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Friday, 19 January, 2001, 19:25 GMT
Wheels of fortune
Cyclists spend an average 35 a day on accommodation and food
Since the National Cycle Network opened last June, it has encouraged thousands of people to get on their bikes and explore the countryside.

It has also provided business opportunities for people around the UK.

The network comprises 5,000 miles of routes, with plans to double that within the next few years. The aim is to get more people cycling for leisure and, where possible, commuting to work.

Increasing environmental awareness and events such as the fuel crisis of last year are persuading large numbers of people to opt for two wheels - more bikes than cars are sold every year.

It is estimated that cyclists using the trails spend an average 35 a day on accommodation and food. By its nature, the network passes through many rural areas without facilities, so there is potential for people to provide cyclists with day to day amenities.

A former miner, noticed how many cyclists and walkers were passing his home and started a B&B
B&Bs are thriving from cyclists' trade

The Taff Trail runs from Cardiff to Brecon, and Andy Carpenter, a former miner, noticed how many cyclists and walkers were passing his home in Quakers Yard, near Pontypridd.

He and his wife Debbie decided to convert two rooms of their house as a trial and found it so successful they have now set up a fully fledged bed and breakfast.

"Because it is a fairly new house, it basically meant just redecorating the rooms, but we have added on a conservatory for guests to sit in during the evenings," explained Andy.

"You need little things like clock radios and coffee facilities and making sure there's a TV in the rooms, but it's relatively little cost to start off. If your house isn't in too good a state of repair though, you might have a lot of outgoings before you can start."

Because it was a small operation, Andy's B&B - called Y Gweirglodd - did not have to comply with fire regulations, although larger properties would have to meet certain requirements.

The first guests booked in during the Rugby World Cup in 1999, and the Carpenters have since hosted families from as far afield as Portugal and Australia.

Andy has now also set up a cycle hire business, with 14 mountain bikes stored in his garage.

He also sells ice creams and refreshments to cyclists using the Taff Trail in the summer.

The cycle routes were specifically designed by the environmental engineering charity Sustrans to pass through communities and bring business opportunities such as this one.

"It is a classic example of what we're trying to encourage with the National Cycle Network," says Matt Price of Sustrans Cymru.

"It's providing a new accommodation base and also a cycle hire facility in part of the Welsh valleys which has not traditionally been recognised as a tourist destination.

"It is bringing money into the local economy and also helping to change the profile of the region and contribute to the overall economic regeneration of the area."

The Carpenters' enterprise is just one of a number that are springing up in the area. Several farmers are looking to diversify by establishing cycle bunkhouses in unused buildings.

ABC of B&Bs
B&Bs can be hard work - get some experience in a pub or hotel
Are you suitable? Do you like meeting people and have a sense of humour?
Do a realistic business plan - rooms and facilities will need constant updating
Don't rely on property prices - your home will be judged on how well it does as a business
Guests come first - be prepared for the oddest demands and requests
Source: British Hospitality Association

And a group of businesses in mid-Wales has joined up with the county council in a venture called Bikes and Kites, aimed at marketing the area as a destination for cycle tourism.

People thinking of offering accommodation are advised to thinks of ways of making it cycle-friendly, by providing things such as drying facilities and secure bike storage.

"There is also a dividend for existing businesses," says Matt Price. "The cyclists are using village shops and pubs and local accommodation so the money stays within the local economy and doesn't disappear elsewhere."

Some pubs and shops in Wales have reported a big upturn in business since the Celtic Trail opened.

For people such as ex-pitman Andy Carpenter, the cycle network has provided a welcome opportunity.

"Our industrial life has gone and tourism and leisure seem to be the way forward," he says.

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