We’re getting fire extinguishers at the British Downhill Series … What does that mean?


British Downhill Series race director Si Paton put out a fairly innocuous call this morning for some help buying a dozen fire extinguishers to be used at the series in 2015.

The extinguishers will – he explains – be for the “BDS Pit area and campsite” and (more interestingly) that “if we do not have enough fire extinguishers to cover the whole site that may mean our insurance is null and void and we may be breaking H&S regulations”.

Now … Fire extinguishers are fairly self explanatory. They put out fires. We don’t like fires – that’s all good. But why now? “EU Camping regulations” says Si.His series is having to become more tightly run and is under more and more scrutiny than ever before. In 2015 we’ll see warning notices for spectators, no go areas for anyone walking up the track, a clamp down on anyone seen not wearing helmets on track… and more.  The pressure is on not to slip up and to be seen to be doing everything they can to avoid accidents to riders, fans and staff.

It’s no secret that there has been a tightening up of the rules and regulations around racing in the last few months. British Cycling commissaires were out in force at the BDS final at Bike Park Wales, the track was double-taped top to bottom and marshals were on high alert for anyone breaking the rules or putting anyone in danger. The (albeit non British Cycling insured) UK Gravity Enduro series is now talking about full face helmets for all timed stages … no doubt the first of many changes we’ll see in coming months.

“It’s no secret that British Cycling have become more and more cautious towards race organisation in the last few months”

The BDS has always been (in our experience anyway) a well run, safe and tightly run ship … but the introduction of these new safety features to satisfy health and safety is something new that we haven’t seen before. We dropped Si Paton a line this morning asking for a quote and he was busily preparing an “8 page emergency action plan” for his events and there’s a full section on the series’ facebook dedicated to safety info. Things are tightening up… and it doesn’t stop at the British Downhill Series.

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“Things are tightening up… and it doesn’t stop at the British Downhill Series.”

It’s no secret that British Cycling have become more and more cautious towards race organisation in the last few months. We started with the helmet camera saga, then the announcement that BC couldn’t (currently) adopt Gravity Enduro as an official format. This week we’ve also seen the Racers Guild of Cannock Chase quietly hit pause on their regular ‘timed practice’ events due to a need to “get better insurance” claiming that “this will cost more but covers ‘competitive events’”. We’ve also just heard that British Cycling will no longer cover uplift days on their insurance outside of competitive events. That means your local uplift will need to go elsewhere and pay more for cover.

It seems that the days of sticking out some timing poles, shouting “it’s ok, it’s not a race… go get stuck in” seem to be going the way of the dinosaurs. So too does the ability to put on low cost, low resource grass roots races. And put on uplifts in the same way as we’ve been doing for years.  If events can’t be insured under British Cycling’s low-cost insurance (as the Racers Guild can’t) they’ll either need to charge more for entry or shut up shop. As bigger events like the BDS have to spend more money on safety (fire extinguishers etc) they will have to charge more for entry. ‘Middle sized’ events like Pearce Cycles, Borderline or the Mini Downhill? That’ll be interesting to see. Enduro? Well … they’re not using BC’s insurance anyway so we’ll have to wait see what they come up with!

Ultimately, anything that makes our sport safer and better organised has to be a good thing, right? Let’s just hope that isn’t at the expense of good quality riding and value for money.

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