And so September 2015 saw the inaugural Birmingham Bikefest, a festival all about our two wheeled friend, and an attempt to fill the void left by the failing (yet again) of the UK’s 2nd city to hold a Sky ride.
It was clear as we set about creating the Push Bikes table top display that a lot of effort had gone into organising the event, from the fantastic floating marquees to the theatre stage and stunt display areas the ideas were definitely there, and therefore the day had bags of potential. However, the old saying of a brilliant plan badly executed unfortunately started to ring true as the day unfolded.
The biggest let down was the lack of people attending on the day. This would be in part down to the one and only entrance to the park (which for a while was approached via a zig-zag chicane) being staffed by jobsworth "event security". Why only one entrance? Yes, you can easily monitor how many people do attend, but then this is feasible with more than one entrance; you just add the numbers up! Too many people were being turned away, having a bike (!) or having food being the two most common reasons. Both of these seemed totally bizarre. I could understand the potential health and safety hazards of bikes being in the park; after all, have we now as a nation not gone health and safety mad? However, cycles would only be an issue if you actually had people at the festival. And if cycling is your main topic of the event, why then put a cycle park out of sight down the other end of Millennium Point with flimsy stands to lock your bikes too? Any thief needn’t concern themselves with the quality of the locks, as they could take them too; the stands weren’t going to hold on to much! The guarded cycle park right by the show entrance at the NEC Bike Show is how you do it.
With the festival being held in the city centre, then pray you had not visited any food shops beforehand, as this then barred you from attending due to the food sellers at the venue having exclusive rights to sell you your food; odd, for a "public" park.
The family closed road cycle ride was a big let down, but it shouldn’t have been. It was very family friendly from the point of hardly anyone was actually doing it, and so you could go as fast or as slow as you wished without any fear of the risk of bumping into anyone else. The "event security" staff on the ride were never going to be outnumbered by the ride participants at any time, helped no doubt by the rule of "no helmet – no admittance". Now while that subject is a whole further debate in itself, I struggle to see how people who have ridden to the festival on whatever contraption and with whatever safety wear they own should then be turned away from a closed road 2 mile ride for not wearing a helmet when they have just risked the Birmingham roads / cycle paths to get there! Actually having some people doing the ride would have looked much better than bored staff wandering around an empty course.
A look at the comments on social media followed much of the same vein as my feelings. There was clearly a lot of frustration by people who either had attended or who had tried to. A real shame, as I said at the start, it was obvious that a lot of work had gone into the day with the resulting expectations being high.
I wonder what the attendance numbers would have been if BikeFest had been held in Canon Hill Park as part of a Sky Ride, but then maybe that will have to wait for another year…