For many people this year, cycling has proven to be a shining light in the darkness brought forward by the pandemic. It has allowed many people to continue experiencing a ‘normal’ while lockdown restricted almost everything else in our day to day lives. In this episode of TALKS, we spoke to Kipp Kaufmann, the General Manager of Cycling Australia all about this matter and his thoughts on how technology and cycling have a vital connection in todays society, rocketing this industry into an entirely new light.

 

I wanted to get an understanding of the mission statement for Cycling Australia, the core reasons why Cycling Australia is operating and your role in Cycling Australia or how you manage the sport piece?

At Cycling Australia, really our goal is to get more people riding, racing and watching – those are the three key elements of cycling. I think that’s the beauty of it as well. We range from putting world end Olympic champions up at the top of the podium, down to having a kid get on their first bike and enjoy it – so it’s quite a broad range. Most people would probably know us for that top end, the Australia Cycling Team and what you might see on the Tour de France, and riders who are at the Olympics. That’s probably what most people know us for in sport, but we certainly look after the full gamut. I guess on my end, I usually look after that middle space, those who are competing, those who are riding at that national or international level. So the events around their officials, coaches, and any of the programs we’re putting on.

 

How has that role been affected – because of covid? Obviously there’s been a lot of changes to events and activities in general. A lot more people are staying inside or staying appropriately, socially distant. How has that changed your role in those activities?

Yeah, initially we really had to think about a number of things on an event side. A lot of things had to just be cancelled or postponed immediately. Some of that was working with people to either keep their organisation together, look at the future, how could they do it in a safe environment? Since then, it’s been really interesting, where some places have been opening up and some places have been closed and how do you manage both the innovation that cycling has and treating people in different ways but giving them opportunities.

Whereas Queensland right now you can do everything and people want to do things in real life, and in Victoria you can’t and you either need to have ways to inspire people to do something on their own or with one other person on a bike and or in the e-sport, virtual environment. Initially, we had to really move to that virtual environment and change there, but it’s probably even got more complex since things have started to open up and how do you treat different states and different people differently, but at the same time try to treat them the same?

So it’s working through where do you put your energy? Especially being in Victoria you can get really polarised, thinking this is all that’s happening and everyone should be treated in that way. What actually people who are out and can get on the bike, it’s really liberating right now. It’s one of the things that you can almost do in the exact same way for a lot of people, even if it’s just a small group, you can do that.

So that’s what people really like about it. It hasn’t changed. I don’t need to do anything differently and it’s a place of real, real freedom. It was freedom before, but it’s probably even more freedom now and especially as the weather gets better for everyone. Whereas a Victorian can’t go out and do that. So just playing those two environments has been interesting for us. 

 

In terms of your involvement in the cycling world as a whole, what does that look like? Cycling has boomed during covid. Like you said, it’s one of the things that people can do relatively consistently. What’s your take on that? How has covid-19 affected cycling or how it’s been affected by covid-19?

I think in some ways, we probably weren’t ready for it. A retailer told me that the start of covid-19, that first month was better than any Christmas period they’ve ever had and we all know Christmas is big for bikes! So imagine that spike for those businesses and I don’t know if you’ve found it, but when I went out riding, I’d see lots of parents bringing out their kids and teaching them to ride and all of these things. I don’t even think the infrastructure was ready for it. You have the person who’s zooming down versus the kid who’s learning to ride and all of these different things is great that so many people are out. We probably weren’t ready to support all those people. So actually be out in a safe environment to do that, I think that’s slightly lessened recently because some things have opened up, but how do we get back to that? I think people are pretty excited about doing that. How do we make that a choice, that people can get out in a safe environment and enjoy riding no matter what age they are? Scalability. We need to make that available for them because there is clearly a desire and an enjoyment at one point.

 

Do you think that it’s something that will continue, like you said, that wave continued as the months of covid rolled on. Do you see that as an opportunity, like a bit of a watershed opportunity for cycling to cement itself as a bigger sport or as a more meaningful activity for more of the general population?

I think there is that opportunity. The interesting statistic is before covid, bikes were out selling cars, so a million bikes a year. Having a bike really wasn’t something people didn’t have – A lot of people had bikes, not everyone, but a lot of people. A million bikes was not an insignificant number. So people certainly had bikes – Kids had bikes. The interesting part is, how do you make that in a safe environment? A lot of people find it really scary to ride to their work or their school. It may be found, it may be unfounded, but often it goes into a perpetual cycle, sort of feeling unsafe, so I drive, so there are more cars on the road. We invest in the road rather than in alternative transport to get there or how to help those people get there.

