Richmond's 2015 Lycra Fest

Tom BowdenTom Bowden is a bike commuter from Richmond VA, a “suit” – a corporate lawyer with an MBA, and a conservative – You betcha! He is also a board member of BikeWalk Virginia, a pro cycling and pedestrian group in Virginia that raises raises money to promote cycling, walking and active lifestyles. Tom’s lawyerly blogging can be found at

It’s been a long, hard-fought campaign, but in the end, it wasn’t even close. Richmond was selected to host the 2015 World Championships of Road Racing by the Union Cycliste Internationale, or UCI – Cycling’s international governing body for bike racing of all types.

Richmond 2015 America's Bid to Host the 2015 World Road Cycling Championships

Just prior to the final vote in Copenhagen, the last remaining competitor withdrew at the last minute, leaving Richmond alone on the home stretch.

This is a spectacular achievement for Richmond, and for the US cycling community at large. It has been 25 years since the US last hosted the World Championship – far too long in the opinion of many, but now that gap has been addressed.

In what started as a three-way competition — between Richmond, Quebec and Muscat, Oman — Richmond emerged with the strongest bid. After an early abandonment by Quebec, Richmond was locked in a wheel to wheel struggle with Oman for the center spot on the podium.

Oman? Oman!? you say? What in the world did they have going for them? Other than former world champion and five time Tour De France winner Eddy Merckx leading the bid, backed by ASO, (l’organisateur de le Tour), an unlimited bank account flush with petro-dollars and some surprisingly striking scenery – not much, actually.

Richmond won going away, in a fist pumping no-hands victory sprint. US bike racing fans are in a state of near euphoric anticipation, and so they should be.

So… what has this got to do with bike commuters?

At first blush, it might seem as relevant to your daily commute as the latest NASCAR standings or Indy 500 winner. With an exaggerated yawn, you turn back to reading the latest review of studded 700×35 snow tires for your cyclo-cross winter commuter rig, or maybe you finally get around to mounting that new rear flasher to the Tubus rack on your new Dutchie with the creamy white balloon tires.

I don’t care about racing, you mumble, I’m a real cyclist – not some EPO enhanced science experiment, all legs and lungs but lacking in soul and a true sense of the Tao of heavy lugged frames and the Zen of slow cycling.

I wouldn’t blame you if you had exactly those thoughts, smug and condescending though they may be.

But listen up, you tattooed alleycatters and tweedy randonneurs, you trailer-dragging recumbent riders and fat tire aficianados. Here is the BIG picture: Racing brings cycling into the public’s consciousness.

Virginia Capital Trail
Photo: Virginia Capital Trail Foundation

Seeing our City of Richmond highlighted worldwide for something other than avenues of stately Georgian brick mansions punctuated by statues of confederate generals will elevate the Capital-B BICYCLE in the eyes of taxpayers, motorists, policy wonks and transportation planners for years to come. Economic impact studies predict that this one week event will bring nearly one half a million spectators to Richmond, dragging with them some 135 million dollars in out-of-state and European cash for everything from posh first class rooms in hotels that have yet to be built, to beer koozies with 3-D pictures of Mayor Dwight C. Jones screen printed in holographic ink.

I’m talking economic development. That’s right: E-D and that rhymes with T and that stands for Tax — as in revenues. And when we, the advocates, point out in our ever so polite and respectful way just how much filthy lucre our little lycra-fest has injected into this sleepy little town, we will have our say. And it won’t just be a few miles of sharrows we’ll be asking for.

Already, the feeling is palpable that Richmond is on the good side of a tipping point. The Capital Trail from Richmond to Jamestown is scheduled to be finished in time for 2015 — sharrows and greenways and even a new hostel, practically at the intersection of bike routes 1 and 76 are in the works. There’s talk of a bike station at the old Main Street Railroad station, and in a matter of days, our Bike Share program will be announced.

All of these developments work together symbiotically, building on each other, to help Richmond realize its full potential as a pedal-powered, people-oriented city. So before you shake your head in apathetic bemusement, just imagine what kind of bike/ped infrastructure you might be able to spec out if your city was as fortunate as Richmond.

By the way — you are all invited, and bring your cyclo-dollars and velo-bucks with you — we know just what to do with them.

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21 thoughts on “Richmond's 2015 Lycra Fest”

  1. Jake Helmboldt says:

    Tom, I didn’t think conservatives were allowed to use words like Tao and Zen. Seriously, you make some great points. Looking forward to working with you and the rest of the Richmond community to make this happen (and happen right).

  2. Michael says:

    I have to disagree that there is any nexus between bicycle racing and commuting. This is great news for Richmond (as a Virginia native) but similar claims were made during the Lance Armstrong years and bicycle commuting didn’t take off in the US until AFTER he was winding down his career. A more effective “event” is ciclavia-style open streets days where cars are banned and everyone can ride freely along designated streets or routes. I think people are more likely to begin bike commuting if they have a chance to participate, rather than watch.

