Bike riders come from all walks of life and there are as many opinions about the future direction of the activity as there are two-wheeled enthusiast.
Though a common goal among most who enjoy riding is to get more people on bikes, competing interests of those who represent different facets of cycling has at times hindered its growth.
It is no secret the challenge of increasing participation is compounded in Australia, where the public perception of people on bikes isn’t always positive.
These issues and more led to the development of WestCycle – the State’s peak body for cycling.
If you ride a bike and you’re in WA, chances are you’ve heard of WestCycle, but what do they do exactly? I sat down with the organisation’s chief executive Matt Fulton to find out.
How did WestCycle come about and what would you say its main purpose is?
WestCycle is the peak body, we represent 36 different cycling organisations and half a million people that ride on a weekly basis. We are a not for profit organisation there to represent all cyclists, to try and bring them together, look for efficiencies and reflect cycling in a positive light.
In 2010, the Brown report was written looking into cycling. It found there was a lot of infighting between organisations, there were organisations going belly-up, government and politicians didn’t know what cyclists want because you’d have one group saying one thing and another group saying the polar opposite. Cycling as a form of sport, transport and recreation was stagnating. This report did a deep dive into that and came out with a list of recommendations based on the issues. The recommendations were essentially to have a peak body to bring the community together. So in 2011, WestCycle started.
How would you say WestCycle has changed during its eight years of operation and what are its primary objectives in 2019?
The Brown report outlines three really clear phases in WestCycle’s development. The first was about getting set up, developing a working relationship between all organisations, trying to look for some basic efficiencies in the model and developing a strategic plan for cycling, which is the Our Bike Path document (www.westcycle.org.au/strategic-plan/), so that was what we did for the first few years.
The second phase was taking more of a lead role on things like advocacy and being more public facing as opposed to behind closed doors. We took on an operational role such as running CycleSportWA and Bike Week.
The third phase which we are in now is how do we turn this into a customer friendly model, or how do we service the needs of the cycling community better. There are some simple things – we don’t need the duplication of so many organisations, but we do need the knowledge and the strategic thought of all those individuals that were there previously. We have started to address this through winding up CycleSport WA at the start of the year. At a day to day level it hasn’t impacted WestCycle because we were running the operational side of CSWA anyway, it’s just simplified the branding and positioning.
The report sparked a lot of issues around multiple licenses – why do people need to have five different licenses just to participate in the sport of cycling? Looking into that is part of this third phase.
What are some of the major misconceptions the public has around WestCycle that you are working to eliminate?
There is a misconception that WestCycle is a government organisation, but we are completely independent. We have got a board that make decisions, they’re highly skilled, they’re professionals. Governance is really key to the organisation – making sure we are doing things by the books. We are very fortunate that the State Government supports us through various grants but that isn’t the full extent of our revenue. More than 50% of revenue comes from other sources such as events, membership and sponsorship. This supports WestCycle in delivering better outcomes for the riding community.
There is confusion at two levels – from the cycling community and stakeholders. We still get asked regularly, “What’s the difference between WestCycle and BWA and who should people be talking to, who’s their representative?”. I think we covered a lot of those issues with CycleSport, but it’s getting to that point where the riding community has one point of contact, one voice, where they go ‘that’s who is representing me’. On the other side of that, stakeholders like politicians should clearly know who’s representing cyclists and who to go to about cycling. I think we’ve made it really hard in the past with politicians when they just don’t know who to talk to and who should they be listening to. There are too many voices, so if we want better outcomes we need to start simplifying it.
WestCycle’s goal seems clear – to get more West Australians involved in cycling. What are some of the major obstacles in your way and how do you plan to overcome these?
At the moment there are close to half a million people who ride a bike in WA every week, but if you look at membership across all cycling organisations, there are about 15,000 to 16,000 members, which represents three per cent of the bike riding community. We have a really low penetration rate. Typically, our membership products have all focused on the sport end of the spectrum – you need to be a member to race, so it’s racing based, whereas the opportunity for growth in cycling is more around the everyday cyclist and getting them engaged. We need a community of people who feel as though they’re part of an organisation and that organisation represents their values.
