Contributed by Jacob Fetty
CycleSafe is a community based non-profit organization located in Winston-Salem, NC that is an extension of the non-profit NCCycling promotions and is committed to promoting healthy and active lifestyles through cycling and bicycle safety awareness at all levels. Using a grassroots program model CycleSafe plans to impact and raise the bar for safety.
Of Motorbiking And Biking
Jon Hamblen, Safety Commissioner at CycleSafe comments: “There was, and is, a need for race course safety. If you’ve ever seen old video of motorcycle racing, MotoGP in particular, from the ’60’s, ’70’s and even the ’80’s and compare it with video from the last ten years of MotoGP you’ll see how far they have come.
They went from unprotected metal fences and hay bails covering concrete walls to large run off areas and air barriers. In bicycle racing we’re still back in the hay bail era, it’s like MotoGP thirty years ago. We saw the need for a safer race course and that’s where it all began.”
These hay bales are not ideal, but used in this fashion and at all possible poles, the protection they provide is good.
Jamie Bennett is the driving force behind CycleSafe; he came up with the idea and found the funding. Erik Saunders runs the kids bike safety program and finds racing events for CycleSafe to work with. Kerri Taimanglo does all of the work in the office, the real work of getting everyone and everything organized. Jon Hamblen is the Course Safety Director.
Change Has To Occur
Speaking with Jamie Bennett he told me of the spark that ignited CycleSafe into existence:
“Last year, there was a crash (at an NC Cycling promoted event} that propelled a rider into a telephone pole causing a serious brain injury. That rider nearly died and caused us to rethink whether or not we wanted to be in the bicycle promotion business. After great deliberation we decided to reorganize ourselves under a new name: CycleSafe to make promoters responsible for their events and force them to make every possible effort to minimize the risks to the participants.
CycleSafe wants to minimize the risk of injury to racers…they hurt themselves on their own just fine.
While an accident like that is not anyone’s fault, it caused us to rethink the priorities of race promotion. Not only are we stewards of the health of the participants, but we are also dealing with a sport that many people see as having too many unnecessary risks. This perception of a risky fringe sport continues to undermine the legitimacy that we are all trying to achieve.
Our mission is to reduce the barriers to entry for all people involved in cycling by making the sport more accessible through reducing the risks at all levels. This includes rider education, child education with helmet safety, public education and lobbying at local levels for ‘safe zones’ to ride, promoter mandates and safety equipment for the thousands of people who compete each weekend.”
Getting The Kids And The Parents
On one level CycleSafe will get to children when they are young and help them learn proper riding techniques to reduce the chances of injury such as wearing a helmet. The company is also pursuing the interesting idea of hosting clinics, or ‘bike rodeos’ to get kids excited about riding bikes and to feel comfortable and “cool” wearing a helmet.
While clinics for kids are not a new idea, incorporating adults is not so traditional. CycleSafe plans to extend the clinics and involve the parents by offering personal training advice, healthy eating tips, and instruction on safe riding techniques. CycleSafe operates under the conception that if the barriers to ride are broken down and people are educated it will be much easier for them to get into riding and enjoy the sport.
CycleSafe works with children at a community benefit.
Making It Happen In Winston-Salem
This approach to cycling is obviously one that Bennett takes seriously as well as pride in, “This year in Winston-Salem alone we have assisted with the safety of nearly twenty events. This includes providing safety equipment and financially helping promoters to have proper medical/police available. We are able to do this through our non-profit status that allows us to raise corporate and private dollars for these programs. We are committed to several educational events in the schools and at public appearances such as the local fairs and Bike Swaps this fall. By focusing on the entire cycling community, from children to elite athletes, we can make a difference one person at a time to make this a more legitimate sport.”
Elite racers volunteer for a kids event.
Making Race Courses Safer
CycleSafe also works hard in helping event promoters to establish safer courses and safer barriers. The staff at CycleSafe has over 45 years combined experience in races and events! Such events ranging from fun rides to competitive centuries to races could stand to benefit from CycleSafe’s approach to securing and monitoring the route or course. As an added bonus CycleSafe has an in-house safety coordinator who is willing, free of charge, to assess any bicycle related event and provide a safety plan complete with GPS locations and a legend for course set-up.
Being a company with its hands deep in racing makes CycleSafe a passionate match for promoters. For this company racing in business and a business they want to keep fun and safe.
“We are a board run 501-C4 non-profit corporation that is dependent on outside contributions. We are currently setting up our website to accept individual donations from people who believe that we have made a difference. The difference between our organization and others is that we have enough funding in place to achieve our objectives at a local level, but it is the additional financial supports that can make the programs grow exponentially.
Incentives For Change
For 2007 we are offering eight grants to promoters who integrate our philosophies into their events. These grants can provide substantial assistance to promoters by defraying much of the cost of medical/law enforcement, allow them free access to our equipment, providing free course consulting with a safety plan, and brings the promoter into our network. The value in dollars and aid would be in excess of $5400 per day.