I think there’s still some issues with that, with certainly getting kids to their school as an example. I’ve known schools who have been very good, but other schools who have been worried about having kids come because of risk. I still think there is a way to go around that education and some of the infrastructure to really make sustained changes. Although I was having a great conversation with someone today who said that they’ve been talking to someone in Victoria and around their house, they built all these new jumps kind of like a mini pump, BMX type of area. The council had gotten really excited and they were investing all of a sudden and now they’re creating this, let’s call it a collaboration between the community and the council on this little bike park. I think those are the things that are really going to inspire some of those young kids. One of the areas around where I ride, I’ve seen some kids, I won’t tell on them, but clearly illegally created some tracks. But they were inspired and wanted to find that and it wasn’t there for them nearby because they couldn’t drive somewhere to do that.

So I think that’s where there’s probably that great opportunity to maybe inspire kids to be riding more as in that recreational leisure space, especially in that off road environment. Local governments can make minor amounts of investment comparatively to hard infrastructure and get kids excited. Go a little bit off that bike path as an example or the shared platform into these little crevices where they can get a little bit muddy. Have a lot of fun, come back home and maybe have my GoPro on the front. Those types of things are where there’s real opportunity to inspire a generation. Even where I started in this conversation, going straight back and forth on a road bike or something that people think about, I guess initially in some of that more ‘How do I get into nature with my bike, how to experience the environment on my bike’? It doesn’t necessarily need to be this really hard, expensive infrastructure investment. 

A bit more creative thinking on how to get the infrastructure working within constraints. That probably leads to a different question. But a question that I was really keen to ask;

 

In the cycling world, how has technology affected what you guys are about as an organization? What cycling is about as a whole? Anything from the good to the bad. What are the main things you see around technology in your industry? 

Technology is all around cycling. So even before this pandemic, so many cyclists have that GoPro, the Strava account. You’ve got to log it on Strava and have a virtual competition on that or you have to have your Garmin on the front and get all the data from your ride and upload it. You have to put it on one of the apps and there’s a couple, like Relive, that plot it after and put it on Facebook and you could fly the whole thing. You know, it goes on and on and then how much there is. It’s almost all data driven. But that was before. What really exploded did exist before, we just moved into it now and it’s growing even faster. We ran a national series online using one of the apps and for the first time, there was a virtual Tour de France. The virtual world championship or eSport World Championship is happening in December, so all of those things accelerated tremendously quickly.

So as an example, weight means a lot in the virtual world. So how much power you can put out depending on your weight, makes some sense. So how do people cheat doing that? How much sweat do you lose during a race? And how does that change your weight? and it can keep going on. These are just some minor things that actually we’ve learned what it was. You really didn’t know what you didn’t know.

But there was such a high demand, and we even started streaming those events and we were getting tens, if not hundreds of thousands of viewers on them, maybe because there wasn’t any other sport on. We’re streaming virtual bike racing, even though we weren’t doing it a few weeks before. 

 

So it’s had pretty successful take up then? 

Yeah, I think that you know, there’s been lots of investment into it and people are aware of it happening. But let’s say it was happening at an unofficial level and we almost had to just move within a couple of weeks to bring it to the official level. So I think that the technology was existing, but kind of it was there, let’s leave it to the side. We don’t need it right now. We only want to use the term in real life things or maybe flirting with it, thinking, you know, that’s a couple of years away. So those couple of years, became a couple of days or a couple of weeks. 

 

I guess that maybe just on the esports topic, what is your view or Cycling Australia’s view on how sport helps, doesn’t help or contributes to people when they’re dealing with this lockdown state? There’s been so much reporting around mental health and a lot of these challenges that as a society, we haven’t faced this level of complexity, on a mass scale all at once. What is your take on sports involvement in that?

I think it gives people an outlet. It takes them away from reality, but also brings them back to something consistent, and especially in riding, they can get out with a friend, it feels the same, it looks the same, it is the same and it’s something they can escape to. I think what we’ve found especially, and we probably took it for granted for a long time and we’re hearing more feedback on, is that the social aspect is so important to a lot of people and they have missed it. Especially younger people have missed that social aspect. They might be able to get some virtual competition. They might be able to get all these things. They might be able to still go and see their club. They might be able to go to training depending on what the restrictions are, but a lot of them can’t get that social interaction – we’ve got to still stay away from someone. 

That social interaction that it adds to people’s lives, you know, come across to me over and over again and that certainly helps their wellbeing. So while the sport is great for the physical feeling and being with people, it’s clear to me the more I’ve talked with people that what people are missing is just being together, then I think that’s what it offers up.