    The positive developments you mentioned, like bike share and trails, are actually the result of recent success stories (like Capital Bikeshare) and the envy of cities like Richmond looking at cities who’ve already made infrastructure investments, and reaping the benefits under the current national recession by attracting new residents and maintaining decent to strong local economies.

  3. Tom Bowden says:

    Michael – What I am trying to say is that in Richmond, leading commuter advocates and cyclists in general have all put their support behind this effort, and so all can and will claim credit for the powerful economic stimulus that will result. Overwhelmingly, our local racers want the same things the commuters want – and to a large extent, the communities overlap. We may be different than other cities in that respect. As with my earlier articles, I have tried to expose false dichotomies to get groups that might feel they have little in common to realize that their combined numbers can have a greater effect than either group alone. It’s working here. Maybe it can work where you live and ride too.

  4. Roach says:

    Congratulations from Charlottesville. However, I’m still convinced we need to bring something like the Urban Assault Ride ( ) to the region. Now that’s a race for commuters if there ever was one. Ride around town, conquer strange obstacles, drink beer.

  5. Matt says:

    Michael, and Roach,

    Events like this spark so much interest in general that there’s no question we’ll get more what you’d like to see — cyclovias and similar events, increases in commuting, and infrastructure improvements.

    Just having so many spectators riding to the event, as they tend to do, has a huge effect. It gets many of them started riding again, or more into it; and sends a strong signal to others that they too could be making that trip on a bike.

    I would bet that the Bikestation in Claremont, CA saw an increase in bike-train commuting after the AToC Mt. Baldy stage.

  6. Ted Johnson says:

    #lycrafest2015 is now a trending topic on Twitter. Twitterati, you should use this whenever you discuss the Road Racing Championships.

  7. BluesCat says:

    Anything which promotes two-wheeled, human-powered transportation is a plus in my book.

    Even if it IS the UCI, which doesn’t classify recumbents as “bicycles.” I don’t know WHAT ‘bents are, but evidently according to the Gods of International Bike Racing they ain’t bikes.

    You might want to mention to them how STUPID that is, Tom. AND how they might get a LOT more interest (and make a LOT more money) if they included the fastest bikes on the planet in their races.

  8. Gene @ BU says:

    In an interview with Serge Arsenault regarding Quebec City’s dropping the 2015 UCI World Road Championships he said;

    “The World Championships do not necessarily produce lasting effects in the cities where they are hosted and that recurrent events are more effective.”

    Arsenault said that; “Together with the federal government, the Quebec government, municipal governments in Montreal and in Quebec City, the CCA, the FQSC, and private partners are developing a six-day period of festivities about bicycling.”

  9. Tom Bowden says:

    Gene – That’s just sour grapes from the promoters in Quebec because thy couldn’t get their act together, in my humble opinion. The bulk of the cost of the event will come from sponsorship and donations, so whatever benefit there is will be a positive thing for the region even if it is not permanent.

    BluesCat – Although we have the selection behind us, I’ll wait a decent interval before I start telling the UCI how to run their show, but I agree – recumbents are two wheelers for sure, except when they are tadpole trikes.

  10. Brantley Tyndall says:

    To those that think this event won’t bring dollars that will benefit all cyclists, such as those for road paving, city bike parking, bike facilities, and restoration projects, not to mention the boom for tourism and the restaurants here, what do you think the tens of millions of dollars in Richmond’s proposal to the UCI are for?

    All the folks that scoff at the legitimacy of cycling are sure to have a difficult time driving through the city during the events (and probably a sub-pro-cyclist speeds), and we’ll have one more weapon in our arsenal when we’re hassling them about our rights.

    Considering that the VCU Bike Share project has been in development for over 14 months, one might be able to say that the success of the Capital Bikeshare system in DC has been a positive reinforcement, but nothing further.

    And if you’re the kind of fellow that likes ciclovias, keep your eyes peeled.

  11. Gene @ BU says:


    The only data I can find on the economic impact is a study conducted by Chmura Economics & Analytics found as you quoted that the 2015 World Championships would generate more than $135 million for the Commonwealth of Virginia and would attract nearly 500,000 onsite spectators.

    This is great for tax revenues and a burst of economic activity but I don’t see how this event will make any difference and “work together symbiotically, building on each other, to help Richmond realize its full potential as a pedal-powered, people-oriented city.”

    Are you saying that because of this event the good citizens of Richmond are going to fall in love with cycling and become the next Seattle?

    If you are then please send me the Richmond real estate listing.

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      Gene and anyone else interested in more information on how close Richmond is to becoming a cycling mecca should read Tom’s guest editorial Ride with me through Biketopia from RichmondBizSense.

  12. Gene @ BU says:

    Thanks Ted.