Adequate numbers of course marshals – hugely important in the overall safety of a race.
In return the promoter must break down some of the barriers that make the sport so difficult to enter, including separate beginner categories for men and women, free or reduced cost junior races, and a community based fun ride for non-racers, as well as a children’s education clinic. All the promoter has to do is provide the volunteers. This takes the emphasis away from the elite athletes, but helps strengthen the roots of a grass roots sport, and in turn will create more people enjoying and entering a sport that can be a lifelong endeavor.
CycleSafe is pushing hard to get more children riding bikes.
The reason this program will succeed is because there is a need, it is free to the participants, and we are the only people in the country approaching the sport from this perspective, and finally, it is the right thing to do.”
A Foundation Of Rider/Advocates
One thing that we cannot neglect is our base of rider/advocates. These are people in the cycling community who are convinced that we are doing the right thing, want to help, and understand that this is supposed to be a fun sport. We can make it fun and safe if we can get people involved.
While CycleSafe is investing in it’s infrastructure it is acquiring assets and networks that are cycling specific. We will be providing equipment and support for promoters and delivering this with our vehicles. These same vehicles will be used to transport the team’s advocates to the races to make it a community and family event. To be part of the CycleSafe team, there is only one requirement: A good attitude. If we can make this sport safe, we can make it fun. A good attitude is infectious and can help drive this organization to spread it’s principles throughout the cycling community to make the sport safer and more enjoyable.
CycleSafe is particularly active in North Carolina, but rapidly growing.
The benefits to the riders who are part of the organization are the ability to make a difference to a sport that they love, as well as participate in substantial discounts through partnerships with our sponsors. These industry sponsors will help break down the financial barriers of entry to allow more people to get started in bicycle racing. We will be accepting riders of all abilities to join. Additionally through nccycling.com we will be providing a calendar and forum for all regional races, as well as keeping points for all clubs who encourage all levels of participation.
This club cup will help apply some of CycleSafe’s principles and reward the clubs that do it successfully with $10,000 of prizes going to NC and SC clubs. The results must be posted by the promoters for the points to apply, so it is a way to make the promoters accountable to the racers for their team’s efforts. “—Jamie Bennett
Making course safe for not only these kids but for all participants is a goal of CycleSafe’s.
Hamblen Discusses Course Safety And The New Frontier
I sat down with the Cycle Safe Safety Commissioner, Jon Hamblen, to chat with him in detail. I asked him exactly how Cycle Safe was going to make courses safer and reduce injury for participants in cycling events. Jon cited that, “CycleSafe is working with UK based TrackCare International Racetrack Safety to develop barriers systems for bicycle events. TrackCare was formed with the sole aim of improving the safety at race circuits for all types of motor sports world-wide.
They supply air barriers to tracks that hold events for many of the British Super Bike Series, World Super Bike Series, as well as for the Isle of Man TT motorcycle event. CycleSafe will utilize TrackCare’s extensive knowledge of air barriers and will jointly produce an air barrier solution, based on TrackCare’s motorcycle barriers, that will become the standard for bicycling events.”
After flashing back to some horrendous crashes I have seen throughout my gaming years, recalled several instances where racers hit barriers resulting in dramatic injuries. Was anyone at the Arlington Clarendon Cup this past year? If not, the carnage was horrific, and the barriers were to blame.
With his in mind, I pushed Jon a bit more to see what other information I could get.
Why this type of barrier? Doesn’t it seem overkill?
If It Works For Moto GP…
“Air barriers provide the safest means for slowly stopping a rider who has gone off course, the air barrier is like a big air bag. If you’ve watched MotoGP or WSBK motorcycle races, you’ve no doubt seen these barriers in use. Using air barriers in strategic locations, like the outside of a turn, will reduce the risk of a rider being severely injured or injured at all. The air barriers will absorb an impact, unlike the steel fencing, commonly used at races, which is designed for crowd control.”
These barriers are for crowd control, not bicyle safety.
CycleSafe wants to make this type of barrier a common safety feature.
Jon, what about the telephone poles and other dangerous objects like that?
“TrackCare will also be producing pole protectors for CycleSafe, which is basically a big piece of foam that can be wrapped around and strapped to utility poles and sign posts. Another great product from TrackCare we plan on using is the curb protector, a wedge shaped foam piece that is placed against a curb. It prevents hard impacts on the edge of the curb.”
Pole protector that TrackCare produces.
The curb protector is a brilliant, yet simple idea.
“We are the only race course safety organization. It’s every promoter’s responsibility to take care of the racers. We can provide the knowledge and equipment to have a safe and fun event and relieve the stress of a few “what ifs” that goes through every promoters head when they get to race day. We hope that over the next few years race course safety will become a standard part of bicycle racing in America.”
• Check ’em out: CycleSafe.org