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Decline in Races - Why is this happening?


richardgraysydney's picture

By richardgraysydney - Posted on 28 June 2017

NB: Originally posted elsewhere on the Global Riders Network and appears via syndication.

Many will have seen a recent announcement that the Highland Fling maybe following the demise of so many other races with even the Mont and the Kowalski coming to an end this year. I'd be interested in what people think as to why these things are happening. Is it:
1. These races are run for profit and not volunteers and therefore are prone to declines in sponsorship?
2. That people are changing habits and want to do more downhill when these races are marathon by nature?
3. That we're not promoting the sport enough?
4. That the races were just not that enjoyable?
I get a lot of stick from friends as I like a bit of distance in preference to jumps in my ride but then I've had enough crashes in my time to know what I'm capable of. Are the decline of these races a reflection of fashion?
Anyway, I'd appreciate your thoughts.

Here is the recent annoucement made by Wild Horizons: (https://www.facebook.com/wildhorizons/)

Future of Highland Fling & Bundy Run Events

For over a dozen years The Highland Fling has been one of the largest and most iconic mountain bike events in Australia - bringing together an incredible community of riders, supporters, sponsors, local community groups and local businesses to celebrate a festival weekend of all things MTB.

In 2015 we grew this weekend to include the Bundy Run, and in doing so grew our community of outdoor enthusiasts. This young event attracted a new outdoor audience and excitingly saw a solid increase in numbers year-on-year.

The Highland Fling has put millions of dollars into the regional economy and has contributed over half a million dollars to local community and charitable causes. The Fling, as it is affectionately known, has long been the largest fundraiser for many local community groups involved.
The organiser, Wild Horizons, is Australia’s longest established adventure event organiser and has, for 20 years, worked across NSW, interstate and overseas on such events.
2017 should be the 13th running of the Highland Fling weekend. But the number 13 is living up to its reputation and the future of the Fling, along with the Bundy Run, is hanging in the balance due to a variety of reasons. Key amongst these include the loss of a couple of key sponsors that impacts the viability of the events. Added to this is the continuing lack of support from local government. This has been a thorn in the side of the event for many years despite it being, for a long period, the largest sporting event in the Southern Highlands region.

We’re still searching for replacement Sponsors, investigating additional funding, and looking at what else we can do to make these events happen in 2017. What we won't do however, is bring an event that is anything less than our best. We also recognise that in recent years many of the big MTB events across Australia have stopped being run for a variety of reasons and we are keen to ensure the Fling does not follow this path.

We’ll keep you updated with a decision in the coming two weeks.

stephen's picture

I believe it's because there is an increase in the amount of places to ride, this has been the only visible change with this whole event number issue.

During the summer months I'd rather throw my coin at Thredbo or Blue Derby or even a trip to NZ. All those destinations are pretty good value for money compared to privately run XCM events and the like.

Grass roots or club racing is ticking along quite nicely. The Central West clubs are running a top little 3hr series for as little as $15 entry and club XCO racing at WSMTB is consistently strong. Although for this summer we are dropping our Summer series because quite simply people are off riding new cool trails like Tassie.

The demographic racing is clearly 30+ so they have families. Everyone in my family race, if we all do the fling that's well over $500 dollars for me to fork out just on entries. It just cost me $210 plus a donation for the family to race the Woodford to Glenbrook classic. Makes Thredbo look bloody sweet, not that it already wasn't. Just that most of these new locations are Summer only.

Lach's picture

When races like the Fling started there wasn't much else other than those XCM sort of races that you could do from Sydney. Maybe the 12 hr at Yellomundie or some 8 hr races scattered around the place. Now there are not only more of the XCM type races in lots of interesting places - Willo, Tathra, Kirrawak etc, but there is Enduro racing, where the uphills don't hurt as much, there are stage races like the Snowy MTB Festival, Port to Port, Redback etc, 24 hr races where you can make a weekend of it, there are 4 hr options at Rocky Trail events, heaps of team categories there as well, as well as more tracks where folks can just go out and ride - Wylde, H2O, OMV, Knapsack without needing an "event" to get them out on the bike and riding something interesting. And you are right that "destination" rides like Canberra, Derby, Rotorua etc eat into the mtb budget, and probably not just for folks with families and / or limited resources.

It's just a much tougher market, the sponsors react to numbers and it all gets spread a bit thinner and the economics start to get questionable. There is definitely a role for local government to provide some backing for the sort of economic benefit that races like the Fling provide for smaller local communities, but interestingly the Evocities initiative didn't go for long?

Jubas's picture

What had the biggest negative impact in my mind is when they broke up the 'series' which included capital punishment, highland fling, and a few others.. instead, replacing it with the national series. I thought the original was fantastic at getting people along to multiple events, all within (relative) driving distance of Sydney/CBR. Instead, we went to a series with races all over the country with very little chance of joe blogs able to make it.

