A nonprofit is partnering with UTC to open a research and community outreach facility focused on cycling.
The facility will be a place where people of all skill levels can ride on a 1-mile track for recreation and more intense practice. And there's also a research component: Leaders will collect data from those who come to the track.
"We see all this great excitement and enthusiasm around the sport of cycling, and triathlons are seeing a great uptick in participation ... but the issue is [that] education and research behind those things [are] lacking," said Andy Sweet, founder of Chattanooga Intercontinental Development, the new nonprofit.
Although there is research done in academia, it often gets published in a journal that most members of the public won't see, he said.
Chattanooga Intercontinental Development wants to provide educational resources about topics such as general health, wellness and high-performance athletics using the data they gather and make it easily available to the public.
"We're at this pivotal point where we've got to incorporate science into this fast-growing sport to say, 'This is healthy; this is not,'" Sweet said.
But the research component is just one aspect. The center also aims to provide a safe place for people to ride and to build a community around its members.
And there's also the community outreach component. Sweet and his co-founders want to get more people interested in cycling. Maybe they can help find or develop the next world-class athlete or help children who don't have access to bikes get into the sport, he said.
Dr. Daniel Pack, dean of the UTC College of Engineering and Computer Science, said the community outreach platform is important.
"Knowledge is power, and in a time when academia, research and business have become siloed apart from each other, this partnership aims to bring them back together for the betterment of our Chattanooga community and beyond," he said in a prepared statement.
The track and center will be located at 4905 Amnicola Highway. The track is already there, so there's no construction or development needed. Sweet said the track was built decades ago for TVA to do vehicle testing. After TVA stopped using it, they gave it to UTC on a long-term lease for research, he also said.
The facility won't have bikes initially, but Rock/Creek is opening a rental station nearby, so people can either bring their own bikes or rent one a couple of blocks away.
Although the details are still in the works, founders have thought about dividing up track time between different types of cyclists. For example, one part of the day might be for elite cyclists to practice a specific event. Another time might be just for families who want to spend time together, learn to ride or have a safe space to bike.
Sweet also explained the "intercontinental" part of the new nonprofit's mission.
"That piece of the puzzle is very important to our overall mission," Sweet said. "Our mission is to get people healthy, get people the education and the knowledge they need to better their lives, and also base ourselves in science. And part of science is replication."
Founders are working with other centers around the globe to collaborate and run the same tests in different areas.
For example, they have connections at a center in South Africa, where one of the founders recently went.
"We could launch projects simultaneously in separate hemispheres," Sweet said.
And having the unique center here also means there's potential to attract talent here, he said.
"How great would it be for Chattanooga to start attracting international students from everywhere because we are progressing the sport and research[ing] at a level they see as groundbreaking?" Sweet also said.
Updated @ 10:05 a.m. on 3/29/17 to add more information.