alot going on behind the scenes in the city with us driving it, to make sure we do capitalise on the success of Sky Ride. All the statistics are available about Leicester and its increase in cycling numbers which I'm sure you would find interesting. The reason Citizens Eye was approached by Andy was to try & get this kind of information done to communities who would benefit more from cycling. Hope you get in touch. John C

  2. I'd love to meet up with you guys but that's kind-of missing the point (you'd be preaching to the converted for a start!). Where are these 'available' statistics? Publish them and let's celebrate the success. When will I and the the 12499 other Skyride participants receive follow-up communication from the city council?

  3. Thanks Ben. At the moment the information is supplied (or not) here
    The relationship with Andy Salkeld is now trying to get any past, current or future statistics published in a better way for people to access them & develop plans around them. Our registration target for Sky Ride participants was 3,840 - that we reached. The assumption is that each registered person brings or tells 3 people - hence the number of people who take part without bibs because they don't register.
    It's about developing the Ride Leicester brand (hence my volunteering to do the Bike Film Festival & the media centre this year) and I'm in talks with Comedy festival & Word organisers to broaden the offering. Good to hear your supportive and hope we can use your Leicester on the Map site to get more information into the public domain. Thanks. John

  4. Hi Ben. I've discussed your comments about statistics with Andy. My suggestion was to have a blog called 'Ride Leicester' that could be used to get the kind of information out to people about cycling in Leicester. I'll let you know when it's up and running and perhaps you could help get the word out. Thanks. JC

  5. Sound idea. I've received my first email from Sky[ride] since the event now. Not a word about what's going on in Leicester though. Is the database of subscribers available to Andy or the city council? If so then it's a huge opportunity to engage with 12500 local cyclists on a regular basis.

  6. now what? critical mass of course.
    see you on the 28th...