Apparently ‘Sports Month’ fever is set to grip Hong Kong ... let’s hope cycling is the first to benefit

Government’s attitude to two-wheeled transport in the city has been deplorable for decades – let’s be optimistic and hope the Cyclothon helps to change views

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 September, 2016, 5:23pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 September, 2016, 7:20pm

So, are you managing to contain your excitement for Hong Kong Sports Month? That’s what the Hong Kong Tourism Board has labelled the next few weeks, and according to them the city is “all geared up for an adrenaline rush!” – news to most residents.

The first I heard of Sports Month was after stumbling across it on the tourist board’s website on Friday. In case the relentless publicity drive about Sports Month has somehow also passed you by, the label hinges on the fact that there are several quite decent events in the city in late September and October: the inaugural Formula E Grand Prix through the streets of Central, the third edition of the increasingly impressive HK Tennis Open, the revitalised cross-harbour swim, the Triathlon Asia Cup and a boxing card featuring local star Rex Tso Sing-yu.

Alright, it’s not quite the Olympics, but in a city where we often bemoan a lack of sporting action, we shouldn’t complain.

The ‘Sports Month’ branding has not exactly been omnipresent, but to be fair the tourist board’s aim is to sell HK to visitors, not residents. And at least they’re a rare government-related body that seems to recognise there might be something worthwhile in this sport malarkey.

The action gets underway on Sunday, as you may notice if you try to drive your car then.

It’s Cyclothon time again, the second edition of the – to my eyes possibly ill-judged – event aiming to boost cycling in the city, and promote HK as an attractive destination for fans of the sport.

Cycling drug of choice for ex-addicts as they gear up for Hong Kong Cyclothon

It features various rides of different lengths and routes for novice and experienced amateurs and a professional criterium race. Last year’s inaugural event was very popular, probably because the routes give aficionados a rare chance to ride through parts of the city normally closed to bikes (either by law or just through the behaviour of homicidal drivers).

The tourism board will hope things run more smoothly – last year they apologised to the 3,600 participants for poor organisation, and to those angry about road closures and traffic hold-ups.

An extra 1,000 participants are expected this year, and organisers promised a smoother ride. Those taking part will have to be up at the crack of dawn as start times have been pushed back to accommodate the city’s drivers, who seemingly cannot be disturbed for more than a couple of hours.

A formerly keen cyclist myself, the wildly selfish attitude of the men in taxis, minibuses and tycoon-minivans to those on two wheels has seen my bike gather dust in recent years.

Braking point: Hong Kong cyclists and politicians call for improvements after chaos of city's first Cyclothon event

The government has long supported the notion that bicycles shouldn’t be on the streets by refusing to recognise cycling as a valid transport option for city residents, failing to implement infrastructure similar to most ‘world cities’, and attempting to confine cycling to a limited number of dedicated tracks designed for recreation not transport.

That’s part of the reason for my suspicion of the Cyclothon – to me it seems like it could reinforce the notion that cycling is only for certain times, locations and purposes, under prescribed conditions.

But Martin Turner, the chairman of campaigning group Hong Kong Cycling Alliance, argues the optimistic case: “We welcome it because all kinds of usage of bicycles are welcome and we see the tourism board putting some effort into getting people riding bikes on Hong Kong streets as a good thing,” he told me.

“We’d like to see lots more support from the government for cycling all the time but getting a race together, bringing people to see [the city] is a great place to ride a bike ... is good for Hong Kong.

“Hong Kong’s cycling athletes are doing us really proud, out there winning on the world stage, yet here we are around town and it’s so unsupportive it’s shocking.

“So this is a bit of a bridge and we’re happy to embrace it.”

Turner’s right – let’s be positive. Cycling’s never been more popular in Hong Kong, thanks surely to the exploits of Sarah Lee Wai-sze, even though it’s a miracle we’ve ever had any successful cyclists given the transport department’s attitude towards the sport. Let’s hope there’s a future Olympic hero taking part on Sunday as ‘Sports Month’ grips the city.