    The point isn’t about Richmond itself but if major bike events help foster cycling or a biking spirit in a community.

    Here in Binghamton, NY we just had the 28th annual USACrits Chris Thater Memorial and as it turns out each year the “cycling community” enbraces this event but the general population tends to pretty much ignore the weekend.

    In the past several years the event planners added live bands to make this a more family friendly event and attract a younger crowd. My observation is people come for the food and music and pay slant attention to the “cycling”. In talking to be bike vendors they say they see the same crowd each year, people who already bike and are looking for upgrades.

    One idea that has been kicked around is to combine a 5k, 10K, half marathon with open group biking and the pro racing event into a three day weekend of activity. The thought being that there is a symbiotic relationship between these groups.

    But the question remains if these pro racing events are the right venue to promote general biking in the community or are they just one time sports entertainment / revenue generators that have little lasting impact?

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      I understand what you mean. I wonder if it will be possible for a Richmonder to not even notice the Lyrca fest.

      On the other hand, nothing promotes cycling like the visibility of cyclists — preferably non-Lycra-wearing cyclists operating their bikes in a visibly civil, preferably legal manner (civil and legal not always being the same thing).

      At the very least, there can be a subliminal effect. A Richmonder who is unaware of the race event will undoubtedly see more bikes around Richmond; the locals and tourists who are there for the events. They may not even consciously notice the increase — in fact it may be better if they don’t notice the increase. But the more successful traffic interactions that a motorist has with experienced cyclists — adult cyclists who ride predictably wearing their street clothes — the less resistant that motorist becomes to the idea that cycling is a legitimate form of transportation. It’s like water on a stone — the stone in this metaphor being the ingrained attitudes toward cycling; that it’s a recreational activity that has no business on public roads, and no business claiming municipal funding.

      Isn’t that right, Zen Master Bowden?

  13. Michael G says:

    Great news for Richmond!! Let’s hope bikeways extend out to Short Pump and the Airport. With all the growth in Short Pump area there does not seem to be any trans option other than auto to downtown.

  14. Tom Bowden says:

    Some have dismissed the idea that the 2015 Worlds will have any lasting effect on the cycling conditions in Richmond. Others have questioned my assertion that there is a symbiosis in the efforts of advocates, city officials and race promoters. All I can tell you is that in Richmond, membership in these groups overlaps a great deal, and we have been working together on infrastructure, legislation and education, all at the same time as the 2015 effort has been in the works. And the question is not whether the 2015 Worlds will transform Richmond in their wake, but how Richmond will transform itself in anticipation. So, please, for now, hold your skepticism in check. As has been said by many others in a variety of ways – don’t tell us it’s impossible while we are busy making it happen. Henry Ford once said “Think you can or think you can’t – either way, you’re right.”

  15. Gene @ BU says:


    Don’t confuse skepticism with an effort to understand strategy. All of us are trying to put 2 + 2 together in our communities however success stories are still anomalies.

    I also don’t want to assume that grand additions to the cycling infrastructure in a community is any indication that you have won over the “hearts & minds” of that community or that a leveraged political gain will actually take root.

    If the ultimate objective in our communities can be define then it can be described as the day when cyclists on public roads are seem as a non-event blending seamlessly in with a number of alternative forms of transportation. At present this formula seems to be ellusive at best.

  16. Gene @ BU says:

    I thought this could apply to this subject: Copenhagenize Consulting created the Copenhagenize Index for measuring the worlds most bicycle-friendly cities. They only rated large cities but the index seems useful as a means to rate any area.

    The 13 categories include:

    •Bicycle Culture
    •Bicycle Facilities
    •Bicycle Infrastructure
    •Bike Share Programme
    •Gender Split
    •Modal Share For Bicycles
    •Modal Share Increase Since 2006
    •Perception of Safety
    •Social Acceptance
    •Urban Planning
    •Traffic Calming

    On their list of 20 cities Montreal was rated slightly ahead of Portland and NYC made the number 20 spot.

  17. John Orr says:

    Only time will tell if this event has lasting benefits.

    I am already looking for places to stay around Richmond.I will be spending my money when I am enjoying this event and I think there will be a few more Brits like me coming over.

    I am not a lycra junkie. I ride my brompton at a leisurely pace. I do however enjoy watching others trying to bust a nut in the name of cyclesport.

    I was looking forward to some nice sunshine in Oman but I’m sure the organisers will have that on order.

  18. Greg Rollins says:

    I thought the shaved leg croud was the elitist group. It is funny how cyclist can be our own worst enemy. I agree with Tom, Richmond will show the public about cycling. The reason is, because Richmond has a very functional, involved and diverse cycling community. Cycling is about how you enjoy riding your bike not the way “somone” perceives it should be.

  19. Tom Bowden says:

    Yes Grasshopper – you have made great progress.

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