Interview: Craig Burn on Scottish Cycling’s influence

WITH 300 of mountain biking’s elite plus Skye stunt cyclist Danny MacAskill on show, Craig Burn wouldn’t have been anywhere other than Fort William this past weekend.

Scottish Cyclings chief executive Craig Burn wants to increase its members to 50,000. Picture: Jamie Nicolson

The head of Scottish Cycling took up mountain biking as a 14-year-old in Edinburgh, and moved into adventure biking while studying recreation management at the University of Edinburgh’s Moray House School. With the likes of Gee Atherton and Manon Carpenter competing these last two days, Burn naturally headed north with an estimated 16,000 other fans.

Big events such as the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup keep the momentum going from last year’s Commonwealth Games, which delivered both the Cathkin Braes Mountain Bike Trails and the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome. Headquartered in offices alongside the velodrome, Scottish Cycling provides support across the sport’s various disciplines through a myriad of projects such as the forthcoming European Sports Championships in 2018.

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The high-profile events are great for publicity, particularly when married to iconic Scottish names such as Hoy, MacAskill and record-breaking distance athlete Mark Beaumont, “The Man Who Cycled The World”.

Stunt cyclist Danny MacAskill. Picture: Jamie Nicolson

“We can inspire people at an elite level, but what we also need is more local facilities to support growth at the grass-roots,” Burn says. “The bigger we can make the base, the more successful we can be at the top performance level.”

The latter is cemented in Scottish Cycling’s ethos through its funding. About half of its annual £1.7 million budget comes from Sport Scotland, which among other things is charged with bringing Scottish athletes through to the highest echelons of competition.

Scottish Cycling generates the rest of its income through sponsorships, events and membership revenues, the last of which has been on the rise as the sport has, in Burn’s words, “been riding the crest of a wave”.

Scottish Cycling has been in a growth spurt since Burn joined in 2011 from his previous job as sports education manager at North Lanarkshire Council. Membership numbers have grown by 142 per cent during that period to roughly 9,500 individuals, plus 174 clubs representing thousands of other cyclists.

Perhaps more impressively, membership retention hovers around the 80 per cent mark. The sport has also seen a surge in female participation, with the number of women members up by 150 per cent during the past year.

“Cycling is a really powerful sport, and so far we are just touching on the tip of the iceberg,” Burn says.

As things stand, growth is expected to continue at an annual pace of 10 per cent for the next several years. However, Burn is hatching a commercial venture he believes could boost that figure five-fold.

Provisionally dubbed “Ride Scotland”, the plan is to create a licensed product along the lines of Zumba’s ZIN membership, in which affiliated instructors pay a monthly fee for on-going training and other support.

In the case of Ride Scotland, the “instructors” will lead groups of cyclists on rides designed to meet their particular needs. The service will be marketed to leisure centres, health clubs, schools and employers – basically any organisation where a group of people are interested in getting fit through some outdoor activity. “We believe we could double our membership almost overnight if we can get funding for that project,” Burn says. “Within a few years, we could have 50,000 members.

“When you start talking about those kinds of numbers, you have got a commercially viable product.”

Preliminary discussions with potential corporate partners are on-going, though Scottish Cycling may also use its close affiliation with counterparts in England and Wales to create a UK-wide programme. Burn puts the initial cost of a launch at £100,000, but “for £250,000 we could make it happen quicker and bigger”.

Such a move would seriously strengthen cycling’s credentials as a mass participation sport, which is evolving into a key sector for sustainable tourism. A report published last year by Visit Scotland identified the growing trend among travellers taking part in mass participation events, while cycling charity CTC has put the value of leisure cycling tourism to the Scottish economy at £358m annually.

“There is a huge industry out there,” Burn says. “A recent survey for Scottish Enterprise found more than 60 per cent of those in the tourist industry have confidence in the growth of biking-related business.”

On this basis, Burn is pushing for the creation of a network of facilities to support the sport’s various disciplines: BMX, mountain biking, cyclo-cross, road, track and cycle speedway. As more get involved across all formats, Scotland will find more stars of the future to join the likes of Katie Archibald and Grant Ferguson.

“My message, though, is that cycling can deliver on many fronts, from the health benefits and economic benefits to sustainability and cleaner transport,” he says. “We have a very powerful product, and if we invest in it properly, we can deliver across a wide range of areas that go beyond medals.”


Born: Edinburgh, 1973

Raised: Edinburgh

Education: Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh

First job: I actually set up my own little business when I was at primary school. It was called Eggs on Legs – I delivered fresh eggs door-to-door

Ambition at school: I was addicted to sport. I spent half of my life in the PE department, and I actually wanted to be a PE teacher

Can’t live without: My friends and family, and sport – it’s more than a job, it’s a vocation

Kindle or book: Kindle

Favourite city: I have to be biased and say Edinburgh

Favourite mode of transport: Mountain bike

What car do you drive: A Land Rover Discovery

What makes you angry: Rude people

What inspires you: Positive people, energy, making a difference and going the extra mile

Best thing about your job: It is unique. I love doing what I do – it is so varied