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Cycling for All
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Cycling for All

Unlocking business opportunities with unconventional urban off-road cycling

Cycling through old marl caves in Limburg, the Netherlands
Cycling through old marl caves in Limburg, the Netherlands

Vélo tout terrain. Bicicleta todo terreno. The commonly-used French and Spanish expressions for “mountain bike” are clear about the potential this machine has to go on all terrains.

Expanding MTB beyond the traditional realms of the mountain resorts is –along with a lot of fun – good for business.

Urban downhill is now an established niche in the discipline, with highly spectacular events staged in some of the world’s most scenic (and, necessarily, hilliest) cities such as Bratislava, Valparaiso and La Paz.

Promoting a landmark by staging a sporting gig in its proximity is a successful, long-established practice in sports marketing. Also historical buildings are becoming a popular venue for the eccentric versions of the sport, as they can generate iconic sport footage from the inside of a city’s best kept secrets. Certain forms of avant-garde cycling let a city promote much more than the façade of a palace.

Some people have now brought this “Indoor off-road cycling” thing to a whole next level, boosting local economy, creating jobs and preserving the environment.

The aptly named Mega Underground Bike Park in Louisville, Kentucky, USA, is the ultimate example of a recreational cycling facility where you wouldn’t expect one:  in an abandoned limestone mine.

 

 

The former quarry, now called the Mega Cavern, is privately owned. Proprietors have seen a business opportunity in making it suitable for mountain bike and BMX, capitalising on the venue’s unique features: it is vast (30,000 sq. m.) and the temperature is a steady 14° C, perfect to ride in spite of the gruelling Midwest winter outside.

The bike park adopts a business-driven ticketing policy, and contributes to the rich offer of the city’s top attraction for tourists. Having flourishing businesses and investors, diversifying the economy, is particularly decisive in former mining regions, which are often lands of unemployment and disenchant.

Mega Underground Bike Park

Another example is the Dutch province of the Limburg, one of the heartlands of cycling and home to the WorldTour Event Amstel Gold Race as well as the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup. Here, you can ride a special cave bike in the old marl caves, covering 8-10km in a 70-kilometre long quarry that was first excavated by the Romans.

“We didn’t build the tracks” says Denise Linden from the outdoor company ASP Adventure. “They were created through decades of marl stone exploitation. Now they are the largest underground galleries of Europe.

“We introduced our biking programme as early as 1994. For it, we use purpose-developed mountain bikes with Cardan joints. Without bikes, visitors simply could not enjoy the abundance of sights the site has to offer.

“The best part? The marl is still actively being dug up. With the marl caves still expanding, the location has both historic and future value.”

The bike activities in the Limburg underground employ around 30 people, and are entirely privately funded.

Some popular MTB mass participation events include portions of former mine tunnels, or segments of pit railways. The Black Hole Bike Fest at Mount Peca in Slovenia, the Miner’s Revenge in the American State of Michigan, to mention a few.

On another note, fans of “cave cycling” may fancy to try the Combe Down Tunnel, a former railway tunnel and now the longest (1 mile) purpose-built cycling tunnel in the UK; or the Sanremo Gallery, whose story we told last year. Why not on the occasion of the “Spring Classic” (106th edition, March 22)?

Bicycles help businesses expand towards new targets both above and below ground level.

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