I've not raced in ages because: i'm not massive on multi-lap races unless the laps are quite long (e.g. AMB 100), I've had a screwy work schedule, my favorites have kind of disappeared (cap punishment, husky), and they're getting pretty expensive for not much incremental benefit over previous years.

I would have liked to have done the willo this year (work travel), and kowalskis (work travel), and haven't done the highland fling in about 3 years (work travel...sigh), although was hoping to do it this year

Jubas's picture

What had the biggest negative impact in my mind is when they broke up the 'series' which included capital punishment, highland fling, and a few others.. instead, replacing it with the national series. I thought the original was fantastic at getting people along to multiple events, all within (relative) driving distance of Sydney/CBR. Instead, we went to a series with races all over the country with very little chance of joe blogs able to make it.

I've not raced in ages because: i'm not massive on multi-lap races unless the laps are quite long (e.g. AMB 100), I've had a screwy work schedule, my favorites have kind of disappeared (cap punishment, husky), and they're getting pretty expensive for not much incremental benefit over previous years.

I would have liked to have done the willo this year (work travel), and kowalskis (work travel), and haven't done the highland fling in about 3 years (work travel...sigh), although was hoping to do it this year

DudeistPriest's picture

Plucked from the 2016 MTBA Annual Report:

"MTBA continues to monitor race entries and analysis shows that the total number of people entering events is still growing at about 10% per year – but that entries per event are dropping. Put simply, the rate of growth in events is greater than the rate of growth of
people doing events. One reason that numbers per-event are less is that there is now so much choice for mountain bikers. On any weekend you can probably find three events within easy distance, so the need to congregate at one big event is less."

Ian_A's picture

I started commenting before I saw Steve's comment, and mine sort of mirrors his comment.....

Why is racing in decline?
- It costs way too much for the experience you get. Near on $100 to race the RT 7hr at Rydal a couple of months ago. Work your arse off to get a podium and nothing to show for it (other than the personal satisfaction). We used to get some pretty good shit for getting a podium - Go Pro's, cassettes, chains, handle bars etc. There are also so many categories that often there is only 1 person in each one.
- Club racing is where it's at. Go out to Rydal for a clubby/3hr and you can pay with the change under your car seat........ WSMTB is some of the toughest, most (friendly) competitive racing and it's a 5km roll from my house.
- Going on a 100+km adventure with a few mates is more fun than most fireroad races.
- The biggest point is that there is 0 support for racing, especially XC. MTBA do nothing to actually support racing, bike/gear companies give very little support or sponsorship. I think if there was more on offer, people would get on board.

staffe's picture

I actually don't know this but having attended races over the last 10 yrs or more it seems like the demographic is ageing. Perhaps the majority have done it for a long time and are looking for new events and formats?

Unless there is a healthy growth of new young riders finding the sport and starting attending events it seems likely that events won't last that many years as doing something new is more interesting than repeating what's already been done.

We see the old formats like 100k races and 24hr races dwindle but new races like P2P grow which perhaps is an indication that repeat punters are looking for new races rather than repeating existing.

But, as been said, there are a lot to chose from and I personally favour anything new that I've not done before. As long as new events are added to the racing season these will attract me (and perhaps others) away from the established events and there are only so many events that one can find time to do each year which results in attendance erosion of the established events.

That's my theory.

teknovation's picture

I'm a new comer to actually riding trails and such, but have always been interested in the scene. I'm now 24 & decided to buy a hardtail last year, and can barely do the primary XC trail at Knapsack. So would take a lot of training around my work schedule to even be comfortable entering a race..
That's my reason for not racing, but I do want to eventually. I have noticed quite the percentage are in their mid-30's if not older. But they certainly put me to shame by a mile.

Slash's picture

There seems to be too many races to choose from right now, money is tight, & people are doing the ones that are most enjoyable. The numbers are skyrocketing at the Thredbo races, so they are doing something right. It seems that there are too many series happening, & they are getting further & further away from Sydney, & clashing with each other. Plus some of these series you are lucky to get 15mins total racing time, so add up entry fee, petrol, accommodation, distance from Sydney, & all this adds up to zero value for money! I'd rather head down for a weekend in Thredbo, or a long weekend over in Rotorua/Tassie. I have been to races where some tracks are only 1-2mins long, so driving 2.5hrs to do one of those suxs!!!! Also holding series races on Thredbo opening weekend, another big mistake, I know where there was more riders. Minimise the number of races, but do them well, that's all i can say.

Brian's picture

It definitely was at the peak when the Cyclenation Series was running in 2012/13. I've been off the scene for a couple of years and have just started doing some racing lately. I think with the events now not selling out you can enter last minute makes it harder for the organisers to plan. For the organisers that then do multiple event types like adventure racing, tough bloke challenges etc, if they are selling out then it becomes a no brainer for them.

