Open up the coffers, Gordon

Farmers arent the only ones who should get FMD compensation from the Government. Bike businesses, along with hotels, B&Bs, youth hostels, bunkhouses, yachting shops, camping shops, angling shops, and all the rest, should start quantifying their losses right now. The Foot and Mouth problem is going to wipe out a lot of sales for a lot of businesses right through until mid-summer
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This isnt scare mongering, the bike industry has got to wake up to the fact that a great deal of damage will be done to the fabric of the trade during one of the traditionally busy times of the year.

Shops which rely on mountain bike sales such as those in the Lake District will be most heavily affected.

(Road bike shops, and shops which sell mainly to cycle commuters and town cyclists, may actually experience a lift in sales as the inability for walkers and MTBers to get out into the countryside, makes them, instead, buy bikes for use in town and on minor roads).

Die-hard MTBers will stick to A-roads and work out on indoor trainers; fairweather cyclists may choose to do something else this year instead of cycling.

Alan Kind of the Byways and Bridleways Trust who backs the cycle organisations advice for cyclists to steer clear of off-road routes says the bike industry largely provides tourism gadgets to take to the countryside. If nobodys going to the countryside, he says, sales of bikes and ancillaries will be damaged.

And, he says, even if Foot and Mouth peaked today it would still be mid-April before countryside access restrictions would be lifted. This would seriously impact on the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, when many recreational habits are set for the year. At worst the FMD panic might last right up until summer.

The hard work of CTC, Sustrans and hire operators such as Nigel Wiggett on the Camel Trail and the Archer family on Rutland Water all of whom have spent many years creating off-road recreational routes for fair-weather cyclists could be severely harmed.

Die-hard cyclists who say the minor road network is still open for use ignore the fact that most fair-weather cyclists will not cycle on any form of highway shared by motor traffic.

However, there are still many people who are willing to ride on minor roads and the cycle trade therefore has a recreational lifeline not open to, say, the outdoor trade. Many outdoor retailers are reporting year on year figures down by as much as 85 percent (of course some bike shops, especially those attached to hire outlets, are down by 100 percent because of enforced closures).

John Traynor, editor of Outdoor Review, the trade magazine, and Outdoor Pursuits, the consumer magazine, believes the bike trade has an opportunity to create a new customer base because of the FMD crisis:

I shall be riding my bike on minor country roads this weekend instead of getting out on the hills. I think a lot of outdoor people will be thinking the same. Cycling on minor roads can offer the kind of fresh air and exercise that people are missing right now.

If I had a bike shop I would be thinking about promoting minor road cycling and would be offering enticements to ramblers, BMC [British Mountaineering Council] members, YHA members, Duke of Edinburgh participants. Theres a danger of being seen as exploiting the situation but if handled sensitively I think some proactive bike shops could do well out of the current panic.

Of course, not all bike shops will be able to benefit from FMD and its becoming increasingly plain that farmers are not the only business people who should be eligible for FMD compensation packages.

The UKs rural tourism industry is currently dying on its feet, with lay-offs left, right and centre, and this is impacting on trades which provide recreational equipment for enjoying the outdoors.

As well as compensation, the various leisure industries affected by FMD including the bike trade ought to be formulating lobbying strategies to claim compensation from the government.

As well as lobbying for compensation, there ought to be calls for rate relief for businesses affected by FMD as well as requests for agencies such as Customs and Excise to take a softly-softly approach to collections over the next few months.

County councils dont seem too sympathetic as yet: yesterday the cycle hire businesses on the Camel Trail got their annual licence fee demands from Cornwall County Council. Some of the bigger hire operators pay as much as £13 000 a year for being allowed to let their customers cycle on the former railway track that is Cornwalls second biggest tourist attraction.

In a kneejerk reaction Cornwall County Council has closed the trail down and when asked what money would be lopped off for this loss of the amenity, the hire businesses were told that the councils lawyers had looked at the licence agreements and could find no clauses pertaining to trading losses due to trail closure so no discounts would be offered.

You dont know whether to laugh or cry, Nigel Wiggett of Bridge Bike Hire (and the UK Trailer Co.) in Wadebridge on the Camel Trail, told BikeBiz today.

Looking on the bright side, there will be a growing clamour for recreational routes such as the Camel Trail and others like it around the country to be opened up sooner than footpaths and bridleways that cross farmers fields.

A bridge on the Camel Trail is currently being refurbished and if workmen can pass along the trail, then so could recreational cyclists. It may turn out that the only places outdoor lovers will be able to go for the next two months will be recreational cycle trails, but this is speculative optimism and it would be more prudent to start campaigning for wider compensation than that currently planned.

Now is the time for the industry organisations to demonstrate effective leadership and to formulate a joint industry response to a problem that will get worse before it gets better.

And, the BA and the ACT are about to start the ball rolling. A joint letter will be going out to the Prime Minster this afternoon putting the case for compensation for the bike trade.

BA president elect Patrick Barker, marketing director of Madison, told BikeBiz:

For obvious reasons the government will try to resist any compensation claims outside of the agricultural sector but we need to put the marker down for the cycle trade.

This is the beauty of trade organisations such as the ACT and the BA: they can be wheeled out in times of national emergency. If it looked as they were about to be successful in gaining compensation for their members, there would, no doubt, be an almighty rush to join.

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