Sea Otter Australia will be unlike anything we’ve seen in the Australian cycling landscape – an event unrivalled in its scope and ambition. Amid turbulent times, socially and economically in Australia, it begs the questions: Why this? Why now? Why here? In this article, Bicycle SA CEO Christian Haag answers these questions and spells out why he has such high aspirations for the Sea Otter concept.

Having been with Bicycle SA for some 15 years, I’ve had the opportunity to see how significantly the cycling ecosystem in Australia has changed. There has been an explosion in the number of events, particularly gravel riding, that are occurring around the nation and these events provide terrific opportunities for consumers to experience new and exciting destinations to ride every year.

For a non-profit organisation like Bike SA that has for many years relied on delivering single- and multi-day community events and tours, the increase in competition has challenged our business model and I think it’s fair to say that other state organisations are experiencing the same impacts.

So, for some years we were looking for an alternative event format that would provide an all-encompassing experience for anybody and everybody who rides bikes. And we had been looking at the Sea Otter Classic in the US and considering whether it would be of interest to the Australian consumer. Sea Otter Classic is the largest consumer bicycle show in the world and it has multiple ride and race experiences across all the cycling disciplines over a four-day weekend in Monterey, California in April.

Through my work with the World Cycling Alliance I’ve seen how, particularly in USA and Europe, when the bicycle industry engages closely with the cycling advocacy sector, that ‘single voice’ speaks loudest to politicians and starts to deliver significant advocacy outcomes in terms of major infrastructure investment. As we know in Australia, cycling infrastructure investment is sadly lacking. So that attribute of Sea Otter that incorporates the bicycle industry, showcasing all the latest products, as well as a participatory festival of all ride styles was most enticing and really presented to us something that was new and special in the Australasian market.

We were honoured to win in bidding for the Australasian rights to host Sea Otter Australia which we will present October 1-4, 2021 in Canberra, Mount Stromlo. Stromlo is a unique facility in Australia as it combines a 2.1km criterium track that sits within the massive Mt Stromlo mountain bike network known as Stromlo Forest Park.

In this first year we are certainly looking to attract over 200 brands to the expo and we are well on our way to achieving that now. We are expecting over 5000 participants in the many riding events and another 20,000 spectators will come and enjoy the show, to walk through the Expo village and get inspired to spend money and ride their bikes more.

From an advocacy point of view, the Sea Otter model for Australia will be the only event that presents the entire Australian bicycle economy in one place and will provide us with the opportunity to directly advocate to federal ministers across the transport, health, recreation, sport, sustainability, climate change and education sectors to secure greater funding for cycling across the country.

The Sea Otter experience is clearly of broad public interest as – on top of its 30 years of success in California – it has now been hosted in Girona, Spain for three years and in 2019  debuted in Blue Mountain, Canada. I was fortunate to be able to seek the advice of Phil Latz, publisher of Bicycling Australia and Mountain Biking Australia who had previously delivered the Australian Bicycle Show for 10 years and has an intimate understanding of how the bike industry operates, particularly in these challenging times with online marketplaces competing with bricks-and-mortar bike retailers.

Looking forward, we take a very community-based approach to the delivery of Sea Otter and will engage deeply with communities in Canberra and surrounds and use Sea Otter as an opportunity to create sustainable behaviour change that will lead to more people of all ages getting on a bike. Part of that will be our legacy program where we will, in the first year, work to develop programs specifically to encourage girls to ride, particularly in mountain biking, as we still have great inequity in relation to the number of girls who ride and how they ride through their teen years and into adulthood.

Further, the legacy project will seek to deliver real infrastructure improvements to Stromlo Forest Park. We see that our relationship with the community is one of profit-sharing so that there is very real, tangible, long-term benefits for ACT residents and visitors.

In terms of our engagement with the Federal Government and the ACT Government, we will be delivering the first Bicycle Leadership Conference which is a very successful format again from Monterey, which provides the opportunity for industry representatives to come together to hear from speakers outside the bicycle industry on issues relevant to the sector at the moment.

We will use the opportunity to invite ministers to attend the BLC so they can get a better understanding of how the bike economy is a valuable one, currently valued at $2.1 billion and supporting over 10,000 jobs.

Investing in cycling infrastructure yields a minimum of four-to-one return for every dollar spent. If we are to look at infrastructure spend as return on investment and the value across the community from a social, economic, health and mobility point of view, it’s cheap and highly effective at a time when dollars are very short.

So for us, Sea Otter Australia ticks all the boxes. Fun, entertainment, world-class participatory bicycling, commerce, industry development, political engagement and advocacy in an exciting festival atmosphere. This represents strengthening today and building the future for cycling in Australia.

Come and be a part of the Sea Otter family in October this year!