Matt Stephens may have been commentating on the Tour of Valencia for GCN over the weekend, but it was not just his astute observations about sprint finishes and – bizarrely – beekeeping that have caused a stir on Twitter.
On Saturday, the former pro turned broadcaster announced (in a very PR, copy-and-paste kind of way) that he was joining a “new, exciting project” – Bike Club, “the first blockchain based cycling club”.
Loving my new avatar designed by @rich_mitch 🤩 It’s part of a new, exciting project; @bikeclubnft which is the first blockchain based cycling club. There’s some cool plans afoot and I’ll be chatting at 17.30 GMT on their @discord so join me! Invite 👉🏼 https://t.co/SesLSNMbRC pic.twitter.com/1gB06kzd3b
– Matt Stephens (@RealStephens) February 5, 2022
Okay, Matt, we’ll bite. So what’s Bike Club? Well, Bike Club is a project co-founded at the end of last year by the cycling artist Rich Mitch (real name Richard Mitchelson) which allows members to claim one of 10,000 unique avatars in the form of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that he has designed, serving as proof of membership. Bike Club claims it is “the first-ever blockchain-based cycling club and NFT project built for the global cycling community.”
Ah, NFTs. I’ve heard of them (though I can not admit that I fully understand them – does anyone?). From what I gather, and bear with me if you’re taking notes at the back, you can purchase an NFT of an avatar of yourself from Bike Club, designed by Rich Mitch.
That NFT does not actually exist in the real world, but a digital proof of ownership (which proves, however many times somebody right clicks your image, that you’re the true owner of it) is stored in a big internet safe known as the Blockchain, which requires so much energy that it costs a considerable chunk of the Amazon rainforest to run. So far, so good?
NFTs have been heavily criticized in recent months, with some claiming that they form part of financial scams, exploit art creators, and help destroy the planet.
It’s all a bit strange at the moment, made even stranger by the number of celebrities and sportspeople rushing to endorse this new digital craze. Last month, Chelsea’s former captain-leader-legend John Terry announced that he had become an ambassador (or ‘head coach’) for the Ape Kids Club FC, a football-based NFT project marketed at children. And try watching this Jimmy Fallon segment on NFTs with Paris Hilton without dying or second-hand cringe.
Bike Club is not the first NFT-based cycling scheme, however. In November 2021 Wout van Aert sold three of his biggest wins as NFTs, while an NFT image of a Colnago bicycle sold for a staggering $ 8,600 earlier in the year.
Oh, and if that was not enough – the most trustworthy cyclist of all time, Big Tex himself, has jumped aboard the NFT train (I wonder if it’s more nuclear powered than his old US Postal train?).
In Bike Club’s defense, there do seem to be some tangible – or should that be fungible? – benefits associated with membership, including the promise of exclusive previews of new products from partner brands or the chance to ride with pros. The group also claims that a portion of the proceeds will go to cycling charities.
Nevertheless, Stephens’ announcement ensured that the former British national champion came in for some flak on Twitter, with many criticizing the environmental impact of NFTs and the lack of transparency surrounding them.
Cycling writer Simon Warren tweeted that the project was “catastrophic for the environment”, while another user said that NFTs were “terrible for the environment at worst, and a scam at best”.
Not happy that this creates as much carbon as driving a large car 500 miles. I hope very few of these are created.
– Donwahn (@ donnyb473) February 6, 2022
You forgot the #A.DMatt.
– Benji Naesen (@BenjiNaesen) February 5, 2022
Speaking of LA, does this meme win the internet for today?
I mean, we’ve been here before, right? pic.twitter.com/7JQMolqfFL
– How The Race Was Won® (@Cyclocosm) February 7, 2022
Rich Mitch, who has illustrated covers for cycling magazines like Rouleurdefended the project from some of the accusations, writing: “I can guarantee you this is not a scam”.
He also addressed the environmental cost of NFTs and how this could potentially be rectified in the future:
Well Benji, (nice to chat to you btw) I can not guarantee that, as I do not work for Etherium 😁 I guess I’m kinda hoping, like really hoping. And we’re looking at other coins with better green credentials and lower gas fees all the time. It’s what we talk about a lot before we mint
– Rich Mitch (@rich_mitch) February 5, 2022
So what do you think? Are NFTs the future of cycling fandom or merely the latest in a long line of online snake oil? Or are you still not fully sure what on earth we’re on about?