* Britain moves towards continental cycling culture
* Tour and Olympic success spur growth in participation
* Tax breaks help to promote sales of bicycles
By Keith Weir
LONDON, July 20 The success of riders like
Bradley Wiggins and Chris Hoy has encouraged growing numbers of
Britons to get on their bicycles to commute to work or to fight
off middle-aged flab.
The mutton-chopped Wiggins looks set on Sunday to become the
first Briton to win the Tour de France while British riders will
look to repeat their Beijing gold rush when London hosts the
Olympics next week.
British Cycling, the sport's governing body, reports a surge
in its membership after years of stagnation and says the
industry is worth almost 3 billion pounds ($4.7 billion) to the
"We are seeing a step change in the numbers of people riding
bikes. The success internationally has definitely been one of
the reasons for that," said British Cycling CEO Ian Drake.
"It's almost becoming the norm now. Most people will know
somebody who is riding a bike on a regular basis," he added,
saying that growing awareness helped to make cycling safer.
Figures from Sport England place cycling fourth in terms of
the number of participants, in a list headed by swimming, soccer
In a sign of the sport's growing appeal, commercial TV
broadcaster ITV will screen the final two stages of the
Tour this weekend live on its flagship ITV1 channel, switching
from its less popular niche channel, ITV4.
Wiggins rides for Team Sky, set up and funded by satellite
broadcaster BSkyB, part owned by Rupert Murdoch's News
The team was established in 2010. It is an extension of
Sky's broader sponsorship of British Cycling which began just
before the Beijing Olympics and which has recently been renewed.
Around 200 BSkyB employees are cycling from London to Paris
where they hope to witness Wiggins cruising to victory on the
Champs Elysees on Sunday.
"We set ourselves a goal of winning it within five years.
That was an ambitious target as no Briton had ever won the Tour
de France," said Robert Tansey, chairman of the Team Sky board.
EVOLUTION OF THE MAMILS
Drake of British Cycling says the Sky partnership has built
on funding from the country's national lottery. He stresses that
the money pumped into the sport has helped both elite riders and
community schemes such as supervised "led rides" to get more
people on their bikes.
Amateur riders gather at pubs and cafes around London and
other cities at weekends, heading off into the countryside in
pelotons that were once more associated with continental Europe.
A new breed of riders has been dubbed the MAMILs -
middle-aged men in lycra.
"What you often see are men who come in for a commuter bike.
They start to see others whizzing past them on racers and want
to trade up," said Paul Gage, a former journalist who now runs a
bike shop in the north London suburb of Muswell Hill.
Independent retailers and larger chains say a
government-backed scheme that gives generous tax breaks for
buying bikes has helped sales.
"Enabling employees to make savings of up to 42 percent on
new bikes through schemes such as Ride2Work is obviously going
to increase the popularity of cycling," said a spokeswoman for
Evans, set up in the 1920s in south London, now has 47
stores and says turnover has grown fourfold over the last decade
to more than 100 million pounds.
Looking in the window of an Evans store in the Canary Wharf
financial district, London-based Frenchman Corentin Leverrier
says he is tempted to take up cycling again.
"Britain is dominating cycling at the moment and that is
promoting it better than anything else," said Leverrier, a
"It's surprising how popular it is here, considering the