To participate in the ‘sport’ side of cycling, you need to hold multiple memberships, because each form of racing is underpinned by a different insurance policy. I don’t have an issue with memberships, I’ve got an issue with holding multiple insurance policies. We are making it as hard as possible for people to participate in cycling, putting every barrier up that we possibly can. The model isn’t built on what’s best for the rider, it’s built on organsational structures. The insurance thing is key in that we need to simplify that, we want cyclists to go ‘yes I do criterium racing, but I’m interested in mtb’ they should just be able to turn up and do a race, they shouldn’t have to have a separate insurance policy. It’s removing some of those barriers to make riding more accessible.
We also need more junior pathways – we don’t have enough kids coming through, be that for the sport of cycling or just kids riding to school. There has been a lack of focus on junior development and bike education programs for many years. We need to play a more active role in junior development, getting kids into clubs, having programs in schools. We need more people involved in the sport of cycling and juniors are the key. This isn’t something we haven’t known for a long time, unfortunately we operate in an environment where we are a very small business and we can’t afford to do everything at once but now this is becoming critical.
We know there are big changes in the pipeline for WestCycle in 2019. What are some of the key developments you can reveal now and can you provide any hints as to how the organisation plans to shake-up cycling in the near future?
Instead of having multiple organisations, we’re focusing on changing that so they become business units, road and track cycling still has its own unique identity, its own advisory group to steer the strategic direction of it, but it sits under the WestCycle banner, so there’s no confusion. Mountain-biking business unit etc. We don’t need a different logo and a different organisation and a different Facebook group for every discipline of cycling, when it can be a business unit of a bigger organisation.
The advisory groups are in the process of being set up. At a high level we’ve broken cycling down into four disciplines, road and track, off-road, transport and advocacy and BMX. For the first three of those business units we will have a general manager and an advisory group made up of people in the community who are experts in each of those aspects of cycling. BMX will continue as a standalone organisation but we will continue to work closely together and support each other. They have a fantastic CEO and Board and we want to make sure they continue to flourish.
We are providing an option for people to become a Supporter of WestCycle, for people who don’t want insurance but want WestCycle to be advocating on their behalf, on things like trail development, kids education, whatever comes to be. There is going to be an option to become a Supporter of WestCycle – for $50 a year, which goes towards the area that a member chooses.
How would you describe some of WestCycle’s greatest achievements during its eight years of operation?
WestCycle operates at a strategic level and we firmly believe in a planned and disciplined approach will lead to better long-term outcomes for the community. Getting multiple organisations to co-locate into the one office, sharing resources and collaborating saved big money that can then be put back to outcomes for the community rather than the running of cycling. I’d really encourage people to spend some time reading the various strategies that have been developed over the years that are on our website. Advocacy, particularly on safety, has been a big focus for us. Personally, I’m not a big fan of using the terminology ‘advocacy’ because it often gets confused with ‘lobbying’, but I’m yet to find a better word that describes our approach. We focus on having a seat at the table with the right partners to achieve outcomes. This is a partnership approach to ‘advocacy’ and it’s leading to results. The Government is spending more than it ever has on infrastructure, we’ve recently had minimum passing distance implemented, Collie and Dwellingup are receiving significant funding for trails and there are many conversations taking place about cycling facilities.
Tell us about the team at WestCycle
We are incredibly fortunate to have a very strong, passionate and dedicated team in the office. The team works incredibly hard, they do long hours and give up lots of their personal time in an effort to make cycling better in this state. We have 8 direct staff, which sounds like a lot, but that is spread across the full breadth of cycling. One of my biggest frustrations is the opportunity we see as a team to improve cycling but the restraints we have from a resourcing perspective to deliver upon it all.