Virtual Cycle Touring Festival

Last year's Cycle Touring Festival
Cycle Touring Festival. Photo by Laura Moss.
Cycle Touring Festival. Photo by Laura Moss.

Virtual Cycle Touring Festival

With a heavy heart, Laura and Tim Moss took the decision to cancel the Cycle Touring Festival 2020 due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. It would have been the 6th event among the green rolling hills of the Ribble Valley. Organiser Laura Moss explains the decision to create a virtual festival instead.

Discussing the miserable state of the world with a friend, she suggested we turn the cancellation into a positive (note: everyone should have a friend like Nancy). She suggested we host a virtual festival, giving people something to do during lockdown and celebrating the joy of bicycle-based adventures, even when we can’t go far from home. 

Three weeks later, and we’ve just announced the programme for the first ever Virtual Cycle Touring Festival.  It will take place this weekend, 25-26 April 2020 and we’ve been blown away by the interest in it. It’s almost as though people don’t have much else to do at the moment. 

It’s been a steep learning curve, getting to grips with online webinars and meetings, but we’re hopeful that we’ll pull it off.

What happens at a virtual cycle touring festival?

The Cycle Touring Festival usually hosts a mixture of practical workshops and rousing talks, designed to equip and inspire more people to do cycle tours of their own. 

We’ve tried to replicate this with a mixture of live webinars, pre-recorded talks, films and Twitter Q&As. 

This year’s festival was due to have the theme of ‘low carbon travel’ and celebrating adventures closer to home. Many of our live sessions stick to this message, covering topics such as flight-free travel, ‘Bizarre Britain’ and a talk from Cycling UK’s very own Duncan Dollimore and Sophie Gordon about the Great North Trail. 

We’ve also got a webinar from The Adventure Syndicate crew about their bonkers journey on cargo bikes from Edinburgh to Copenhagen last December, to raise awareness of climate change.

Alongside this live programme, we have a whole host of pre-recorded talks and films, featuring everyone from cycling poets and environmental activists to gnarly bikepackers crossing remote mountain ranges. 

Our Twitter Q&As range from discussions about cycle touring kit to asking how a bike ride can change the world, and to kick it all off, we even have a cycling-themed ‘pub’ quiz on Friday evening. 

It’s an amazingly diverse and inspiring programme, and we’re so grateful to all the speakers and volunteers who have contributed their efforts.

It has been harder to replicate the festival’s democratic, community ethos. As organisers, our job is to facilitate people coming together to share knowledge, experience and stories over a piece of cake or a pint.

People camp together and eat together, to help foster that community spirit. The festival is a social leveller: we have CEOs connecting with shop assistants; mechanics putting the world to rights with investment bankers; and no-one knows or care about each person’s background. 

The event is also organised by volunteers, no speakers are paid and we have very little commercial involvement. Any commercial entities which come along are fully involved as speakers and presenters: no-one is there to simply sell you more stuff. 

As a result, the festival community has become a really special tribe of people, connected by a love of exploring the world from a saddle. However, it is very tricky to replicate this community vibe over a virtual platforms.

Our efforts will include a virtual ‘cake break’ over Zoom, a Slack space for sharing knowledge and stories, a collaborative festival ‘zine’ and of course, social media. 

We will also replicate what has been a festival staple, the open mike night where any willing speaker has three minutes to tell us their story. We don’t have traditional headline speakers, because we believe everyone has a story to tell. Whether you’ve cycled round the world or just cycled a couple of miles up the road, adventure is personal to you. The open mike night is fundamental to this narrative.

All for a good cause

As we are run by volunteers, our overheads are very low this year so we have been able to offer the entire programme free of charge. However, we are asking those who take part to consider donating to the National Emergencies Trust Coronavirus Appeal. This distributes funds to local charities across the UK, to help those people who have been most affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Next year’s festival is planned to return to its usual home in Lancashire, with the date scheduled for 28-31 May 2021. If events conspire against us, we’ll see you online.

We hope everyone will find something to interest them in the programme, and give them something to dream about while trapped at home. 

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