I've just entered the RT 4hr at Ourimbah for this Saturday and being the last Kowalski I've entered that. I know I could just go to Ourimbah and ride for 4 hours (which I did on Saturday) but I thought, why not, so signed up Smiling

Antsonline's picture

It seems like everyone above has covered all (most) of the reasons that there has been a decline.
MTBA are a long way from the mark with their statement about greater choice diluting the participation. But its a great way for them to be able to absolve themselves from much responsibility.
The Real Insurance / CycleNation series was a high point for the endurance side of the sport - huge attendance, deep fields and TV and Magazine coverage. It got run down, and the reasons for which are complex, but ego and greed (typical) are to blame.

I found it of great irony that in the Fling announcement there was mention of a lack of government support, a lack of spono dollars, but absolutely no mention of a reduction in entries (which is what really pays the bills) over the years. Of course, the Fling is an institution, but it needed (needs) evolving. Keeping something the same, putting 5 or 10% on every year, and expecting the public to keep sucking it up - its just not great business.
Adding a running event - yes, it probably does bring a few (not many 'unique attendances') additional people in, but it also is not something that really can be sold to a bike industry sponsor. Shimano / SRAM / Specialized / Giant - they don't care so much about trail running.

On a broader level, two of the reasons for a decline in events (and attendance) that havent been mentioned yet are the advent of Strava and the decline in print mags.
With Strava, you can get a nice fix of 'competition' amongst friends and your crew. Its not quite the same - sure - but it is fun and doesn't cost $140 every weekend. Something like the Fling (which has all the good bits of the course open for public access - Wingello) suffers because I can go to the trails and measure myself against anyone, whenever I like (and ironically go a bit faster out of race environment - as there is less traffic and I am less knackered).
Although 'Print is Dead' - its a fact that with it going, so has advertising for events. With that, so has the 'post event' article. Sure, many people write blogs about their experience at a race (I am guilty of this), there is nothing quite like a mag review, with glossy photos.
Online copy means you never get to the 3rd week of a monthly subscription, having read the product from cover to cover, and end up reading about an event that didnt immediately interest you. You just don't click on it these days - so you will never know.
Outside of Facebook, I really don't know how or where to go to find out about new races. God knows where they are advertised if not on FB, and if you dont use FB, or only infrequently, then you are stuffed.
Online mags (you know the ones) tend to only mention events if they are paid to do so. In the past, a magazine would be at an event because it was a relevant part of the riding community, and to miss it would be to miss out on the sport itself.
Its all about weekends away, uplifts, and skids these days.

Sorry - its a long post. I am really saddened by the many events lost over the last few years. When you list them, it becomes quite shocking - Husky, Angry Doc, Cap Pun, 3 Ring Circus, Scott 24, Mont, now Kowalksi, and many many more I have overlooked.

I hope the Fling stays, I hope they can reinvent it a little (for heavens sake - make it a pairs race), but even if it stays this year, it will be gone next. How long with the dwindling Convict be allowed to slowly die?

Its sad times. Go to club XC races, enter early for the bigger marathons - dont leave it until 1 week to go. Give the promoters a chance to realise their vision for the event.

See you at the last Kowalski, before (hopefully) the Fling, and then onto the undisputed king of events - the Hellfire Cup.

stephen's picture

Well written Ants.

I rue to point about Facebook, the only reason I relented and went onto it and the reason why I can't really get off, generally the biggest waste of my time.

Maybe event managers should push Strava for better integration of events for promoters. I did a social ride yesterday (organised through facebook) with 80 riders, at least 50 of those are on Strava going by who came up that I rode with. WSMTB now advertise event's through Strava club. Would be cool to finish a social ride at Yellomundee and strava say "hey, trackwork here this Saturday and a club XC race on Sunday". Same with Wingello etc. Piss off Facebook all together. I'd pay the premium price if every clubbie and privately promoted race was on Strava.

Fatboy's picture

It is sad watching our sport free fall the way it has been over the last few years. My favourite events are the Convict and Fling. I’ve only missed one running of each in their history - the Convict due to injury and the Fling in its heyday when the 2,500 spots were filled in a micro second melting servers and I was 5 mins late. Pleading with the organisers for a spot got me nowhere…

I recall lining up at Wiseman's Ferry for nearly an hour to get across the river on the morning of the Convict and on the way home sitting smashed in the car in a 2km queue to get back across the river. These days you get to the ferry and straight on. Similarly with the Fling the paddock at the start used to be full of cars and these days it looks 20% full.

Many great events as others have mentioned have disappeared as have series such as Chocolate Foot.

