Fri 9/11 – Sun 9/13
Written by John Benson; photos by Anastasia Pantsios
Whether it’s the fearless bicycle delivery folks seen darting in and out of traffic in downtown Cleveland or the serious cyclist invariably backing up automobile traffic (honk-honk) in the Metroparks, there’s no doubt that interest in riding appears to be at an all-time high. Also, let’s not forget more miles of bike lanes and additional trails are appearing all over Northeast Ohio.
Sensing an opportunity was afoot, the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission decided to create a cycling-centric event. Debuting last year, NEOCycle proved to be a success combining competitive races, unique rides, live music and an outdoor lifestyle festival. Now the event returns for year two 9/11-13, based out of Edgewater Park.
The affair is also a two-day music festival that includes performance from national alt-rock group Jr. Jr., as well as Northeast Ohio bands the Speedbumps, the Modern Electric and more.
Cool Cleveland talked to Greater Cleveland Sports Commission communications manager Nick VanDemark about what has the potential to become Cleveland’s next best thing.
What exactly is NEOcycle?
NEOcycle is the nation’s first and — to this point that we know of — only urban cycling festival. So that’s an all-weekend festival that celebrates cycling in an urban environment here in Cleveland. There are a lot of other cycling events out in the country or outside of the city. Ours is all focused and held in the center of the city. We headquarter the entire thing down at Edgewater Park. It’s full days of music and bike rides, vendors and lots of fun activities for all ages. It’s just a really cool event with the mission and the goal being to bring in outside people and then also to promote the cycling infrastructure and lifestyle here in town.
Last year marked the debut of NEOcycle. How was it received?
It was a phenomenal success. We had more than 10,000 people come down to Edgewater Park over the course of the weekend. We had 2,600 people register for one of our races and rides, including 1,500 people on the NEOcycle night ride, which is kind of our signature event. That’s where we shut down the Shoreway and people get to ride their bikes. Most of them have decorations like glow sticks or Christmas lights or they wear a costume. So they get to ride down the Shoreway, which is obviously something you can’t always do. It’s a really cool ride and it ends with a big festival at Edgewater Park.
Considering NEOcycle is still in its infancy, what did Greater Cleveland Sports Commission learn last year about the event?
The biggest thing we found out from last year is that we have something here that resonates with people. They had a really good time. We found the night ride experience of going down the Shoreway, people loved. It’s hard to describe other than being out there, being on top of the Shoreway at the highest point, being surrounded by a thousand other bicyclists having a great view of the city that normally you get to see only when you’re in a car going 50 MPH. So to do that going 10 MPH is something special.
Compared to last year’s event, are there any changes for NEOcycle 2015?
We have a great asset in Edgewater Park. So to be able to showcase it, being right on the lake and so close to downtown, that’s what we’re trying to capitalize on this year. Also, we added a few things. We’ll do stand-up paddle board races and demos and then enhance the festival experience with some other cool things like a rock-climbing wall and other exhibits and displays. The other races we have are expected to grow. We do a couple of competitive races. One is in Battery Park. We’ll have cyclocross, which is a mix of cross country racing and mountain biking around Edgewater. We also have a long ride called the Fundo on Sunday.
What kind of financial impact does NEOcycle have on the city?
We think last year it produced a little over $250,000 of economic activity. This year we think it’ll go up to $400,000. Last year we had 17 different states represented. The goal is down the line that this will be an event that will draw from all over the country if people want to come and experience something that’s unique.
Is NEOcycle targeting only the serious cyclist or can casual riders partake without feeling insecure?
It’s for both. Last year I had friends who rode bikes twice a year who came out and had a blast. And then there are people who will do the Fundo, serious racers racing for cash in the cross. So it’s the whole spectrum and it goes as far as to open up to people who maybe don’t own a bike or aren’t bike riders because they can come down to Edgewater Park and have a great day.