There are many contributing factors as outlined by others but one I feel passionate about is the lack of trails in Sydney. Look around NoBMoB for example at the age of those who compete. We are mainly in the 40-50ish age group and most have been competing for say 10 years. Gradually some of us drop off but we don’t have the younger brigade filling the void. It’s hard to attract newbies to the sport when we have to throw the bikes in a car and drive so far to get to a decent ride location. If we have more riding, we attract more people, we get more interest in the competitive side of our sport.

Pete B's picture

I'm actually suprised the Convict is still going, I did it for the first time this year and although I enjoyed it, it's doubtful I'll do it again. Riding fire trail for hours and paying for the privilege? I don't think so.

I used to get to an mtb race at least once a month but after buying a road bike for training, discovered that I don't have to drive for over an hour to ride my bike, open the front door and away I go. There are also heaps more race options available, crits, track, road races, time trials, it's just so much easier and less hassle. Now, this isn't an advert for chucking away your baggies and buying lycra, I'm just making the point that there isn't that many mtb trails available close by. From I live, Wylde is 45min, Manly Dam 30, Ourimbah 1:20, Wingello 2:20. The other sydney trails generally too sandy for my liking. My time, as is everyones (especially with kids) is tight and to waste so much of it in the car doesn't make sense.

In saying that, I'm going to do the Rocky Trail MTBGP this weekend and the Kowalski later in the year. I just pick and choose my races more carefully now and keep the mtb for when I can get a long leave pass from the family.

obmal's picture

These enduro races have failed to evolve and the small market they have just got bored with them, we simply don’t have the population to supply year on year of fresh riders coming into enduro to replace the riders that have done it all before. Nor to they cater well for families or non riding supporting partners, who also got bored with waiting around for the damn things to finish.

I'm crazy for riding bikes, enduro, the further the better.. I'm a prime example of their target market if there ever was one, but even I can't be bothered with them anymore, let alone paying the high costs associated with attending these things when its been done so many times before.

The Fling perhaps was the closest thing to a community run event where the whole town seems to come out and behind it enough that it almost has a festival atmosphere about it, but even this seems to have gone the way of same old same old..

Simon's picture

Most mountain bikers don't race.

I think race events in general just cater for such a minority it doesn't take much of a swing in rider mind set for things to change quickly.

As an example of recreational numbers vs racers, northern Sydney has as many mountain bikers on Strava alone as MTBA has national members.

For me the racing XC scene has zero appeal. Riding is an escape from the day job. Racing seems like my 9-5 which is competative, people trying to prove themselves, conflicts, training courses, political etc and pressure. Any of the pluses people tell me about races most people already get from a ride with their mates and we have the freedom to ride wherever and whenever we want. It also seems to be more about how fast you can climb as descents even out more.

People used to go on about all the tracks you get to ride, to be honest there always seemed to be better unofficial trails to go ride instead. Like others have said, there are even some official ones instead.

Mates that got into riding with me tried The Mont etc once but never raced again. I didn't join them and I had a better time that weekend.

For me riding is about the trail and self improvement, hanging out with mates and fun. Getting fitter is a side effect of this. For the guys I ride with, it is the same.

Recreational riders like us are the vast majority, other Stats I have seen show about 5% of people race, Strava data seems to show the number of 5% may now even be too high.

I don't see it as any big surprise that point to point events are growing, caters for race and a fun casual day out as slower riders don't get in the way while being lapped, for most it's not even a race and you don't need a lobotomy (I would anyway) to keep going around in circles over and over on firetrail and XC single track.

I've been mountain biking regularly for the last 12 years and sporadically for more than 25 years. For me mountain biking has always been about getting to the top of a big hill and having as much fun as I can getting back down again. This was how mountain biking started. Then it got called All Mountain and now gravity Enduro. To me gravity Enduro as a race event is closest to me to the heart of what mountain biking is and the only race event I might consider, bit even then I'm not sure I need it.

Flynny's picture

I remember when the only participation events were the mont and the ws 12hr. Because they were they only option everyone went (remember races entries selling out in a matter of days?) MTB was a small community or at least felt like it and it was amazing to get to hang out with a whole bunch of like minded people. There was a build up of anticipation you looked forward to them for months

For the racers you had a couple of state races and the nationals, you were lucky to get the option of 1. club race a month.
Now it's rare to get a weekend that you haven't got a choice of events to pick from and with that gluttony of choice I know I lost a bit of interest.

fairy1's picture

I raced DH for two years a fair while ago and it was the most fun I've had on a bike.

I thought about having a crack at XC but seeing a bunch of slugs in Lycra scares me off somewhat, just run a dropper post and dress like a normal human, weirdos.

grantd's picture

I think it's mainly the increase in the interest of 'destination mountain biking' taking away from the big races.

I just wanted to post these links to basically the same discussion on Flow a couple of years ago:

A piece by an Orange local:
http://flowmountainbike.com/features/the-soapbox...

and Huw Kingston's (Wild Horison's) take on it in his response:
http://flowmountainbike.com/features/the-soapbox...

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